Most of us are familiar with the ubiquitous black, green, and white teas. Their incredible popularity and immense history make the tea brewed from Camellia sinensis the world’s most consumed beverage (after water of course!).
Aside from Camellia sinensis, there is a family of holly plants well-known for their caffeine buzz and healthful properties. Yerba mate, guayusa, and yaupon are all members of the Ilex, or holly genus, which encompasses close to 500 different species across the globe. The attractive holly berries are food for many animals, though almost always toxic to humans. Luckily, we can take advantage of the tasty caffeinated tea brewed from their leaves.
Each one of these holly teas has a rich history of ceremonial use as a communal experience between tribal members in North and South America, each plant with its own unique rituals and mythology. Yerba mate is brewed in a gourd then shared by the community members by passing it around as they each drink. Guayusa is brewed in the mornings where members of the tribe share a drink and recall their dreams. One of the many names native North Americans used for yaupon was ‘white drink’, as it symbolized happiness, harmony, and purity.
Yerba mate is probably one of the more well-known of the three caffeinated holly plants and has been consumed by native South Americans for longer than recorded time. It has a full-bodied and characteristic green, grassy flavor.
Our organic yerba mate is grown on certified organic land in a natural wild environment and each stand is harvested only once every two years. This method helps support a healthy forest ecosystem, as well as healthy farmers. Seed germination can take a couple months up to a year, and live cuttings of the plant are also an option for propagation.
Unlike yerba mate, guayusa does not create viable seeds and it has been propagated from plant cuttings for many years in the Amazon rainforest. A newly-planted branch of guayusa will take roughly 3 years before it is ready to be harvested. Guayusa has a smooth and mild flavor, and since it does not contain tannins, the brewed leaves won’t become bitter. In addition to caffeine, it contains theobromine (like dark chocolate).
Our organic guayusa is grown in forest habitats that help to support the balance of all flora and fauna (as opposed to being grown in a monoculture where all plant life is eradicated save for one commercial crop). Supporting the natural biodiversity of these growing areas helps maintain ecosystem vitality, attracts insects and animals, reduces the impact of deforestation, and maintains soil integrity. Sourcing our guayusa from growers who work in harmony with their environment is crucial to our mission as a company, as we recognize that respected and balanced ecosystems are critical to our planet’s health.
Yaupon tea is the North American cousin to these two holly teas. It grows naturally along the Southeast border of the United States, stretching from Texas to South Carolina. According to one conspiratorial myth, yaupon holly received the unpleasant species name of vomitoria in a bid to reduce its ability to compete with the East India Tea Company.
Our organic dark roast yaupon offers a slightly different flavor profile compared to the fresh green flavors of yerba mate or guayusa. The aroma is pleasantly warm with toasted notes. It has a slight natural sweetness and a smooth flavor.
The yaupon holly is a newcomer to the modern market, though, like it’s South American relatives, it has been imbibed for thousands of years by North American Native peoples. The yaupon holly is hardy and drought-resistant, and it is occasionally seen as a nuisance in pastureland.
All three of our organic holly teas are delicious brewed both hot or cold, and they can be blended with fruit juice or other herbs (such as peppermint, sage, or citrus peels) for an endless variety of flavor combinations.
For a regular cup, pour 8 oz. of hot water over 1-3 tsp. of leaves and steep for 3-5 minutes. Many people find they like to brew holly teas a little longer, since they don’t typically get bitter like traditional black or green tea.
For iced tea, brew the teas hot with a higher quantity of leaf such as 3-4 tsp. per 8 oz. of hot water. Steep for 3-5 minutes (longer if you like) and if desired, sweeten the tea while still hot with honey or sugar so it dissolves. Add a few handfuls of ice cubes or store in the refrigerator to cool down before pouring over more ice.
Out of the three, I think that yerba mate tends to have the strongest flavor, and for most people, the caffeine effect is also stronger. Guayusa and yaupon tend to be a little milder in my experience and tend to not be as ‘jittery’ as coffee or regular tea, though each person will experience them a little differently.
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