As a kick-off to the 2017 Atlanta Food and Wine Festival, Southern Living hosted a Shark-Tank style competition to pick the Southern Food and Drink Entrepreneur of the Year. Facing a panel of judges from across the Southern food world, five up-and-coming food-and-drink makers pitched their products, which ranged from gourmet marshmallows to bitters to kimchi to pre-mixed cocktails. You can read about each of them here.
All five had remarkable stories, but one really stood out, and that was CatSpring Yaupon Tea. Founded in Cat Spring, Texas, by sisters Abianne Falla and JennaDee Detro (how are those for Southern names?), their tea is made from yaupon (pronounced YO-pon), which is the only wild-growing, naturally caffeinated plant in North America. Often regarded as a scrubby nuisance tree on Texas ranches, yaupon was used to produce tea by Native Americans centuries ago, but that art and practice has been largely forgotten. Abianne and JennaDee are trying to bring the beverage back with a line of delicious new teas, including Pedernales Green Yaupon tea, which is this year’s winner.
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The young company is also giving back to the community through a program they call Working with Dignity, offering jobs to people exiting the criminal justice system and women who have a history of poverty. If that’s not enough, it’s a delicious cup of tea, and it comes from a wild Texas plant that grows on nothing but “rainwater and sunshine,” as Abianne likes to say. We’ll drink to that.
Thanks to Craft Catalyst, our co-host of the awards, and to the esteemed judges who joined me on the panel: Melissa Baker, CEO of Fenwick Brands; Dominique Love, co-founder of the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival; Matthew Mitchell, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Coca Cola Company; Brooks Reitz, Charleston-based Restaurateur and Entrepreneur; and Jenny Bonchak, Founder of Slingshot Coffee Company, which won last year’s award.