NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. – Virtually all of the tea consumed by Americans comes from somewhere else, but Bryon White wants to change that.
White, who is from New Smyrna Beach, is the CEO of Yaupon Brothers American Tea Company. The business focus on selling “tea” made from the leaves of the yaupon holly plant.
“I learned that yaupon is our only native caffeinated plant species in America,” White said. “So we import all of our caffeine. We consume 150 million cups of tea every single day in America and all of it comes from somewhere else. So, I thought that this was a really great opportunity to explore a caffeinated alternative beverage that is grown right here in America and Florida.”
White said he got started about 12 years ago. At the time, he said there was no commercial supply of yaupon available.
“So we really had to build a supply chain from the ground up which took a really long time and a lot of you know blood, sweat, tears and other people’s money,” White said.
Of course, it wasn’t just Bryon White’s blood sweat and tears. His brother, Kyle, also became involved in the business.
“I’m the nerdy plant guy and not him, I just needed help,” White said. “And so (Kyle is) much younger than I was. So he’s kind of a high school-aged kid at the time and I just sort of grabbed him in.”
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White said his brother remains an active part of the day-to-day operations, dealing with much of the sales of the business. The brothers are also helped by the third founder of the business, Mark Steel, who started out as a mentor to the younger White brother.
“Once he found out what we were doing, he just was sort of enamored with it and has been with us ever since,” White said.
In addition to building Yaupon Brothers, White has been working with farmers across the state to promote yaupon as an alternative crop to citrus, as the industry has been struggling with citrus greening.
“We’ve planted about 70,000 trees just in Florida alone in the past year,” White said. Some of those are old citrus growers, some of them are growing other things, but the idea is the farmers grow it for us and then we purchase all the output and use that to create our products.”
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The business has seen quite an expansion since it started. Yaupon Bros. is now available in every Whole Foods supermarket in the state of Florida. The company also just recently opened a new production facility and cafe in Edgewater.
“We designed this new facility with the intention of having people come in and actually seeing the process,” White said. “I think consumers these days, they really want provenance and authenticity in their food. They want to see who’s making it, where is it being made, what’s going into it — that’s how they trust the process.”
The facility, located at 504 Pullman Road, is open daily for tours.
On the latest episode of Florida Foodie, White shares some of his future plans for Yaupon Bros. He also takes a deep dive into the cultural significance of the yaupon to the indigenous people of Florida and the U.S.
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Florida Foodie is a bi-weekly podcast from WKMG and Graham Media that takes a closer look at what we eat, how we eat it and the impact that has on us here in Florida and for everyone, everywhere. Find new episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you download your favorite podcasts.