• 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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  • Tea as Medicine

    The Global Tea Initiative Colloquium was hosted by the University of California, Davis on Jan. 13, 2022. Click here to see a video of the full day’s program.

    This year’s topic is Tea and Beyond: Bridging Science and Culture, Time and Space. Tea Biz brings you a recap of the keynote address on “The Popularization of Food as Medicine and Its Impact on Tea” presented by Dr. Nada Milosavljevic. Nada Milosavljevic, a Harvard-trained physician and faculty member at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Milosavljevic is the founder of the integrative health program at Massachusetts General Hospital and worked for a decade as its director.

    Dr. Nada’s passion for holistic, innovative wellness and preventative healthcare led her to found Sage Tonic, which produces teas and tisanes formulated from evidence-based clinical studies.

    Listen to the interview

    Dr. Nada in conversation with Tea Biz’s Jessica Natale Woollard

    Sage Tonic happiness tea. Photo provided by Sage Tonic

    Tea, Herbs as Medicine: A Conversation with Dr. Nada

    Dr. Nada Milosavljevic is a board-certified, Harvard-trained physician and a faculty member at Harvard Medical School. In addition to conventional medicine, she practices Integrative Medicine for cognitive and behavioral conditions. Nada has specialty certifications in Regenerative and Functional Medicine, Medical Acupuncture, Ayurvedic Medicine, and Chinese Herbs. Her training involves the use of evidence-based treatments that include: acupuncture, bio-identical hormone therapies, herbs, nutritional supplements, clinical-grade aromatherapy, as well as light and sound therapy.

    Jessica Natale Woollard: Your keynote at the Global Tea Initiative colloquium on January 13 will address trends of seeing food—including tea—as medicine. Can you give the Tea Biz community a preview of what you’ll be covering in your talk?

    Dr. Nada Milosavljevic: My topic is the popularization of food as medicine, but also looking at that through the lens of tea.

    Everyone at one point has heard of the concept of food as medicine; it’s become quite popular. My talk will give some of the historical underpinnings that show the idea of food as medicine has been around for millennia in many different ways, from many different cultures.

    Now with modern medicine, we’re really seeing some of the ways that food, and tea is no exception, can have certain health applications. I’ll be highlighting that information and further defining it, so people can appreciate where the field is going — because it’s growing, and it’s growing rapidly.

    Jessica: The teas you sell through Sage Tonic are categorized by their benefits, for example, helping with relaxation, sleep, energy, and focus.

    At what point in your medical profession did you discover the benefits of tea and begin to research the role tea plays in preventative healthcare?

    Nada: That journey for me began almost 14 years ago. It was about 2007, and, in working with patients—they ranged from teens to young adults to adults—I realized that some of the medications that we use, which are beneficial and can save lives, have certain side effects. I found out that there were a number of natural compounds, tea being one, that can play a role as a preventive or as something that can be used as an adjunctive therapy and serve a healthful purpose.

    That’s really where a lot of my research began, looking into not just tea, but other herbs as well, and the synergistic and additive effect they can have for optimal health. Certainly from a preventive standpoint, if someone wants to start using something even earlier, they can put themselves on a healthy trajectory.

    Sage Tonic Happiness tea.
    Photo provided by Sage Tonic.
    Sage Tonic essential oil towelette for relaxation.
    Photo provided by Sage Tonic.

    Jessica: In the research, you’ve conducted into the benefits of tea, herbs, and spices, did any results surprise you?

    Nada: Yes, they did in fact. There were a number of herbs and certainly a number of compounds that were not elucidated to me previously as to what their health benefits were. I saw they could play a role in human health; they could play a role in preventive health, and they could play a role for humans at many different chronological points throughout our lives.

    An herb class, called adaptogens, is one of the things I’ll be talking about at the Global Tea Initiative Colloquium next week. It’s an herb class that can really play a role in anxiety and stress reduction. It can have a constitutionally normalizing effect on the body and even be helpful with focus and sleep, many of the things that many of us have faced in many different ways, given what we’ve all been dealing with the last, almost two years now, with the pandemic.

    That herb class was something I was not as familiar with back then, and they do have a wonderful application for health.

    What is exciting to me, and what was certainly exciting 14 years ago when I began this work, is to see research into health benefits grow. There are literally hundreds of compounds in teas, and even compounds that have yet to be fully researched and categorized.

    I think there are a lot of other exciting things yet to come.

    Hear more from Dr. Nada

    You can hear more from Dr. Nada on the power of tea as medicine in her keynote address at the Global Tea Initiative Colloquium online. Click here to see a video of the full day’s program.

    This interview has been edited and condensed.

    Wholistic Health for Adolescents by Dr. Nada Milosavljevic
    Wholistic Health for Adolescents by Dr. Nada Milosavljevic

    Holistic Health for Adolescents

    Stress. Fatigue. Depression. Sleeping problems. Issues with focus and concentration. Headaches. Substance abuse. These are all common problems that teenagers deal with. We have long been acquainted with the conventional treatments of therapy and prescription medications. It turns out there are also many complementary and alternative therapies available that have evidence-based track records of success. This book presents therapies based around the five senses—including acupressure, aromatherapy, yoga, sound/music therapy—to help teens with their mental health.
    $21.95 | 288 pages | 2017 | Published by Norton Professional Books

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    Dr. Nada Milosavljevic

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  • A Medicinal Tea from the Sea

    Tea has an ancient history of medicinal applications, many of which have been validated by scientific research. The same is true of seaweed which contains antioxidants (vitamins A, C, and E) as well as trace minerals and protective pigments. Joining us from Tokyo for this week’s podcast is Hiroshi Takatoh, CEO, founder, and blender at Japan-based Teatis Tea. Takatoh is exploring, with his team of food scientists and doctors, tea formulations to assist diabetics and pre-diabetics control their blood-sugar levels.

    Listen to the interview

    Teatis Tea Founder and CEO Hiroshi Takatoh explains the health benefits of blending tea with brown seaweed

    Hiroshi Takatoh, CEO Teatis Tea
    Hiroshi Takatoh, CEO Teatis Tea

    Matcha and Powdered Seaweed Tea Aids Diabetics

    After acting as caretaker during his ex-wife’s battle with cancer, tech industry veteran Hiroshi Takatoh recognized the need for easy-to-make, nutritious foods that were suitable for the dietary requirements of medically fragile consumers. He then consulted with a wide array of doctors and food scientists for innovation within the condition-specific food and beverage space and discovered that diabetes was a challenge he could tackle in his latest business venture. The company has received $1 million in seed capital.

    Dan Bolton: Your two new powdered teas “CALM” and “AWAKE” are condition-specific blends formulated for diabetics and pre-diabetics with high blood sugar levels. Why did you focus on diabetes?

    Hiroshi Takatoh: There’s a huge population to diagnose in diabetes, and many who suffer lack the time to manage their diet. So we wanted to provide a fast way for them to control blood sugar levels.

    There are more than 400 million people with diabetes globally with 122 million people in the US diagnosed with diabetes and pre-diabetes. That is a very huge problem. Many lack the time and cooking skills to effectively manage their health. I think consumers with Type 2 Diabetes lose an average of two and a half hours a day. We want to solve this problem by providing the fastest way to manage nutrition without any cooking skills.

    Seaweed is harvested in large quantities in Japan for use in food and for its medicinal properties.

    To further support consumers with diabetes, every Teatis purchase contributes to our “Diabetes Advocate Tax,” which is donated to Insulin for Life USA, a non-profit that provides disease management supplies free of charge to diabetic patients worldwide.

    Dan: The “Calm” blend is a mix of traditional herbals, such as turmeric and ginger. “Awake” contains matcha and powdered peppermint. Tell us a little bit more about the health benefits of brown algae (Eisenia bicyclis) and the interaction of tea and turmeric with the seaweed.

    Hiroshi: Both Teatis powdered teas utilize the power of seaweed extract (Arame) that is proven to suppress the absorption of sugar from the intestinal tract and moderates blood sugar levels. Seaweed polyphenols show clinical evidence of inhibiting digestive enzymes from digesting food into glucose. Through a proprietary manufacturing process, Teatis is able to harness those nutritional benefits of seaweed, without passing along the flavor or aroma, and blend the seaweed seamlessly into matcha and turmeric powders.

    The two flavors are both good either hot or cold in the summertime. I love this kind of taste and definitely recommend it. The best way to use these is to put our tea in some skim or plant-based milk. Use one teaspoon per cup. That is the simple way to use our product. Some customers using our turmeric blend add it to their soup, others use Teatis to make green smoothies. So maybe this way is more fit for the matcha flavor.

    Dan: You’re making the point that its convenience and versatility encourage people to drink these tea blends in soups or smoothies or in a warm plant-milk-based latte.

    Hiroshi: The most important thing is that it is easy to drink. I want customers to enjoy their wonderful tea time and take just a tiny step toward prevention. So please enjoy.

    Many people like to add milk or milk alternatives to create a special at-home latte. Some add the matcha-flavored powder to smoothies and include the ginger-turmeric blend in soups. The powdered teas are accessible to cooks at any skill level and versatile, allowing diabetics and low-sugar dieters to be creative and craft beverages to their preference while managing their health.

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  • Adaptogens and Tea

    Our guest this week is Maria Uspenski, a cancer survivor, and author of Cancer Hates Tea. In 2004 Maria founded The Tea Spot, a tea wholesaler and teaware design company in Boulder, Colo. Join Herbal Collective Magazine publisher Marilyn Zink, as she discusses with Maria the importance to overall health of herbal adaptogens and their role in blends with tea, itself an adaptogen.

    Maria Uspenski on the role of adaptogens and tea

    Goddess Women's Teas
    Goddess Women’s Teas blended for women in three stages of life.

    The Beneficial Role of Adaptogens and Tea

    By Marilyn Zink | Herbal Collective Magazine

    The Tea Spot is a Public Benefit Corporation and Certified B Corp that donates 10% of all profits in-kind to cancer survivor and community wellness programs. To date the company has donated more than 10 million cups of tea through its 10% For Wellness pledge.

    Marilyn: Maria, will you tell us how herbal adaptogens got started and why?

    Maria Uspenski: Adaptogens were classified in 1950s by a Soviet scientist who was looking at ways to reduce stress for combat pilots that came from being in rapid fire combat, but also because of being at such high altitude and dealing with such intense sunlight.

    And I thought, wow, that’s super useful and something that could be good for me, and I started reading very intensely about this and then, when the pandemic hit, “I’m like wow, this is it. We really need to nurture people with something that can be supportive.”

    Our Adaptogenic Chai came out with literally 12 different strong adaptogens, and so these adaptogens have the ability to bring balance to your body, regardless of which direction the stressor is coming from.

    So let’s go back to that combat pilot for a moment, so he may have an incoming threat for which he needs his energy level to go up for where his system is responding from a low point. He needs to be brought up. The adaptogen will give him that boost, or say he’s just been shot at and is a little frazzled and needs to back down.  The Adaptogen can bring him down, so that’s referred to as a nonspecific response.

    That’s the first requirement for being an adaptogen. The response needs to be nonspecific, and that means it can either bring you up when needed. It can give you the lift when needed, or as we say,  it can give you a gentle kiss on the forehead.


    The next requirement for an adaptogen is that it needs to be a natural substance, so a plant. So generally, we use herbs, flowers of herbs or roots or mushrooms in our adaptogenic blends.

    And the third thing is that it needs to be otherwise non-harmful, not affecting other physiological biochemical processes in your body.

    So those are the three requirements.

    Camellia sinensis is a secondary adaptogen. Secondary adaptogens are adaptogens which will support the effect of other adaptogens in your body. It has a very magical amino acid called L theanine and that is very good at balancing mood.

    So, it’s not a primary adaptogen in that it will give you that big boost or bring you down when needed, but it offers kind of a supportive aspect of that.

    Things like ashwaganda, chaga mushroom, reishi mushrooms, dandelion root, and Rhodiola which is actually my favorite adaptogen, those are all very strong primary adaptogens.

    We just launched the Goddess Collection, a line of three teas to support women in different stages of their lives.

    Venus Rising is one for women when they’re going through their PMS, part of their menstruation cycle, and the adaptogens in that tea and interestingly licorice, which is a strong adaptogen, fennel and St. John’s Wort. There are other herbs to help with cramping and digestive relief, but those are the three primary adaptogens in that tea that help with mood and centering and balance.

    The second tea is for new moms, for lactation, and it’s called Mamahood. The primary adaptogens in that tea are fenugreek seeds and oatstraw with blessed thistle, and alfalfa blended with non-caffeinated red rooibos.

    The final tea, I am most excited about, is a lemongrass blend. Lemongrass is not an adaptogen, but the strong herbal adaptogens in that tea are black cohosh root, which Americans have used for women going through the menopause phase of life for many hundreds of years.

    Dong Quai, which is also known as Angelica sinensis, is a traditional Chinese medicine for the symptoms of menopause. Most of these are for hot flashes and vaginal dryness. So literally, you know they have fetal-estrogenic qualities, so these are not teas that women should be drinking when they’re pregnant.

    Polyphenols in Tea
    Polyphenols in tea. Illustration courtesy of The Tea Spot.

    Marilyn: When you say that people who are looking for tea now, they’re not thinking tea is just something to drink?

    Maria: There are people that just look to tea to get them warm and have a delicious beverage, but statistically speaking, in North America 76% of herbal tea purchases are for whatever function that herb can bring people.? 

    Marilyn: Is there a certain amount that someone needs to drink or certain frequency?

    Maria: That’s a very valid question, too much of any good thing is not a good thing, right?

    Adaptogens are classified as not having a negative effect on other functions. It’s using it daily for a certain amount of time. 

    We don’t instruct people to make decoctions, to cook these teas on the stove, but honestly, you’re better off cooking it because you are talking about roots, cloves. You want to hit herbs with boiling water or as hot as you can get it in whatever environment you’re living in. And if you have the time and you have the tea loose, cook it on the stove. 

    I like to take our adaptogenic Chai loose and cook it on the stove for 10 to 20 minutes. I like to cook it and then those roots and herbs just keep on giving.

    In my mind it brings me back to center. In reality, it probably does that only because I drink it daily or every other day. 

    Marilyn: You talk about adaptogenic herbs for women, what about for men? 

    Maria: My species obviously needs to reproduce, but I don’t need to reproduce today, tomorrow, yesterday, in order to make it to next week. Those hormones that I need, you know, pituitary, thyroid, those hormonal functions that are most important are not for women only.

    Digestion is one of the symptoms that comes out of hormonal digestive problems. A large part of what we help with is called belly pain and digestive issues as well, which of course concern men almost as often as they do women. 

    Digestive health is just as important for both genders. In our Adaptogenic Chai, organic maca root and Slippery Elm are two of our favorite ingredients. Slippery Elm is amazing for digestion.

    Adaptogens that target reproductive hormonal function have also been shown to be effective for prostate health as men age. 

    Adaptogenic Chai
    The ingredients in The Tea Spot’s Adaptogenic Chai include organic roasted dandelion root, organic chaga mushrooms, organic ashwagandha, organic rhodiola, organic cardamom seeds, organic cinnamon, organic slippery elm, cascara shells, organic ginger, organic raw cacao nibs, organic cloves, and organic maca root.

    Marilyn: Isn’t it wonderful when you think something as simple as tea can be so healing for people.

    Maria: It’s fantastic. The biggest impact is when a customer will reach out and say, ” ‘you know, your teas and drinking them regularly has really changed my life.’ ” 

    The Tea Spot
    The Tea Spot blends a full line of functional whole leaf teas

    Empowering Wellness

    Loose leaf tea became an integral part of my recovery from cancer and continues to be a key component of my daily health regimen. The simple act of preparing loose tea is likely just as therapeutic as the tea itself. It gives me great joy to be able to share this with others and I am continually inspired by the people who courageously and actively fight to survive.

    The Tea Spot is committed to spreading health and wellness through whole leaf tea — every day. The company crafts teas of exceptional quality and designs innovative Steepware that empower people to lead healthier lives. Our customer community actively participates in this mission through our 10% For Wellness. As a “Best for the World” certified B Corp, our company is recognized for infusing the goodness of tea in communities near and far.

    Maria Uspenski, CEO & ovarian cancer survivor

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