Three Austinites are producing Texas-grown tea — and, in the process, helping Bastrop residents and the pine forest there recover from the devastating 2011 wildfires.
Their Lost Pines Yaupon Tea, now available via online order and in a few local stores, is a big part of my Statesman story coming out in print tomorrow (and available to read now on mystatesman.com). The story discusses how to incorporate tea into cocktails, a trend I’ve noticed in bars lately and decided to explore further.
But the story of Lost Pines Yaupon Tea is worth an article all of its own.
The tea company launched a few months ago after one of the founders, Jason Ellis, decided to turn his longtime love of tea made from the yaupon plant into something more. Yaupon is North America’s only caffeinated plant, a relative to South America’s more well-known yerba maté, and it grows prolifically in Texas and in the other Gulf Coast states. Ellis sat down his girlfriend, Heidi Wachter, and good friend John Seibold one day and asked them if they thought the tea could make a good business.
So far, it has proven to be a success. That’s in part thanks to the yaupon plant itself, which produces a naturally sweetened tea with none of the tannins that can give other teas a slight bite of astringency.
“People in Bastrop who find out we’re harvesting yaupon are always shocked at how good the tea is,” Wachter said. “They don’t know that you can make a caffeinated tea out of (the plant), but they’re always very glad we’re there to take it off their hands. We’re not really worried about not having enough supply.”
One of the reasons it’s so easy for her, Ellis and Seibold to find as much of the yaupon as they need is that it’s actually a nuisance for many of the Bastrop ranchers who are trying to reclaim their land from the hardy, drought-resistant plant, which has a tendency to take over.
“It hampered the efforts to stop the Bastrop wildfires in 2011,” Wachter said. “The fire got so big because the yaupon acted as ladder fuel, carrying the fire into the tree canopy. Now it’s choking out the growth of the baby pines and threatening to turn the forest into a yaupon thicket.”
Thankfully, the yaupon holly makes a tasty tea that Lost Pines Yaupon Tea offers in two roasts, a light and dark. When you drink it, you might find yourself feeling pretty good afterward, as the effects of a phytochemical within the tea takes hold. Yaupon, Ellis said, doesn’t have as much caffeine as other teas; instead, it has a lot of theobromine, which is also found in high quantities in dark chocolate. And it’ll leave you feeling ready to tackle your day.
“It’s not as strong of a stimulant as caffeine, but it lasts longer,” Wachter said. “We like to say it’s a more balanced, sustained, focused energy.”
Right now, Lost Pines Yaupon Tea is sold as a loose-leaf tea in biodegradable, environmentally-friendly bags, although one day the trio hopes to offer bottles of ready-made tea as well. On each bag is an image of the endangered Houston toad, an amphibian whose home was the Lost Pines Forest largely wiped out in the deadly Bastrop fires. By harvesting the yaupon, Ellis, Wachter and Seibold are also giving the toad a chance at recovering its habitat and numbers.
“We feel like we’re doing a good thing with this,” Wachter said.
Find the tea in retail spots like Monarch Food Mart at East 38th 1/2 Street and the Herb Bar at West Mary Street off South Congress Avenue. For more information, visit lostpinesyaupontea.com.