On a recent trip to Ossabaw Island, Savannah businessman Lou Thomann rediscovered the “Big Medicine” of ancient Native Americans. His guide John “Crawfish” Crawford with the University of Georgia marine biology center taught him about the indigenous yaupon holly tree and the Indian tea it made called “Asi” or the purifier. Intrigued, Thomann tried brewing the tea and was amazed at the results. He explains, “Like its South American cousins, yerba mate & guayusa, yaupon has the equivalent of about one fourth the caffeine of a cup of coffee. However, it has theobromine and gives a jitter free energy boost.” Theobromine is a similar type of stimulant, naturally occurring in cocoa and some teas.
What began as a hobby has transformed into a budding business. Initially, he picked the indigenous holly leaves to brew tea for his friends and family. As nearly everyone came back and asked for more to take home, he realized the new business potential in this ancient drink. Using his own funds as owner of Newfield Construction and a new Kickstarter campaign, he is striving to revive the ancient tradition and bring the tea to market.
Thomann has exciting goals to harvest yaupon in the coastal region at its height of freshness. By picking, drying, roasting and packaging the loose tea into a large pot or individual cup sized tea bags within 24 hours, he hopes to preserve its fresh and mildly sweet flavor. After sending leaf samples to several outside laboratories, he hopes to cultivate a top-quality blend with high antioxidant value and the best taste. He plans to continue his scientific research into yaupon with additional laboratory analysis. Pow-Wow Yaupon Tea’s motto is “Ancient Knowledge-Modern Science.”
However history is just as important as science to Thomann, a colonial history published in 1916 includes a passage about local Indians serving “black Drink in Conkshells” [sic] to General Oglethorpe and his party around 1740. Out of respect for those who came before, Thomann adds, “Rich in anti-oxidants, yaupon was used for medicinal purposes by Native Americans for thousands of years.” He continues, “10 percent of our profits will go to the American Indian College Fund and/or related organizations.”
Pow-Wow Yaupon Tea is a stimulating new member of Savannah’s growing local food industry including such notables as Paula Deen’s Southern cooking empire, the Savannah Bee Company and lots of local eateries.