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    • Please join me in welcoming Abianne Falla for a Cake Panel! A bit about her: Abianne is the Co-Founder and Head of Business Development of CatSpring Yaupon Tea, an Austin based yaupon company that sustainably wild harvests North America’s only caffeinated plant. Prior to founding CatSpring Yaupon Tea, Abianne worked at Ernst & Young as a CPA and with Lululemon Athletica as a Community Development Manager. Abianne is a graduate of the Entrepreneurship MBA program at Acton School of Business.

      Welcome Abianne!

    • Well, we like to say that “It's Texan, for tea.” Simply put, it’s the only caffeinated plant native to North America. And we are sustainably wild-harvesting it in Cat Spring, Texas. It’s a cousin plant of Yerba Mate & Guayusa. You drink yaupon like a traditional tea, and it’s our only native source of energy.

    • We think it’s uniquely Texan in the sense that we’re currently having to harvest it wild as it grows prolifically. People have seen it as a nuisance because it grows so voraciously wild. We think that lends itself to the independence and voracity of Texans! And also, one of the first historical references to Yaupon being consumed by indigenous people is back in 1545 by Cabeza de Vaca, when he was exploring the region. Obviously not everyone has a year of Texas history in school, but we did growing up, so we learned a lot about him, and it was fun to learn that he was the first recorded Westerner to see it used!

    • It’s an evergreen, so we can harvest it year-round. The way it works right now is we work with different landowners in the area to harvest the yaupon they have growing on their land. For centuries, yaupon was thought of as a pest in the region. If it wasn’t native to the area, it would be thought of as an invasive species! Historically, the land was grassland, and these native grasses have root systems that go 5 feet deep, they are very hardy. But in the last century, a lot of those grasses were cleared out and replaced by grasses that were better for cattle or for hay. Those tend to have shallower root systems, like 6 inches. Yaupon is a rhizome, which spreads through its roots, so because it hasn’t had these native grasses to keep it in check, it’s grown unbounded. People in our region have been bulldozing it, it’s so hardy, and then burning it, to keep clearing land for cattle or paths or whatnot. So we work with different landowners to actually come in and harvest that yaupon, helping them return the environment to the native ecosystem and then using the yaupon for good rather than burning it up. Yaupon grows across the Southeast, across the Gulf Coast to Florida, and then up the coast to the Outer Banks. So yaupon’s range in Texas starts at the Gulf and then goes inland. It’s an understory tree, it likes to grow under other trees: under pine trees in East Texas, or under Live Oaks closer to Central Texas where we are.

    • I think we are designed to respond to story. That’s the way we learn and remember things, with what resonates. And for me personally, it’s been important in how we’re establishing our company, and then how we’re communicating and telling what we’re doing. It’s been important for communication with our team, in how we have chosen to do business, whether it’s with my sister as my cofounder or with our employees or our landowners. And then outwardly, being able to share with our customers. And yaupon has a long legacy, there are so many indigenous people groups that have a history with it, and it’s had some resurgence in the US, mainly during times of adversity, like during the American Revolution and Civil War, when imported tea was hard to get. Because of this rich historical importance, we've had so many stories to share and they have really laid the groundwork of what what makes this plant special.

    • Well, technically I’m a farmer, which growing up in Houston, living in New York and DC, I definitely didn’t see that in my future! It’s been wonderful in that sense, to be sharing something that is so physical, especially in a time when so much business and communication is done virtually, on the computer or on the phone. So to have something that’s a physical product, that’s physically challenging to be processing and producing has been incredibly refreshing. And to be so connected to the land in a new way, I feel, connects us and me to other people: whether that’s through the community where we’re harvesting, the people who are harvesting our tea, or people who are drinking it, in cafes or restaurants or their own home, it’s been very humbling to be invited in. And I don’t think that’s possible when the entire relationship is digital.

    • I’ve been able to try the various roasts of Yaupon - green, medium, and dark. Can you describe the difference that goes into making the roasts, and how that affects the flavor?

    • Just like tea, yaupon teas all come from the same plant. But the flavor profiles are teased out by differing oxidation levels. So our green will be our least oxidized, and our dark roast is the most oxidized. Like tea, there’s so many different ways to prepare it. You can change oxidation through fermentation, through physical oxidation (hand rolling or chopping the fresh leaves), and you can also change it through heat (through steaming, roasting, sun drying). There’s a lot of different ways to change the oxidation, and each one brings out a different flavor profile. These are the three types we’ve chosen to share right now. The comparisons we usually get, if people are tea drinkers, is that our green is like a traditional Japanese green, the medium is like Oolong, and the dark is like Japanese Hojicha.

    • One of the interesting things I learned about Yaupon was that it contains theobromine, the same compound found in chocolate, that helps lower blood pressure! What are some ideal Yaupon / chocolate (or Yaupon / other food) pairings?

    • We’ve actually done yaupon chocolate truffles before, and those are delicious! With a company called Dude Sweet chocolate out of Dallas. We’ve done a yaupon honey matcha popcorn. And a hotel in San Antonio did a yaupon creme brulee that was very tasty. One of the things that makes yaupon so fun to blend or bake with or drink is the fact that it’s naturally tannin-free. And tannins give tea that astringency, that bite, that you’re going to be cutting with sweetener or creamer or milk. But since yaupon doesn’t have tannins naturally, it’s not going to be fighting other flavor profiles, but can rather round them out. So that makes it really fun to work with! People are incredibly creative. We’ve got a local cider company that makes a yaupon cider. It’s even been used in beer.

    • There’s a couple of things. One that’s been a huge learning experience for me is I think in all of our education, we’re taught there’s a right answer, whether it’s A, B, or C. And when you’re in business, there’s often many ways that would work, but there are ways that won’t work. So it’s been important to ask the right questions, and to narrow the region of darkness, so that rather than trying to find the right answer, it’s finding the range of what will work. And then doing that as quickly as possible, and not wasting as much time as feasible, because you’re going to be making a lot of decisions, especially as you start. So moving confidently, and also questioning everything. There are a lot of times we aren’t realizing that we’re operating under assumptions that may or may not be true. So it’s always good to be asking ‘why.” During the drought of 2011, in Texas we were losing 100 year old oak trees. I think statewide we lost 20,000 trees. And in Cat Spring, we noticed that everything was dying except for yaupon. So we started to ask “why,” in the same way you’d try to find what’s good about fire ants because they aren’t dying. And in the process, we uncovered this amazing legacy.

    • We are looking to find more and more tea companies, restaurants, and any company that needs an ingredient to partner with. We know we can’t be the only company sharing yaupon, it’s not an industry if that’s the case, so because of our employment initiative, for our harvesting, we work directly with probation officers in our local community, and for our packaging, we work with women who have a history of generational poverty. So because that’s a huge driver for us, we’re always trying to create more opportunities on the harvesting and packaging side. We want to sell more and more yaupon, and work with more companies, whether they are putting it into bottled tea, blending it under their name, or serving it in their restaurant, hotel and spa. What we’ve found is most people love yaupon tea when they taste it. So it’s about getting yaupon in front of more people to try.