What Is Yaupon Tea?

Yaupon tea is made from the leaves of the Yaupon holly tree, which grows all up and down America’s east coast. The tree’s bright red berries are a favorite of many birds, but it’s humans who have found a use for their leaves.

The leaves of the Yaupon tree have been used for millennia by the Native Americans as a tea. Called “the black drink,” the tea was used in many purification and peace ceremonies. They would pluck the leaves when they were ready to prepare it and roast them in a ceramic pot over the fire.

Did you know that both coffee and tea leaves are roasted so that the caffeine is soluable in water?

After roasting the leaves, the people would then boil them in water until the brew was dark brown or black. They’d pour it into another pot until it had cooled enough to drink.

Archaeological evidence and oral tradition trace the use of Yaupon tea among Native Americans to thousands of years before Christ, nearly as long as the North American continent was occupied. The ceremonial drinking and preparation vessels have been found all over America’s South and Southwest.

As Europeans colonized the coast, settlers learned much from the Croatan and other people groups in the area, including the preparation and enjoyment of Yaupon. As a settlement isolated from the mainland and which had to be self-sustaining for long periods of time, citizens couldn’t always rely on imported tea or coffee. So every family began to roast their own Yaupon tea. Deciding that the as-you-need-it method wasn’t convenient enough, Ocracokers would instead gather many leaves at once and layer them in barrels with hot stones, sealing them up for about a week to dry and roast. The leaves would then be ready to be brewed as tea whenever they were needed. Yaupon was especially popular during war years, when trade was interrupted, but has remained a constant of island life for all its history and can still be found in shops on Ocracoke today. The island isn’t along in its love for the tea though–the Yaupon available here in my shop is sourced and packaged in Florida, where it has been enjoyed just as long and was sipped by Spanish conquistadors.

Yaupon is not only a natural source of caffeine, it’s also rich in antioxidants and has a mildly sweet taste. After roasting, the leaves are crumbled and brewed like any other loose leaf tea.

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