Learn more about these caffeinated alternatives grown right in the Americas
While coffee and tea are ubiquitous beverages, they are far from the only caffeinated plants. In North and South America, three species of holly are naturally caffeinated, and have been cultivated for their stimulating effect for centuries. Here’s a brief overview of three American caffeinated plants, their history, and their culture.
If you’ve ever been to South America, you’ve probably seen Yerba Mate. The tea is brewed from the dried leaves of a holly plant native to South America. While indigenous peoples drank the beverage by picking wild plants before the colonization of South America, it wasn’t until after the Spanish settled that widespread cultivation began.
Yerba Mate and gourd (Courtesy of www.co2brew.com)
Today, across Argentina, Brazil, and other countries, Yerba Mate is as popular as tea or coffee in the US. In fact, Argentina produces more Yerba Mate by pound than Japan does tea. These South American countries are just as addicted as the rest of the world.
Traditionally, Yerba Mate is drunk out of a hollowed out gourd through a metal straw. However, the drink can be brewed using strainers or other traditional tea equipment. The brew has a mildly astringent, grassy flavor with a lot of depth and nuance. It’s a great tea for green tea lovers, who will find many similarities and interesting differences.
Another species of holly, Guayusa was originally picked in the wild in Ecuador by indigenous peoples. Like Yerba Mate, cultivation began after the Spanish arrived and began colonization of the region. Guayusa has a broader, flat leaf, and today it is primarily grown in Ecuador. While it doesn’t have the same following as Yerba Mate in South America, it makes an excellent base for blended teas.
Guayusa dry leaves (Courtesy of www.nmteaco.com)
Guayusa has a strong citrus flavor, and can be brewed just like Yerba Mate. The leaves are small dried green leaves. It goes well with lemon.
Yaupon, which is native to North America, grows along the border between Texas and Mexico. The tea was not commercially available until very recently. While holly had been cultivated by native people in Texas and Mexico for centuries, it was first drank by Westerners in the 18th century. For a few years in that century, Yaupon was even exported to Europe. But soon after this period, black and green tea from China can to its current prominence, and Yaupon was forgotten. However, the plant continued to thrive in the hot Texas desert, and is a common backyard bush throughout the region.
Yaupon leaf (Courtesy of www.catspringtea.com)
A few years ago, farmers in Texas began growing Yaupon commercially. Texans loved that they could turn a backyard bush into a caffeinated beverage. Now the drink is making a comeback through vendors like CatSpring Yaupon. CatSpring has worked to develop darker and lighter roasts of Yaupon, giving a rich variety of flavor.
While these three hollys are unusual due to their caffeine content, other herbs have been traditionally used to brew tea for thousands of years. Tea, herbal and caffeinated, has been drunk in every corner of the Earth, for almost all of human history. It is truly a drink that all people have in common.
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