• Water for War-torn Ukraine

    Numi Tea Foundation distributes water filters, solar-powered devices to Ukrainians displaced by Russian invasion

    Maybe you’ve seen the photographs: People drinking water from muddy puddles. Families crouching in pitch-black basements or caves, with nothing to light their hideaways.

    These are the stories of millions of Ukrainians who have been displaced by the Russian invasion of their country. People have been forced to flee, leaving their families, friends, possessions. Their homes. Their homeland.

    Oakland-based Numi Organic Tea wanted to do something to help. They have a foundation—the Numi Foundation—that supports the communities where they farm, as well as people in need in the San Francisco Bay area, where their head office is located.

    Numi recognized that they have the resources, know-how, and connections to apply the clean-water work they’ve done in farming communities to help the people of Ukraine.

    With the support of Numi tea drinkers, that’s exactly what they’re doing.

    Numi has partnered with two organizations, Waves for Water and MPOWERD, to raise $1 million to provide clean, safe drinking water and solar-powered lights and charging devices to up to 550,000 displaced Ukrainians.

    The Together for H2OPE – Ukraine campaign will use a network of trained people in Ukraine to distribute the filters and devices to people who need it most, and provide a little light and a little hope to people in the war-torn country.

    Caption: An activist participating in Together for H2OPE – Ukraine adds a water filter to a bucket. The initiative aims to raise $1 million to distribute water filters to more than 550,000 displaced Ukrainians.

    Photo credits: Angela Nardolillo

    Listen to the interview
    A conversation with Darian Rodriguez Heyman, Executive Director of the Numi Foundation
    Activist participating in Together for H2OPE – Ukraine holds water bottles filled with clean water, ready to distribute to displaced Ukrainians.

    A conversation with Darian Rodriguez Heyman, Executive Director of the Numi Foundation

    Jessica Natale Woollard: The Numi Foundation’s Together for H2OPE initiative is currently focused on bringing clean water to displaced Ukrainians in their country. But it’s not the first time the foundation has supported clean water initiatives. So — why water?

    Water bottles ready to be filled with cleaned water provided by Numi’s Together for H2OPE campaign.

    Darian Rodriguez Heyman: The short answer is that you can’t make tea without it.

    Clean water and access to clean and safe drinking water is something we take for granted in this country. But more than 10% of the global population does not enjoy the same kind of access. 

    We started looking at access to clean water as a basic human right. It felt very relevant to the brand to make sure that people — especially the residents of our Numi farming communities — have access to the same clean and safe drinking water that we enjoy here.

    “Numi is unique in that we know the exact farm that 89% of our ingredients come from.”

    – Darian Rodriguez Heyman

    Jessica: So when you heard about the terrible war in Ukraine, you decided to apply your experience helping give Numi farming access to clean water to the Ukrainian people? 

    Darian: That’s exactly right.

    We had built up some expertise around fundraising, around project management, around finding the right partners to get clean water projects executed at scale and quickly in, for example, Madagascar, South Africa and India.

    When the Russian invasion happened, we heard about not only the five million refugees, but the seven million Ukrainians who were displaced and still trapped in the country — living in subways and in basements, and having to drink water out of dirty puddles and streams. We heard that access to clean water was one of the top needs for the Ukrainian people because of the war. It was something we felt compelled to act upon.

    Darian Rodriguez Heyman

    Jessica: Is Together for H2OPE focused on those displaced Ukrainians still in the country of Ukraine?

    Darian: Historically, the program has been focused on Numi farming communities specifically, but in this case we’ve repurposed the program and our network and expertise. 

    We’ve lined up partners specific to the Ukraine project that have relevant expertise. We’ve already started raising money; we’ve raised over $150,000 so far, which has enabled us to serve over 79,000 Ukrainians.

    But we’re not even close to done. The goal is to raise a million dollars and to help over 550,000 Ukrainians who are still trapped in country but displaced from their homes. We want to provide them access to clean and safe drinking water, but also clean solar-powered lighting as well as power so they can charge their phones and other devices and get access to lifesaving resources. 

    Jessica: What equipment are you distributing to help clean the water?  

    Darian: It’s a very simple water filter that fits on a bucket. 

    It’s standard; it has no moving parts, no electronics, and the typical water filter will last for 20 years. It’s good for over a million gallons without needing to be serviced or maintained. They’re built to be indestructible and perfect for a war-torn region and what’s happening in Ukraine right now.

    The other product is the MPOWERD solar powered light and charging station. People can use the sun to charge it, and then they can plug their phones in. They can access a light so that when they’re underground they’re able to see what they’re doing. 

    MPOWERD Lantern

    Jessica: How are you distributing these products on the ground in Ukraine? 

    Darian: We’re leveraging veterans as our boots on the ground.

    The main implementation partner that we’re working with is Waves for Water, and they’ve been around for over a dozen years. They’ve worked in over 40 countries and helped over four million people access clean water. 

    Their primary workforce is veterans who have a unique set of skills; they’re very comfortable in fluid environments and in war-torn regions. They work after natural disasters, after Haiti, in New Jersey, after Hurricane Sandy, where I grew up. 

    But they also worked in Afghanistan and places like that. They’re pretty comfortable diving, literally diving in, and getting the product to the borders. 

    A volunteer with Together for H2OPE – Ukraine stands with water bottles ready to be distributed.

    Jessica: I understand that every time someone purchases Numi Organic Tea, they are contributing to initiatives like Together for H2OPE — because the company diverts some of its profits to the foundation. 

    Can people contribute to Together for H2OPE any other way?

    Darian: Aside from buying Numi Organic Tea, which they’re always welcome to do, we are inviting donations.  We’re primarily directing those through Waves for Water.

    Jessica: Any final thoughts?

    Darian: Tea is a vehicle; it’s a platform. And Numi Tea firmly believes it’s a platform for mindfulness, for intentionality, and for ultimately creating the life in the world that we want to see, not only for ourselves, but for those around us. 

    Tea, by nature, is a communal drink. We’d love to see as many tea drinkers as possible join us in the effort to build a better world and make sure that each and every Ukrainian who’s been displaced from their home, whether they are a refugee and had to flee, or whether they’re still in the country, that they have access to the resources and support they need to rebuild their lives and rebuild their country.

    Numi Organic Tea knows the exact farm from which 89% of their ingredients come from, says Darian Rodriguez Heyman, the Numi Foundation’s executive director.
    Numi Organic Tea donates part of their profits to the Numi Foundation, helping fund campaigns to support farming communities where Numi sources tea as well as people in the San Francisco Bay Area, near the company’s main office.

    This interview has been edited and condensed.

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  • Farm to Freezer Tea

    Canada’s Millennia Tea sells fresh, frozen tea leaves

    By Jessica Natale Woollard

    I opened the white self-locking pouch and shook chopped green tea leaves into my hand.

    Some of the leaves were loose, others frozen together in small nuggets. I let the ice crystals melt in my hand until only the leaves remained.

    They were shades of bright green, like finely sliced cilantro or parsley. They were fresh. Real. Raw.

    Caption: Millennia Tea on display in the frozen food aisle of a Canadian grocery store. Photos courtesy of Millennia Tea.

    Listen to the interview
    Tracy Bell explains the benefits of tea as food.
    Raw, loose-leaf Millennia Tea is washed and flash-frozen within hours of being picked.

    Real, Raw, Ready-to-Consume Tea

    Tea is not only a leaf to be steeped; tea is food.

    That belief led a few dreamers in the small province of New Brunswick in Canada to create what is likely the world’s first raw, frozen tea.

    Millennia Tea takes freshly picked tea leaves, and washes and flash-freezes them, taking them from farm to frozen in hours. Rich in antioxidants, the frozen leaves are ready-to-consume as steeped tea or added to smoothies, stews, and soups.

    In June the Retail Council of Canada awarded Millennia Tea a Grand Prix for Best New Product in the Country, in the over-the-counter healthcare category.

    A conversation with Millennia Tea’s Tracy Bell, Co-founder + CEO of the world’s first fresh frozen tea company

    Jessica Natale Woollard: You can imagine my delight when, looking through the frozen fruit section in my grocery store, I saw Millennia green tea right there by the strawberries, blueberries, and cherries. Why is that placement among frozen fruits a good fit for Millennia Tea?

    Millennia Tea’s Tracy Bell at a partner tea farm in Sri Lanka.

    Tracy Bell: We believe the mighty plant should be considered food. Instead of picking the leaves and then withering and processing them, like your conventional dried teas, we work with farmers to pick those same organic tea leaves, and then we treat them just like your frozen blueberries and strawberries. We harvest them and then we wash and freeze them on the same day, giving consumers the opportunity to enjoy tea in its most real, raw, and naturally powerful format.

    Jessica: How did you get that placement in a grocery store, in the frozen fruit section?

    Tracy: Our challenge is we’re asking consumers to imagine the most-consumed beverage in the world after water in a way they’ve never considered before: raw, fresh.

    To say, “go find us in grocery” is already confusing.

    When we met with our retail partners, we explained that consumers will be putting these raw tea leaves in their smoothies. We asked: can you put us with the other ingredients people buy to make or boost a smoothie?

    And that’s how we ended up in the frozen fruits and berries section.

    Frozen, raw Millennia Tea retains its antioxidants
    for up to three steeps.
    Add a Millennia Tea frozen tea cube to a smoothie for a boost of antioxidants.

    Jessica: Can you tell us about the conception of the idea to sell raw, frozen tea leaves and how it’s evolved into Millennia Tea? 

    Tracy: A few years ago we had a health scare in our family. It got us looking into things we hadn’t previously considered, such as the impact of free radical damage on our bodies. Tea kept coming up in our research, how good tea and matcha are for neutralizing free radicals and protecting cells from damage and disease. 

    After doing our research, we learned that EGCG antioxidants are highest in the tea plant in the hours immediately after the leaves are picked. We tried to get our hands on fresh tea leaves, calling tea plantations all over the world to track them down. But we couldn’t get it anywhere.

    So we set out to create a new category of tea to be able to enjoy tea leaves in their purest freshest form. The proprietary process we developed with our partners became wash and flash freeze just like other frozen superfoods. 

    Tracy Bell and a Millenia Tea colleague at a tea farm.

    Jessica: What happens to those health benefits when fresh tea is frozen? 

    Tracy: Our hypothesis was that if we kept the tea real and raw, then that EGCG antioxidant, which in the tea industry is known as the “darling of polyphenols,” would be safeguarded at its highest levels.

    When we got our hands on freshly frozen tea leaves, we sent samples in unmarked baggies to a third-party lab that is experienced in testing catechins in tea plants.

    Our hypothesis was proven correct: it was true that the antioxidant was preserved in its maximum format in the fresh, frozen leaves. We’ve gone on to patent that process, and our patent is called the “process for maximizing EGCG antioxidants in tea leaves.”

    Because our leaves are really real and raw, they’re just getting going on that first infusion. In lab studies, the first infusion is great, but it’s the second infusion that we actually spike in the antioxidants. They stay high on the third infusion, and then start to come down from there.

    Millennia Tea’s frozen tea cube.

    Jessica: How important is taste in the selection of leaves and preparation and development of Millennia Tea?

    Tracy: Priority number one for us is to find the regions that are known for producing the plants that have high levels of antioxidants and that the right terroir and growing regions for producing really quality tea leaves.

    We’re like green tea, but we don’t have that astringency that you often get at the back of the mouth with green tea. We’re light.

    Something we found is that a lot of folks know they should drink green tea because it’s good for them, but the barrier is the bitterness. We’ve been able to bridge the gap, if you will, for them to get into tea.

    If you serve us in recipes or in smoothies we act more like spinach or kale in the sense that you don’t notice the taste of the product in the smoothie, but you get that hit of energy and antioxidants you’d expect.

    if you want to really maximize the benefit, have a cup of tea today, and then take the leaves and throw them in omelets, bone broth, soups, sauces, stews, or smoothies the next day.

    Millennia Tea is available in Canadian grocery stores across the country. Learn more about Millennia Tea.

    This interview has been edited and condensed.

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  • Teaching Tea Teachers

    Education program supports tea professionals as teachers

    You have been called to tea — as a tea sommelier, a blender, a farmer, or a small business owner.

    You are an expert in your field. And because of that expertise, people want to learn from you.

    Part of being a tea professional is imparting your knowledge to others, teaching the ways of tea, the history, the benefits, and the beauty of this ancient plant.

    More than just being called to tea, you are called to educate about tea.

    Are you ready to teach?

    Caption: Suzette Hammond, founder of Chicago-based Being Tea tea school prepares tea for an online class.

    Listen to the interview
    Suzette Hammond on teaching teachers
    Sooz Hammond teaching an in-person class.
    Suzette Hammond teaches an in-person tea class.

    An Education Program Designed for Tea Professionals

    A tea educator with more than 20 years of experience, Suzette Hammond — or Sooz — recognized a gap in tea training. Tea professionals, she realized, are not taught how to teach about tea, how to deliver meaningful programs in groups of all sizes, online or in person.

    To fill that gap in the industry, she developed an eight-month professional teacher training course for tea professionals, offered through her Chicago-based tea school, Being Tea.

    A conversation with Being Tea’s Sooz Hammond, tea educator

    By Jessica Natale Woollard

    Suzette Hammond gives a conference presentation
    Suzette Hammond presenting.

    Jessica: Can you tell us about a few people who’ve taken your program and how they’re using what they’ve learned to improve their tea business?

    Sooz Hammond: It’s really special to see how folks are using this in very unique ways.

    One of our students, Nicole Wilson, the founder of Tea for Me Please, recently published a tea recipe book. When she was developing that book, she told me she poured a lot of what she learned in Being Tea’s teacher-training program into that book in terms of her approach to teaching people how to make the recipes. She thought about accessibility, language, and structure. That was really inspiring cause to me because as a teacher, my framework is classes and workshops. But I realized that that’s not everyone’s format. Nicole’s main format is writing. It was amazing to see how she translated what she learned in the Being Tea program into writing.

    See: The Tea Recipe Book by Nicole Wilson

    Jessica: You mentioned small business owners are a large percentage of your students. Can you share the story of a small business owner who’s taken the teacher-training program?

    Sooz: One student who comes to mind is Tehmeena Manji, who goes by the name Tea, which is really cute. She’s the founder of Muthaiga Tea Company in Nairobi, Kenya. She came to the program as a certified tea sommelier, one of the first in East Africa. She has a really deep tea background, a lot of it in field research and understanding tea cultivation.

    I remember her saying to me that when she was getting started, it hadn’t occurred to her how important education would be, how in order to actually sell the tea, to move the tea, she would have to train people.

    During the program, I’d see her make these connections. Because we’d have a session together, and then she’d train people through her work. She was applying her learning in real-time, and she was excited about that.

    Sooz Hammond teaching an in-person class.

    Jessica: You spent part of your career training tea professionals in a business setting. From that experience, you’ve seen all the different ways teaching moments can happen — one-on-one in a shop, in front of a group at a conference, in an online event, or even perhaps a media interview. How does the curriculum of Being Tea’s teacher training program reflect the different environments where education happens?

    Sooz: One of the questions I’ve had from people who are interested in the teacher-training program is, what percentage of this program focuses on technical skills and logistics, and what percentage focuses on soft skills?

    A very large percentage of this program is soft skills, in other words how we relate person to person. Even the logistical and technical component of the program, like classroom management, is taught through the lens of how we relate to people.

    The first part of the program looks at what calls you to this work. We examine what we think a teacher should be, and what we think an educator should be.

    Then we get into adult learning theory, experiential learning theory, and the building blocks of creating an engaging workshop or engaged program with somebody. We look at the environment, the room, the space, what happens when people step into that room? How do we handle the energy in the room as we’re teaching?

    Then in the middle of the program, we transition to looking at some of those more technical and logistical components like time and lesson plan development. We look at logistics, and how you scale up or scale down a program depending on the groups that you have. We look at teaching online, teaching for different sized audiences and spaces. It all fits in with what we’ve been covering so far, keeping in mind the best ways that people are going to learn a very sensory subject like tea.

    Sooz Hammond streaming a teaching class.

    Sooz: One of my favorite tea people in the whole world is Donna Fellman who developed the World Tea Academy. She also developed a large portion of the program that’s taught for the Specialty Tea Institute. She’s retired now from teaching.

    She’s someone who had a background in education herself, and I really loved the presence that she had in front of people. She was so comfortable and at ease in that moment in front of a group of people. It didn’t seem that there was a boundary between her and the classroom.

    When you’re teaching in front of a large group, you wonder, how do you maintain a sense of intimacy? She could. I loved watching her in front of a group. It made me realize that you can bring that same quality of self to a small experience and to a big one. I think of Donna a lot when I’m teaching.

    Jessica: Self-reflection is an essential component of self-improvement, which is why reflections are part of the Being Tea teacher-training program. Sooz, you mentioned your self-reflection on one-on-one interactions helped shift your view of those very private moments in teaching. Those moments are very private and very powerful.

    Sooz: I initially didn’t think I would do much private teaching through Being Tea. But then when I looked at a lot of my own learning background, I realized I really do enjoy one-on-one work. I’ve had private yoga classes, private acupuncture, and private movement therapy. I really enjoy it when it’s just me and the teacher; I learn in a different way.

    Now I do versions of the teacher-training program where I am working with somebody one-on-one.

    So I ask my students to consider that. Reflect on your own experience of when you have benefitted from a one-on-one relationship with somebody who’s teaching you something. Consider how you can channel it into your experience when you’re sharing tea with somebody.

    Learn more about Being Tea’s teacher training program.

    This interview has been edited and condensed.

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  • North American Roasted Wild Rice Tea

    Canada’s version of genmaicha with an Indigenous twist

    In Japan, it’s called genmaicha; in Korea, hyeonmi-cha. Tea Horse, a company based in Thunder Bay, Ont., brings you Canada’s version of tea blended with rice: manoomincha.

    Caption: Marc Bohémier (l) and Denise Atkinson, co-founders of Tea Horse, pose in a manoomin patch in The Pas, Manitoba. All photos courtesy of Tea Horse.

    Listen to the interview
    Tea Biz’s Jessica Natale Woollard reveals a North American version of tea blended with roasted rice.
    manoomin patch in The Pas, Manitoba
    A manoomin patch growing in The Pas, Manitoba

    East and West Tea Cultures Meld in Manoomin Cha

    Tea Horse co-founders Denise Atkinson and Marc Bohémier blend their teas with Canadian wild rice, called manoomin in Atkinson’s Indigenous language.

    They developed a proprietary process to roast the wild rice, blending it with teas imported from Japan and elsewhere in Asia. The duo has launched four manoomin blends, one of which is sold through Canadian tea giant DAVIDsTEA.

    A new chai blend is in development.

    The husband-and-wife team, based in Thunder Bay, Ontario, joined us on Tea Biz to chat about their Indigenous Canadian version of rice tea.

    A conversation with Tea Horse co-founders Denise Atkinson and Marc Bohémier

    By Jessica Natale Woollard

    Inspired by Japanese genmaicha and other rice teas, Tea Horse blends tea with Canadian wild rice known as manoomin in the Ojibwe language.

    ManoominCha, a blend created by Tea Horse
    ManoominCha, created by Tea Horse

    Jessica: You have created a uniquely Canadian blend of tea. Why did you choose wild rice as an inclusion in your tea blends?

    Denise Atkinson: I’m of Obijwe heritage, Anishinaabe,* from Red Rock Indian Band. Wild rice is called “manoomin” in my language. It’s been a big part of the Anishinaabeg culture forever, for time immemorial.

    I’m somebody who always drank genmaicha for breakfast. I received a sample from a company, and it looked like it was blended with wild rice. I looked at Marc and said: we should try infusing manoomin as a tea, like a Canadian Indigenous version of genmaicha. We did some research and development, blended it with green tea, and voilà, we got this manoomincha.

    We thought, let’s show people the versatility of this beautiful Indigenous grain.

    The Ojibwe are an Indigenous people in Canada and the United States, who are part of the Anishinaabe cultural group. Their traditional territories extend from the Great Lakes.

    Tea Horse is certified with the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.

    Jessica: How did you come to develop your proprietary roasting process?

    Marc Bohémier: I consulted with people in the coffee industry, the grain malting industry, and even the kettle corn industry. I developed a process to roast the wild rice that’s an amalgam of the different inputs I got. We can’t say more than that; the process is our secret.

    Left to right: Manoominaaboo Tisane | ManoominCha Tea | ManoominCha Dark Tea

    Jessica: Do the Anishinaabeg have a history of any tea-like beverages?

    Denise: I grew up in a traditional land-based home with my maternal grandparents. My grandmother was a trapper and a hunter and could not speak English; she only spoke her language, Ojibwe.

    She always has a pot of tea on. When we would go blueberry picking, she would pick wintergreen, which is in the mossy area of the blueberry patch. She would make Labrador tea and cedar tea for my grandpa when he had bronchial issues. We used a lot of roots and leaves, twigs, tamarack twigs. It is quite large in the Ojibwe culture to infuse berries, leaves, twigs, and roots.

    Marc: A lot of people don’t realize when the Europeans first came to places like northern Canada and the northern US, the Anishinaabeg would give them cedar tea to counteract the effects of scurvy because it’s high in vitamin C.

    Jessica: Describe the taste of your manoomincha.

    Denise: Manoomincha, our original blend, is very grassy and marine because we use Japanese green tea, and then we blend it with our roasted, kind of earthy-flavored roasted manoomin.

    We have manoomincha dark, which is blended with hojicha, a combination of roasted green tea and roasted manoomin. It has a very rich, robust flavor.

    We also have something called manoominabo, which in English means “wild rice juice.” It’s a tisane, so it is just the roasted manoomin that you infuse to make a beautiful caffeine-free tisane. It’s very comforting with a brothy flavor.

    Marc: With our roasted manoomin, we want to honor many of the Asian peoples, like the Korean, Japanese, and Chinese people, who roast barley and create boricha or mugicha. They were our inspiration for creating the manoominabo as well. Our teas fuse the east with the west, western Indigenous peoples with Indigenous peoples from the east. As many of us know in the tea world, the caretakers of ancient tea trees, like the ones that produce Pu’er from Yunan, are Indigenous groups in Asia that have been caring for these forests for millennia. We’re trying to honor all of these different Indigenous people by fusing these amazing gifts that we have all been given into different types of teas.

    *The Anishinaabeg are culturally related indigenous peoples of the Great Lakes region of Canada and the United States. They include the Ojibwe, Odawa, Potawatomi, Mississaugas, Nipissing, and Algonquin peoples.

    Learn more about Tea Horse’s manoomin blends.

    This interview has been edited and condensed.

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  • Consumer Identity and Popular Beverages

    A lesson from history

    What makes one beverage become more popular than another? What makes a beverage take hold at one moment in history over another?

    Christine Folch, assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University in North Carolina, explores these questions through her research on three beverages of the ilex, or holly, genus: yerba matte, yaupon and guayusa.

    Of the three ilex beverages, yerba matte is the most well known, but interest in yaupon and guayusa is growing. Has their moment come?

    Christine Folch holds the leaves of the yaupon plant outside her home in North Carolina.
    Listen to the interview
    Christine Folch, PhD, in conversation with Tea Biz’s Jessica Natale Woollard

    Colonization and the commercialization of caffeinated beverages: A conversation with Christine Folch

    From the start of the colonial period in the Americas in the 16th century, commercialization attempts were made to position these three ilex beverages — yerba matte, yaupon and guayusa — as caffeinated drinks that could compete on the world stage with coffee and tea, which were just entering the market.

    Yaupon | Aiton, Emory University 
    Herbarium(GEO), 898baf6d-30de-4d36-8794-b9f0e5d21ae4

    These attempts failed for various social, cultural and economic reasons, which Christine Folch discussed in fascinating detail in her talk at the 2022 Global Tea Institute colloquium in January.

    She continues the conversation with Tea Biz’s Jessica Natale Woollard.

    Watch the video, featuring Folch’s talk at the Global Tea Initiative Colloquium, hosted by the University of California, Davis, on Jan. 13, 2022. Folch’s presentation begins at 04:37:00.

    Jessica: In your talk at the Global Tea colloquium, you share the curious story of yaupon and how it was consumed as a form of protesting British rule. You explain how the beverage remained popular during the US Civil War, particularly in the south, and discuss the reason consumer identity issues impeded its popularity.

    How has consumer identity shifted, now in 2022, to give yaupon another chance to enter the caffeinated beverage industry?

    Christine: When I first tasted yaupon, the first thing I noticed was, it was really yummy. 

    The other thing that I noticed quite immediately is where I got it, which was the shrubbery right outside of my window. I made it myself, toasted it, and tried it, and I thought, this stuff is so good. And it’s yard decor.

    It raises this really important question: why is it that we in the United States don’t drink something that is quite delicious and grows with little tending right outside of our homes, if we’re in the southern part of the United States?

    Read about the work of the American Yaupon Association.

    I think that beverages and food come socially encumbered; they come with social implications. The identities of the people who were fans of this beverage, in the 19th century and beforehand, were marginalized identities for various reasons. The primary consumers were Indigenous people. And as we know about the complicated history of North America, there’s this sort of tension about a rejection around Indigeneity, which can be incredibly violent and has been historically.

    So, yaupon was consumed by “wrong people” in in the 19th century. 

    Scarborough Yaupon
    Mr. Scarborough (owner of a “yaupon factory”) stands next to his yaupon processing equipment. Hatteras, Outer Banks (NC), 1905. Photographer: H.H. Brimley. Courtesy of NC Archives

    The question becomes, what has changed?

    And I think what has changed is that we see other values percolating to the surface. It’s the realization that the communities we thought were marginalized and therefore their consumption was like less desirable, actually those communities have heritage; those communities actually know a lot about land; those communities actually are the source of incredible creativity.

    There’s a new openness to that consumption. 

    Jessica: If our readers are lucky enough to find a café, shop or experience where they can try yaupon and guayusa, is there anything they should know before tasting them for the first time?

    Christine: Expect to be surprised by how yummy it actually is. 

    I’m drinking yaupon right now, and I don’t have any sugar in it. It’s a really pleasant drink that it is less bitter than black tea. 

    I think you’re going to taste it, and you’ll say, it’s not something I’ve had before, but that’s not bad. I’d like to try some more. 

    You can get yaupon in the United States by ordering directly from a number of yaupon companies.

    The word yaupon comes the Catawba for “small tree.” Even the name itself holds so much about the history of this land.

    Schultes, Richard Evans. 1972 “Ilex Guayusa from 500 A.D. to the Present” In Henry Wassen, A Medicine-man’s Implements and Plants in a Tiahuanacoid Tomb in Highland Bolivia, 1972, Göteborg.
    Guayusa leaves from above.

    Jessica: Where do you recommend someone take their first sip of the lesser-known ilex beverages, yaupon or guayusa?

    Christine: Around your kitchen table with your friends and a good mug.

    The thing about these beverages is that they are social; they’re meant to be consumed with other people so. Have a taste test with your roommates; see which one you like. 

    That’s how I think you should have it. 

    This interview has been edited and condensed.

    More from Christine Folch

    An Ilex Counterpoint — Christine reflects on why yaupon never achieved the popularity of yerba mate for Comparative Studies in Society and History.

    A Tale of Two Quintessential Argentine Beverages — Christine writes about wine and yerba mate for Slate magazine.

    Forthcoming book: a cultural history of yerba mate

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