An evergreen Yaupon shrub happened to inspire two sisters, Abianne Falla and JennaDee Detro, to revisit a farming legacy in their family and create Cat Spring Tea in Texas. With considerable American roots, Yaupon can be historically traced back to early Native American herbal practices when it was steeped and served as a beverage. Abianne and JennaDee combined their creative and business backgrounds (as photographer/graphic designer and CPA for Ernst & Young/Community Development for Lululemon) and brought them to the farm where they now harvest on family land near Cat Spring, Texas (hence the name of the company, Cat Spring). Beyond the pure green Yaupon Tea steep, the sisters are also coaxing out unique flavors hidden in the holly leaf with both medium and dark roasting preparations. We connected with Abianne and JennaDee to learn more about their passion to return to the land and celebrate a plant with remarkable roots. We hope you enjoy the Q&A and featured Yaupon cocktail recipe.
What is Yaupon?
Yaupon is a holly, a member of the Ilex family, a woody evergreen shrub. Wild growth yaupon is often tenacious and persistent and, until recently, many landowners in our area have not thought fondly of yaupon. For pasture land for cattle or hay fields, yaupon rhizomes must be cleared from the soil with bulldozers. Cultivated yaupon is common in the south as a landscape plant often trimmed into boxwood-like borders.
Like tea, so much of the taste of yaupon is determined by the preparation methods employed. Green yaupon is the least oxidized while the dark and medium roast black are more highly oxidized. The difference in preparation methods give the yaupon a unique flavor profile. The green offers a bright, pleasant tartness with a slight maltiness. The medium roast black yaupon is characterized by caramel notes, a gentle sweetness, and a clean finish. While the dark roast black yaupon offers a subtly smoky, complex earthy taste with a satisfying finish.
Yaupon’s native habitat stretches from Texas through Florida along the American Gulf Coast, it extends up the Atlantic to Virginia. For centuries, Native Americans traditionally enjoyed the prepared leaves both as a daily ritual and as a base for special ceremonial and medicinal drinks. Indicative of yaupon’s extensive history of trade, archeologists use yaupon biomarkers to trace yaupon consumption in ancient pottery discovered in New Mexico and in Illinois, far from native growing regions. Native Americans and Spanish colonists enjoyed and exported the “black drink” and “cassina” to England and France in the 17th century. However, the English tea trade – and later Americans importing expensive foreign teas – downplayed the native yaupon as a beverage for the working class.
Yes! It’s the only caffeinated plant native to North America. We love the gentle focus we feel and lack of a caffeine crash when we drink yaupon; it’s an uplifting experience.
When did you decide to create a business growing and selling Yaupon herbal tea? We grew up knowing yaupon to be only an unwanted and hardy native plant. When we discovered this legacy of yaupon consumption for its health benefits and energy boost, we were so intrigued! Studying the implications of large scale yaupon harvests, our family and the other landowners we work with are redefining land stewardship and sustainable agriculture.
Can you tell us about the story behind the name, Cat Spring Yaupon Tea? We began harvesting on family land near Cat Spring, Texas and want our name to reflect the community in which we harvest. We’re returning to pure American goodness in bringing yaupon to our buyers as they’re able to experience our return to the land and true American craftsmanship.
How have your backgrounds in business and design influenced how you operate Cat Spring? Well, introducing a “new” American grown ingredient to the tea category is very groundbreaking. We both are implementing diverse skill sets to make use of this natural resource, revealing it to be a delicious energy infused cup of “tea”. An added side benefit is that we’re able to tailor the jobs created by our young business to employ individuals who, like yaupon, may also have been overlooked and undervalued. Daily we see how work is worth; the dignity afforded to all of us producing yaupon is a deep motivator and we’re glad to see our business and design pasts come together to create Cat Spring Yaupon Tea.
You noted that your great grandparents were farmers. Are you farming on family land that they also used? Unfortunately, we’re not farming the land of our great grandparents. Our grandparents both grew up on family farms and chose different career paths. Returning to the land and to stewardship of natural resources motivates us as descendants of American farmers. And our family’s help is critical as we build Cat Spring Yaupon Tea, everyone’s input has improved our harvesting and developed our employment initiatives.
Why did you decide to offer Green Yaupon, Dark Roast and Medium Roast? The preparation methods dramatically impact the taste profile of the finished yaupon tea. Yaupon has a distinct flavor that is mild, smooth and distinctly “tea-like”. We prepare the green yaupon with the least oxidation of the leaf by drying it. We use different roasting methods to tease out caramel notes and more complexity with our medium and dark roast black yaupon.
You also have yaupon blended with other ingredients (american as apple pie, not easy being green, and stateside chai). Do you have a favorite? It’s Not Easy Being Green would have to be our favorite – with it’s light citrus notes – it’s amazing hot or iced. We’re Texans and when it’s hot 9 months out of the year, we love a chilled beverage!
Do you both have daily tea rituals?
Yes. We’ve noticed that yaupon is a great way to start the day – giving a focused energy boost. We also love sharing it at meals. Enjoying Cat Spring Yaupon Tea’s yaupon affords us moments to connect with each other or simply take a moment for ourselves. Yaupon is a forgiving and hardy leaf, without an astringent bite. We love steeping it hot or cold brewing it. We often prepare concentrates for hot or cold teas – there are a lot of ways to incorporate yaupon into a busy day. But it’s always lovely to take a moment to relax with a cup of yaupon.
What are your goals for the future of Cat Spring Yaupon Tea? At Cat Spring Yaupon Tea, we’re returning to the land. To our family values. To American craftsmanship and goodness. Our priority is that we don’t just harvest what the land produces, we respect our land. It’s why we’re working with area landowners to develop responsible land management practices. It’s why we’re using our harvesting and processing employment positions to create dignified work opportunities in our communities. We believe that work is worth, and we want Cat Spring Yaupon Tea to have an impact for good. Pure American goodness.
Abianne Falla – Co-Founder and Head of Business Development. Abianne worked with Ernst & Young as a CPA and moved to community development with lululemon athletica where she was encouraged to build and maintain community relationships for a quickly growing company. She graduated Acton’s Entrepreneurship MBA program in Austin where she learned fundamentals of business formation from founders and current CEOs.
JennaDee Detro – Co-Founder and Head of Production. JennaDee has 3 years of yaupon harvesting experience and has developed our production practices. Previously, she was a professional photographer and graphic designer.Yaupon Tea is a return to family values and pure American goodness.