by Susan Marquez
It is by sheer serendipity that Yazoo Yaupon is a product that is sweeping the nation. “I didn’t come here to produce tea,” laughs Oliver Luckett. The son of the late Bill Luckett, who ran for governor and became mayor of Clarksdale, Oliver has lived a life of travel and adventure. With residences in Los Angeles and Reykjavik, Iceland, Oliver returned to the Delta in 2020 when his father Bill was sick with cancer. That’s where the serendipity comes in.
Serendipity is the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. The day family friend, Andrew Verbs, founder of Pacha Soaps and a professional ethnobotanist, visited the Luckett home, he unwittingly opened the doors to a new product. “Andrew disappeared on the ten-acre property and came back inside with a handful of leaves and said he was going to make my dad some tea. We had always been told not to eat the berries from the poisonous holly tree, but Andrew said, ‘Oliver, I’m going to tell you the secret of the Yaupon.’”
Yaupon Holly, not Black Tea
Tea made from the Yaupon Holly is delicious, naturally sweet and because it has no tannic acids, it cannot be over-steeped the way traditional black tea can. Luckett explains that it contains caffeine, theobromine and theophylline, and the combination of the three active ingredients makes it better for human consumption when compared to regular tea. “Not only are the physical health benefits of Yaupon better, but the carbon footprint is dramatically better than typical tea that is grown in places like Asia or India.”
Most exciting of all, Yaupon is an indigenous plant. “It has been grown in Mississippi for thousands of years, used by native Americans for ceremonies,” explains Luckett. “They would steep it to its highest concentrated form in a spiritual/cleansing ritual.”
Benefiting the Delta
Luckett and his husband, Scott Guinn, wanted to do something that would benefit the Delta region, and the Yaupon tea idea basically dropped into their laps. After doing their research, the duo launched Yazoo Yaupon. The packaging is bright and colorful, reminiscent of 1960’s Peter Max pop art. Tea flavors are just as colorful, with natural spices, herbs, fruit, and rose petals added to create Delta Magic Tea, Delta Rising Tea, Delta Orange Tea, Delta Chai Tea, and seasonal offerings like Delta Christmas Tea.
Yazoo Yaupon has been very well received. Oliver has offered the tea five times on QVC, and it has sold out every time. There is a high demand for the product, with internet sales shipped throughout the United States and beyond. The tea can be ordered from the Yazoo Yaupon website, as well as from Amazon and Walmart.com. It is also sold in retail outlets including Beans & Leaves in Southaven, and Beacon Supply in Jackson.
“It really does make the most delicious iced tea you’ve ever had,” says Luckett. “Scott is an excellent mixologist, and has come up with some interesting drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.”
In it for the Long Haul
Luckett and Guinn are in it for the long haul. “We started a 1.5 million tree program, partnering with Yaupon Brothers, large scale growers out of Florida,” says Luckett. “We have already planted the first 1,500 trees in Clarksdale.” They have partnered with entities including Crossroads Economic Development Group, Mississippi Development Authority, and Mississippi Regional Authority. A new 38,000 square foot agricultural facility, named the Rainbow Connection in honor of Jim Henson, is under construction. “It’s a magical place, designed to inspire others.”
The timing of the tea couldn’t have been better. “I think the resurgence we are seeing with Yaupon has a lot to do with this post pandemic era we now live in,” Luckett finishes. “People are all looking back to their roots – literally, in our case – and searching for a healthier alternative to everyday consumed or absorbed products. The history of Yaupon is truly fascinating and as you can tell, I went down the wormhole immediately!”
Drink recipes using Yazoo Yaupon teas, created by Scott Guinn
Peaches and Oats
1 cup hot brewed Delta Peach tea
Oat Creamer (amount to your taste)
lemon zest shavings
small spoon of honey
1 cup hot brewed Delta Magic tea (let cool to room temp)
small squeeze of lemon
small squeeze lime
splash of soda water
Mix ingredients and add to Collins glass of ice
Delta Chai Latte In a separate cup, froth with a milk frother:
Oat Creamer (amount to your taste)
small dash of vanilla extract
sprinkle of cinnamon
Pour into 1 cup hot brewed Delta Chai
Delta Iced Tea Place 4 bags of any Yazoo Yaupon Tea in a half gallon Mason jar. Fill with hot water to halfway line. Cover and let steep 30 minutes. Fill up with room temperature water. Screw lid on tight, shake, and put into fridge for at least 1-2 hours. Serve over ice and garnish as desired.