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Because it’s strange and beautiful and hot, people from everywhere converge on Florida and they bring their cuisine and their traditions with them. The Zest celebrates the intersection of food and communities in the Sunshine State.

Yaupon Brothers American Tea Co.

Lisciandrello, Carl

There’s a beverage that’s been around for thousands of years. It’s native to Florida, and my guests today make a pretty compelling case for why it deserves a spot on your breakfast table. And no, it’s not orange juice. Coming up, we’ll meet the siblings behind Yaupon Brothers Tea Co.

Listen to the episode

Bryon White is a self-professed “plant nerd.” Growing up in New Smyrna Beach on Florida’s east coast, he got curious about the grove of yaupon holly bushes across the street from his family’s home. So about a decade ago, Bryon did what any plant nerd would do: He turned to books.

He learned that yaupon is native to the American Southeast, and that indigenous cultures have been brewing it for thousands of years. So Bryon got his younger brother, Kyle, on board—and the two got cookin’.

“I just said, ‘Well, either it tastes like crap and nobody will drink it, or it’s a great opportunity,’” Bryon recalls.

Luckily, it was the latter.

Today, Bryon and Kyle White are the cofounders of Yaupon Brothers American Tea Co. Their tea comes in flavors like lavender coconut, citrus spice and Florida chai.

“It’s like a smoother version of traditional green tea,” Kyle says. “It has a smooth, kind of grassy floral flavor, and that’s kind of the big selling point.”

Yaupon Brothers is one of a small handful of businesses that make up the American Yaupon Association, marketing the caffeinated plant to folks who want an energy boost without the jitters that coffee sometimes brings. Bryon and Kyle have also worked with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Science to develop yaupon as a supplemental crop for farmers struggling with citrus greening.

The brothers and their small staff operate out of Edgewater, just a few miles from where they grew up—and thousands of miles from Asia and Africa, where the majority of the world’s tea originates. Bryon and Kyle chatted with host Dalia Colón about the benefits of drinking yaupon, what it tastes like and how their company gives back to Yaupon’s Native American roots.

“We didn’t discover this thing. It’s been around for many thousands of years,” Bryon says. “The fact that most people today don’t know what yaupon is, is really a symptom of what we refer to as erasure of indenous culture.”

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