In East Texas, an unremarkable-looking plant with bright red berries grows wild — and it grows everywhere. Used for landscaping filler by some and considered a nuisance plant by others, these plants are hardy enough to withstand even apocalyptic Texas drought.
“The best we can tell is that they enjoy suffering,” JennaDee Detro, owner of East Texas company Cat Spring Tea, told NPR in 2015. “So this kind of extreme weather in Texas — and the extreme soil conditions — are perfect for the yaupon.”
But this average-looking plant has a not-so-average characteristic: It’s the only known caffeinated plant native to North America. Despite the fact that it may be a recent culinary trend in Texas, this plant is nothing new to the Native American tribes who consumed it for hundreds of years. Via NPR:
A thousand years ago, Native American traders dried, packed and shipped the leaves all the way to Cahokia, the ancient mound city near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Native Americans sometimes used it in purification rituals involving purging (this led to its Latin name, Ilex vomitoria — a misnomer, because yaupon is not an emetic). Traveling through North Carolina in 1775, the naturalist William Bartram said Cherokees called yaupon “the beloved tree.” Early settlers even exported yaupon to Europe.
Thanks to the continued prevalence of restaurants using menu items grown and produced within 100 miles, yaupon has been popping at trendy spots like Dai Due, the Austin restaurant known for its meticulous local sourcing. That's where Katherine Clapner, owner of Dude, Sweet Chocolate, first tried yaupon.
“I drink hot tea at dinner because I don’t drink,” she says. After one sip of yaupon, her curiosity was piqued. “It’s very comforting,” she says of the tea, which tastes a bit like a mild green tea and has a similar caffeine level.
On Friday, Clapner unveiled the Yau Yaupon Truffle ($13 for six), made with Cat Spring Tea yaupon, Texas Honeybee Guild ZIP code honey, Valrhona Illanka, a single-origin Peruvian dark chocolate, and lemon. The resulting truffle is characteristically indulgent but oh-so smooth, creamy and mild in way that will appeal to people who are bigger fans of milk chocolate than dark.
Clapner has a history of using teas in her decadent chocolates — her yerba mate truffle, made with the smoky-tasting tea along with Texas Honeybee Guild honey and fresh lemon — was the first truffle Dude, Sweet Chocolate produced. When she found yaupon, she was attracted to the fact that it’s native not only to North America but to Texas in particular.
“I think that’s pretty rad — and it tastes good,” she says.
Dude, Sweet Chocolate, 408 W. 8th St. and 1925 Greenville Ave. in Dallas; 1016 E. 15th St., Plano; 2925 Crockett St., Fort Worth