During the drought of 2011, yaupon was a beacon of green in a sea of brown on the family’s ranch near Cat Spring; it caught the attention of sisters JennaDee Detro  and Abianne Falla in a “surely it’s got to be good for something” sort of way. Their curiosity didn’t kill the cat, but  prompted them eventually to found CatSpring Yaupon.

As it turns out, yaupon, the much-maligned and often battled shrub, is the only native plant in North America whose leaves contain caffeine. By botanical definition yaupon is not true tea, but Native Americans used it as a tea-like drink for thousands of years.

Photo courtesy of CatSpring Yaupon

Spanish explorers exported it to Europe. Britain, which dominated the imported tea trade (remember the Boston Tea Party?), didn’t brook any competition. In a colonial-era PR coup, “yauponer” became a pejorative term implying that anyone who drank yaupon tea couldn’t afford the imported variety. Yaupon fell out of use.

Intrigued, the sisters began experimenting with drying yaupon as well as using green leaves to steep a drink. It was surprisingly tea-like and could be enjoyed hot or cold. One small batch at time, they tested it at farmers’ markets, cafes and with trend-setting chefs. The response was so positive that in 2013 the duo launched CatSpring Yaupon.

Since that time they’ve produced over a million cups worth of yaupon tea. The leaves, which are organic and obviously non-GMO, are harvested on their ranch and that of several neighbors. In addition to using a local, overlooked resource, CatSpring Yaupon employs people who need a second chance.

Abianne and I shot the breeze over the phone late one afternoon as the entrepreneur, third-generation Aggie and soon-to-be mother, wound down another busy day.

RTR: What is your first childhood memory?
AF: Playing on the ranch in Cat Spring. My sisters (there are three of us) and I used to find the red clay deposits and make little clay figures that we dried in the sun. Most of the time we were red head to toe.

RTR: What was your first paying job?
AF: When I was in high school, I worked at the Houston Garden Center for the Brookshire-based Brookwood Community. It’s a residence and vocational program for adults with disabilities.

RTR: What’s your favorite quote?
AF: I think it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “An error only becomes a mistake when you refuse to learn from it.” It’s good advice when you’re trying to start a business because you make a lot of mistakes.

Photo courtesy of CatSpring Yaupon

RTR: What would you tell at 16-year-old Abianne Falla?
AF: The best is yet to come. And give people room to surprise you because they will—usually in a very good way.

RTR: Early or late?
AF: I’m punctual, but I prefer the night.

RTR: Who was the first one to try the yaupon tea, JennaDee or you?AF: We tried it at the same time. We figured if the Native Americans drank it for thousands of years, how bad could it be?

RTR: Why go local?
AF: I think as a culture we’re only now rediscovering the importance of local agriculture. As we ramped up agricultural production for quantity 80-plus years ago, we sacrificed control and quality, and local agriculture is again placing a value on quality rather than high-yield production. Also, yaupon is a largely forgotten resource. It’s pure American goodness grown right down the road. “Yaupon is Texan, for tea.”

*To try CatSpring Yaupon yourself, purchase it directly at www.catspringyaupon.com .