Many North American tea drinkers are familiar with caffeine-packed black tea, but the Yaupon is a lesser known naturally-caffeinated plant that has been consumed by Native Americans for centuries.
Located in the great state of Texas, CatSpring Yaupon is a world-wide leader in sustainable yaupon production, an aromatic naturally-caffeinated beverage that is both 100% organic and vegan. Yaupon contains no caffeine, but instead relies on the natural caffeine found in tea leaves to give you the same energy boost as your morning cup of coffee without the jitters or normal coffee crash.
CatSpring Yaupon is made by experts who understand what it takes to make a quality beverage. Available in three flavors: Marfa, a dark roast yaupon, Lost Maples, a medium roast yaupon and Pedernales, green yaupon, the natural caffeine content makes it perfect for an afternoon pick me up or before bedtime. And with no added sugars, artificial flavors, colors or preservatives – it’s not just good for your body it’s good for your taste buds too!
Millennial sat down with CatSpring Yaupon founder, Abianne Falla, to learn more about this healthy alternative to coffee.
When did you first discover Yaupon and what made you want to build a business around it?
It actually started with a drought about 10 years ago; it was an extreme drought – the driest year in Texas history – and on our family property in Cat Spring, Texas, we were losing everything from our 100 year old oak trees to our hay. Statewide we lost something like 200 million trees! And everything looked like wilted spinach – except for the yaupon; the yaupon was fine.
My sister started to look into this persistent plant and discovered this legacy of consumption that was long since forgotten! Native Americans consumed and traded it for generations, the Spanish even exported when they arrived but the English didn’t want anything to disrupt the power of the tea trade so they downplayed this native resource. With the eradication and forced relocation of most of the Gulf Coast’s indigenous people groups, the legacy of this incredible plant was largely destroyed.
At the same time, there were a few studies coming out of Texas A&M and the University of Florida demonstrating yaupon’s health benefits: antioxidants comparable to blueberries, polyphenols comparable to tea, natural cleansing and anti-inflammatory properties! No wonder the Cherokee called yaupon their “beloved tree”!
Once we uncovered this heritage, we experimented with traditional Japanese tea and Yerba Mate (it’s a cousin plant) preparation methods to start producing a yaupon tea. We started producing small batches and selling to restaurants and at farmers markets. People were excited, demand has only grown, and here we are a decade later.
You make the claim of sustainable farming. How do you scale production of your product if the plant is grown naturally without the use of commercial agricultural?
Such a great question – and one that I wish more people asked of our agricultural producers. So, yaupon grows prolifically wild in our region; it’s native so it wouldn’t be considered invasive but it’s a very tenacious grower and takes over fence lines, trails, pastures, and even abandoned buildings. Our hypothesis is that this unchecked growth is a result of the replacement of native grasses (with their 5-foot root systems) with grasses better suited for hay and cattle (very short root systems) over the last century.
Some estimates place that replacement at over 80% which has a negative impact on the water table replenishment and soil water absorption. Our long-term goal is to plant some of these native grasses as we harvest so that we’re increasing water absorption. I realize this is a very different response as I’m talking about limiting our wild growth of the plant but it’s what we think is best for our region’s ecosystem as a whole. We’re also making sure to bring in experts as advisors and also creating accountability as we scale. That’s why we’re pursuing our Regenerative Organic Certification right now!
Tell us about your People First initiative. Why did you decide to hire convicts and what has been the result of your program?
Sustainability is about more than the land. That’s why we’re more committed than ever to creating change in our communities, too. We know the criminal justice system is broken, and we’re taking a stand against the inequities that system creates. We hope to be an example — to other small businesses and larger companies — of the difference an understanding employer can make in the lives of our employees.
That’s why we work directly with probation officers in rural communities to hire individuals who want their future to look different than their past. In our packaging facility, we hire women with a history of generational poverty. And by offering flexibility in our scheduling, we help make sure their next crisis doesn’t mark the end of their employment with us. To me, it makes sense: there are so many individuals in our community that are marginalized and not fully recognized for their value. Why would we build our company any other way?
How has Covid impacted your business (whether positively or negatively)?
There have been many seasons of COVID impact over the last 14 months! It was really tough to lose our hotel, restaurant, and spa customers right out of the gate . And navigating ways to create a safe working environment for our employees with all the changing information was a huge challenge.
But we had some collaborations with some of our favorite brands like Rambler Sparkling Water (an energy drink in 4 flavors), Greenbelt Kombucha (4 Whole Foods Market exclusive “cocktail” flavors based on yaupon), and YAYAYA (teabags and ready-to-drink) along with some big purchases by subscription boxes like Faithbox that really saved our business.
And we were so encouraged by the increase in e-commerce purchases by individuals who just wanted to support our business. I feel like while it’s been a tough year, we’re going to emerge on the other side (hopefully soon) a stronger company and are certainly excited for the partnerships and collaborations we’ve built along the way.
What is in the 2021/22 pipeline for CatSpring Yaupon? Will you be adding to your collection?
You’ll have to stay tuned… but we are excited to make yaupon more readily available and easier on the go!