Tea Lover Lessons

The Caffeinated Hollies

Photo credit: CatSpring Yaupon

You may be familiar with holly as an ornamental plant – commonly associated with the holiday season. What you may not be familiar with is that some species of holly are used in cultures around the world as an energizing tea. The three most common types of caffeinated hollies are Yerba Mate, Guayusa, and Yaupon.


Shop Sips by's best yerba mate, yaupon, and guayusa teas from multiple tea brands. You'll find all types of yerba mate, guayusa, and yaupon teas to try, from pure to flavored. Discover your new favorite yerba mate, yaupon, and guayusa teas.


Yerba mate is made from the leaves of the South American rainforest holly, Ilex paraguariensis, that grows mainly in Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.


Yerba mate was initially cultivated and consumed by the Guaraní people who considered it an energizing and nutritious gift from the gods. In addition to drinking it, the Guaraní used yerba mate (which they called ca’a meaning plant in the Guaraní language) in rituals and as a form of currency with other pre-Colombian native cultures. 

When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in South America, they discovered the natives’ special energizing drink, and began to drink it themselves, calling it yerba (“plant” in the old form of Spanish). To properly drink it, a gourd (called mati in the Quecha language) was packed full with the dried leaves, filled with warm water, and then passed from one person to the next. They would use a metal straw (called a bombilla) with a filter at the bottom to drink the beverage. This way of drinking with a gourd and straw still continues today.


Today, yerba mate plays a large social and cultural role in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, along with other parts of South America. Some areas in the Middle East have also established a mate-drinking culture: Syrian and Lebanese immigrants in Argentina loved and spread yerba mate to their homelands, and Syria is now the largest non-Latin American yerba mate importer.


Yerba mate, traditionally consumed as a source of energy and nutrition, is said to provide the “strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the euphoria of chocolate.” Its leaves are abundant in vitamins and minerals, amino acids, polyphenols, theophylline, and antioxidants. Yerba mate on average contains about 70-80mg of caffeine per 8oz cup, which is less than coffee and typically more than black tea. The energy boost it provides is known to be gentle, clean and balanced, giving a state of alert wakefulness like coffee but without jitters. Some athletes drink it to enhance physical performance, and it is thought to boost mood, and enhance memory and productivity. Additionally, yerba mate is known as being beneficial for weight loss, diabetes prevention, and as a digestive aid.

Find yerba mate blends like Boost Organic Yerba Mate Blend by SoulMaté Yerba Co and Laughing Lemon Yerba Mate by Chariteas in the Sips by Tea Shop today.

Try out this unique yerba mate infused Guaca-Mate recipe!

Pictured: Yerba Mate in a Gourd with Bombilla (left) and Yerba Mate Leaves (right)


Guayusa is made from the leaves of the Amazon rainforest holly, Ilex guayusa, native to Ecuador, Peru and Southern Colombia.


Guayusa has a long history among native tribes in Ecuador – such as the Jivaro and Kichwa tribes. They would rise early in the morning, boil a pot of guayusa leaves over a fire, drink the tea and tell stories to each other. This was a way to build community and bring people closer together. Indigenous hunters call guayusa the “Night Watchman” because they use it to sharpen their senses, keeping them alert and awake all night long. There are many written accounts throughout history describing the traditional uses and benefits of guayusa. Here are a few we found interesting:

  • In 1683, a Jesuit named Juan Lorenzo Lucero wrote a letter to the Viceroy of Peru describing his expedition into the area inhabited by the Jivaro tribesmen. He said that, “to maintain themselves at their best, they were accustomed to drink a decoction of an herb called guayusa, similar to laurel several times daily. They were able to stay awake without losing consciousness for many nights, when they feared an invasion by their enemies.”
  • In 1738, the Italian missionary, Father Pablo Maroni, wrote that he and his fellow missionaries would frequently drink guayusa mixed with lemon or orange juice to aid digestion and to lessen the “noxious effects of the excessive humidity of the forest.”

Guayusa has recently been gaining popularity outside of South America. It’s still harvested by hand and cultivated mainly by indigenous peoples in Ecuador. When we buy guayusa here in the U.S., we are not only benefitting from the healthy energy of this super-leaf, but also helping support Amazonian indigenous communities and creating sustainable employment in the Ecuadorian rainforest!


Some argue Guayusa has even more caffeine than yerba mate. Whereas yerba mate is lacking L-theanine, the compound that creates a balanced and soothing energy, guayusa has it. In fact, Guayusa is only one of three known natural sources of L-theanine, along with Camellia sinensis (the tea plant), and a mushroom called Boletus badius. Guayusa is also high in antioxidants, may aid digestion, and contains low or no tannins giving it a smooth taste.

Guayusa is great before workouts to help increase performance and endurance, or before a long day of working or studying to keep you alert and focused. Another unique characteristic of guayusa is that it may produce lucid dreams – if you drink guayusa regularly, you may start to remember your dreams more vividly!

Look for this Berry Extreme tea by Sabroso Chai handmade with guayusa leaves in your next Sips by Box.

Pictured: Fresh Guayusa Leaves (left), photo credit Waykana Guayusa


Yaupon is made from the leaves of the evergreen holly, Ilex vomitoria, native to southeastern North America. It is the only known naturally-caffeinated plant native to the United States. Learn more about American-grown teas here.


Native Americans used the leaves of the Yaupon Holly to brew tea. The name comes from the word for “little tree” in the Catawban language. Many tribes prized yaupon for its healing and energizing qualities, and it was used regularly as a daily social drink, a ceremonial beverage, and an energizing drink before battle. It was typically drunk out of decorated shell cups. Native Americans may have been able to stave off some diseases as settlers began to arrive, due to the high antioxidant content of Yaupon.

In 1775, the Pennsylvanian botanist William Bartrum noted that the Cherokees cultivated the plant and called it “the beloved tree.” According to Charles Hudson, anthropologist and author of Black Drink: A Native American Tea, the Native Americans called the brew “white drink” because it symbolizes purity, happiness, and social harmony, while the Europeans called it “black drink” because of its color. It was thought to cleanse the soul, serve as a bonding agent, and was the ultimate expression of hospitality. The Seminole tribe also prized Yaupon as a health tonic.

The ceremonial use of Yaupon often included purging rituals, in which people would fast for three days and then drink an extremely strong brew of Yaupon, inducing vomiting. In the late 1700s, Scottish botanist William Aiton thus gave the plant the scientific name Ilex vomitoria, which erroneously led to the belief that Yaupon is an emetic (it actually doesn’t make you vomit – other factors in the purging ritual such as fasting and other added ingredients were the cause). One theory is that this scientific name is the reason why the global popularity of Yaupon dwindled and exports ceased. Yaupon became a lost art until the recent revival.


There has been a recent revival of drinking yaupon as tea. It is being harvested in southeastern U.S. and is gaining popularity as an everyday beverage – it’s not only grown and processed right here in the U.S., but is also extremely sustainable, clean, and beneficial for the environment. Yaupon grows abundantly and can be grown and harvested without fertilizer, pesticides, or harmful labor practices. Clearing out the yaupon plant from forests actually benefits the ecosystem by encouraging reforestation and restoring habitat, as yaupon is a very quick-growing shrub.

We recommend whipping up a batch of these scrumptious Yaupon Tea Cupcakes!


In addition to the stimulant effect and cognitive benefits due to caffeine, Yaupon also contains high levels of vitamins (such as A and C), and antioxidants. Yaupon contains similar caffeine, and antioxidant levels to Yerba Mate and Guayusa. Another active ingredient across all three hollies is theobromine, which is a stimulating alkaloid also found in cocoa. It is believed to reduce blood pressure and can be used to alleviate asthma. 

Check out teas like American Green Yaupon tea by Yaupon Brothers, Marfa Dark Roast Yaupon by CatSpring Yaupon, and Self Care Ritual Yaupon by YAYAYA Yaupon in the Sips by Tea Shop.

Left: Yaupon (light, medium, and dark roast) by CatSpring | Right: Iced Yaupon by YAYAYA Yaupon


Fortunately, dry tea is very shelf stable and will never spoil if stored correctly. But while it doesn’t go “bad”, tea can get stale and gradually lose flavor over time. This happens more quickly with certain teas that are more delicate or seasonal, such as green teas. Also, smaller or broken tea leaves allow more exposure to air and will go stale faster. You should store your yaupon, yerba mate or guayusa in a cool, dark place and in an opaque, airtight container away from light, moisture and pantry items like coffee and spices that can leach flavor into the tea leaves. What about refrigerating tea? Generally you shouldn’t for tea you access regularly, because there are various scents and exposure to moisture. Refrigeration is, however, a good idea for long-term storage of green tea, matcha, or oolong in a sealed container.


The brewing method for yerba mate, guayusa and yaupon is usually similar to that of black tea, although you should always check the vendor’s package or website for instructions specific to the tea you purchased. Hollies may be processed in different ways or have varying levels of roast, leading to different ideal brewing temperatures and steeping times. You may also want to try brewing it in the traditional way, such as packing a gourd full of yerba mate leaves and sipping the highly concentrated brew through a bombilla! Here are a few general caffeinated holly brewing tips to keep in mind:



  • Water Kettle or Pot to Heat Water
  • Tea leaves/Sachets/Bags
  • Teapot with Filter / Teacup / Personal Mug and Filter


  • 205℉-212℉ // Soft boil

Pro Tip: Use filtered water for the best tasting cup!


  • Generally 1 rounded tsp/1 tea bag per 8 oz. (1 cup) of water

Pro Tip: Add tea leaves to an infuser that lets them open fully, or you can put them straight into the teapot and use a strainer when you're pouring a cup!


  • 4-7 minutes

Pro Tip: Don't let your tea steep for too long! It's best to take the leaves/sachet/bag out when the time's up so you aren't left with a bitter cup. Taste your tea after the recommended steeping time and then decide if you’d like it to steep a little longer.

Pro Tip: Cover your tea while it steeps to keep all the heat and aroma in the steeping vessel.

Additions: While you may enjoy yerba mate, guayusa, or yaupon in their pure forms, feel free to experiment with adding things. For example, honey, orange or lemon peel, milk, herbs and spices may be added for a unique flavor experience!




Our mission at Sips by is to make quality tea fun, personalized, and affordable for the U.S. Click the button below to create a free tea profile and stay up to date on new tea lessons, learn about healthy tea recipes, and gain access to special brand offers & giveaways!




NPR - "Here's the buzz on America's forgotten native tea plant"

Waykana - Meet Guayusa

Victor Manuel Patiño - "Guayusa, a Neglected Stimulant from the Eastern Andean Foothills"

World of Tea - Chemistry of Tea 



2 Comment

What about kuding tea? This is another xanthine rich illex species, but contains theaCrine and meythlibrine, each being rather psychoactive. Theacrine, like theanine, has very nice sedative effects. Tastes horrible though. Why they call it “bitter nail” tea. There are actually four different caffeine laden hollies. Kuding


coooool thank you!

Hugo Hoppe

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