A Story about Savannah’s Native Yaupon Plant

A Story about Savannah’s Native Yaupon Plant

EVERY SAVANNAHIAN has had his or her fair share of sweet tea. However, long before the sugary cups of brown “Savannah Water” were served alongside deep fried seafood treats, the natives of our area enjoyed the taste and healing properties of yaupon—a leafy plant that has been brewed for a very long time.

Luckily, Savannah has two visionaries bringing back the use of the ancient plant.
Owners Lou Thomann and Lori Judge are true pioneers in the world of Savannah’s native yaupon holly. What started with a dream has now turned into Yaupon Tea House & Apothecary.

I was lucky enough to sit down with the pair and enjoy Yaupon Tea House & Apothecary’s ceremonial brew exactly as the Native Americans once did.

“Different tribes would share the tea, and it would create a bond. When Oglethorpe came to Savannah, Tomochichi gave Oglethorpe a cup of this tea,” Judge told me.

As we shared the light, earthy, warm tea, Thomann, who could be considered a self-taught expert on the subject, educated me on the history of yaupon.

On a getaway to Ossabaw Island with the owners of Service Brewery, the two were introduced to the yaupon plant by John “Crawfish” Crawford who, according to Thomann, is one of the most knowledgeable naturalists in the coastal area.

After hand picking and brewing fresh tea over their campfire, Thomann instantly fell in love with the tea and its history.

Thomann returned home and immediately began researching the native holly.

“It opened up this whole world; I realized that this is a huge treasure. This was the most sacred plant in North America amongst indigenous people for thousands of years, and nobody knows anything about it. We started making little tea bags, hand picking it, giving it to people, going to charity events serving it,” explained Thomann.

He started small by harvesting the native plant and distributing it in different forms—tea bags, bottled tea, and more. I’m sure that most locals are very well acquainted with his tea company and its products, ASI Tea Company, even if they may not know it.

The next phase of growth for Thomann occurred with implementation of two yaupon farms, one in Metter, Ga., and one in Florida.

“We have ten thousand plants that we planted. We are doing it in row crops to see if they can be grown that way because right now it is just grown in the wild,” Judge says.
Thomann elaborates:

“The farm in Metter is the research farm. The entire farm is not growing yaupon. We are growing probably about fifteen acres. We first started harvesting yaupon on Heard Island, which is a little barrier island off of Darien, and we propagated,” he says.

“We were genetically selective with which plants looked good and healthy. We propagated them, and we planted about ten to twelve thousand of those plants on the farm in a row crop. No one has ever done that before.”

As America’s only indigenous source of natural caffeine, the yaupon plant has magical properties. Beyond caffeine, the plant contains theobromine, an alkaloid of the cacao plant.

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Together the two natural stimulates give drinkers a slight boost while imparting many believed health benefits such as better digestion, lower blood pressure, and immune-boosting properties.

Thomann‘s goal is to further explore the many benefits of the tea. “We were just awarded a phase two USDA small business innovation research grant, which is to study the feasibility of yaupon for food,” he tells me.

They are pushing even more by reaching for a National Institute of Health grant, which will catapult the duo and their local farm to work towards clinical trials, the purpose being to document the true health benefits of the magical plant.

The most recent, but not final, phase of expansion for the two is their official storefront, which opened April of this year. Sitting inside beneath a large open sunlight that fills the space with warmth is a tall busy yaupon tree that the two brought from their farm.

While Thomann is the yaupon master, Judge has begun to study up on herbalism. The Teahouse has brought the two together, through its mission to recreate traditional uses of yaupon and share natural yaupon products with local Savannah.

Tourists and locals can stop in and enjoy their ceremonial tea—just like I did. The brew is served in a handmade replica of Cahokia civilization’s ceremonial cup.

As the in-house expert on the subject, Thomann tells me the story. “It was one of the largest settlements of Native Americans in the 1700s or 1800s; it was a bigger city than London, as a comparison. In that village they found earthenware similar to this with yaupon and cocoa residue in the cup that was tested. They found it in thousand year old cups.”

Again, honoring the native traditions of yaupon, Yaupon Tea House serves Cocoa Yaupon Tea.

If you feel it is just too warm to drink your tea hot, iced is the modified classic southern version. Yaupon Tea House sells house blended functional teas to take home and brew yourself.

On tap are two original and exclusive yaupon brewed organic kombuchas, which vary from time to time and are available by the cup or by the growler.

“Yaupon has natural sugars, probably in the saponins, so when you make kombucha you do not have to put in as much sugar to ferment it,” Thomann explains.

As for the layout of the apothecary in Yaupon Tea House & Apothecary, on the right of the store you will find rows of exclusive and unique to the store products. The tea house sourced high quality small artisanal businesses to work with and create the unique wellness products.

Customers will find things such as handmade yaupon soap, CBD and yaupon blended products, essential oil balms, facial steams, seasonal skincare products, and much much more. Yaupon pairs well with CBD because, much like CBD, it has natural anti-inflammatory properties.

By blending yaupon with other natural plants and herbs, Yaupon Tea House is offering items that contain ingredients that harmonize and boost the properties of each ingredient.

The hardworking duo will keep pushing. Thomann said it best when he told me that they “are going to start lectures. We are looking for people in the health and wellness space to do either workshops or lectures.”

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Savannah’s one stop shop for all things brewed:

Savannah’s one stop shop for all things brewed:

THERE IS now a one stop shop for all things brewed: coffee, tea, kombucha, cider, and more importantly beer and wine.

In the thick of an up and coming part of town, the new restaurant and beer garden Brewed SAV sits right off Habersham near 34th.

The casual destination for locals is the creation of Douglas Galloway and Amy Livingood. The two came together through a mutual love of craft beer after meeting at the Savannah Climbing CoOp.

If you stop by the brick building on a breezy March Saturday afternoon, like I did last week, an ice cold frothy beer straight from the tap is a must.

Livingood is the expert on the offerings of Brewed Brews so I will let her explain what is available from their taps.

“We have 16 craft regional taps, but started our launch with all Georgia craft beer. Georgia was the last state to change brewery laws to allow breweries to sell directly out of their tap room,” she says.

That development is a game changer in that it allows breweries the revenue in house to experiment and grow.

“Georgia’s beer scene is a new frontier after the law changes, and we expect a lot of awesome new ones to open in the near future!” she says.

I am a fan of darker, more robust beers so I went for the Arches Brick & Maple, a nutty caramel brown ale. The list has something for everyone—IPAs, sours, stouts, lagers, and more.

For true Southerners, good iced cold tea is just as important on a hot afternoon as is having a cold one. Keeping with the brewed theme, and paying homage to our Southern town, Brewed Brews recognized that including the leafy steeped drink was a must. Just as much thought was put into the selection of teas, the same care was taken in selecting the keg behind each tap.

Livingood explained the selection to me.

“We met John Arnold from Hale Tea Company through James Spano after picking out our coffee roast. I wasn’t into tea until I moved to Savannah where I realized why everyone craves an ice cold tea on a hot afternoon,” she says.

“I trust James Spano’s taste and immediately found perfect loose leaf teas to create long process toddy teas, and it’s become one of the more surprising and creative parts of Brewed that we hope to continue to build on as summer approaches.”

Finally, the drink menu has a wide selection of coffee concoctions: The most important drink of the morning, especially when you have had too many libations.

The Hot Toddy is unique to Brewed SAV, and as told by Livingood, “I discovered concentrated iced toddy coffee in college when I was trying to maximize my ability to study and work at the same time.”

As for the coffee itself, the menu uses locally roasted Cup to Cup coffee, and the blend of coffee used by the store is dubbed Camp Coffee.

“When we started looking for a local roaster to partner with,” Livingood told me, “we fell in love with Cup to Cup’s earthy and chocolate note small batch roasts and I perfected our ‘camp coffee’ on one of our many 6+ hour road trips to climb in Chattanooga where I would wake everyone up the next day to a kick in the pants cold brew coffee to help us all hike as fast as possible and send all the routes and still have energy for a beer around the campfire after.”

If you sit too long throwing back drinks and watching soccer on their big screens, you will definitely want to order some snacks.

Go for the Obatzda Spread which is served with Auspicious Bakery pretzel crackers. Obatzda is a Bavarian dish made by combining multiple cheeses and spices. Brewed Brews makes theirs with brie and paprika (because paprika makes anything taste amazing). You will be tempted to shovel this dip into your mouth by the spoonful.

Do not expect to find just a few simple bar snacks. According to Livingood, “Our menu falls in line with German beer hall offerings. We have cheese spreads, cheese and meat boards, and are getting our pretzel crackers, country loafs, and focaccia from Auspicious Baking Company. A crowd favorite this first week has been our pimento cheese spread that we offer with pretzel crackers from Auspicious or as our ‘Hard Working Lunch’ special as a no crust sandwich paired with a Coors Banquet. The pimento recipe is a family recipe from the Matthews that Smith was kind enough to share with us.”

The Hard Working Lunch is a hand-cut, round white bread sandwich jammed with Southern pimento cheese and a vine ripe slice of red tomato. To wash it down, the tray of food is served with a tallboy Coors Banquet Beer.

Every baked item within the four walls is baked by Auspicious, which means you will find a large assortment of expertly baked pastries at all times in the pastry case.

I couldn’t resist taking home a Nutella filled Poptart home to have a treat for later.

Even if you don’t need an excuse to go sit at Savannah’s newest casual local beer house, at any time you can find a fun event or great game being hosted by the team at Brewed Brews.

Chai Milk Cake

Chai Milk Cake

Being able to bake a cake is the cornerstone of becoming a good baker–especially an at-home baker. But if you are anything like me (I have been baking since my teenage years), you may feel as though you have baked every type of cake there is. After enough time you start pulling away from baking the same old cakes, and bake new and exiting things. At least until a new and exciting cake idea comes along.

A few weeks ago I read about the idea of a milk cake and was thrilled – I found a cake I have never made before.

The concept is simple. Much like a tres leches cake, you bake a dense cake then soak it in flavored milk. The result is half custard, half super moist cake. The milk mixture for the soak is similar to that of a tres leches, but you take the time to flavor the cream by heating it up and steeping it.

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Like many of my recipes, you can steep the milk with anything. Any tea, honey, cinnamon, vanilla–the list is endless.

Within the last year I have started to like chai tea. The spicy flavors of chai tea steeped in the milk soak would be the perfect balance to a sweet and sticky cake. I carried the flavor of the chai tea into the topping for the cake.

Again, this cake would pair well with many toppings, whipped cream, caramel, and most fruits. I chose to make a fig, apricot, golden raisin compote to keep with the theme of warm winter flavors.

After testing the recipe out, I served it at a quaint little dinner party last weekend. I normally find fault in my own baked goods but could not find much fault in this cake. The cake did not last through the weekend.

Chai Milk Cake

Milk being poured over the finished cake

Ingredients

  • For the Compote:
  • 2 Cups of Water
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons of Honey
  • 1 Chai Tea Bag
  • 1/2 Cup of Dried Apricots, quartered
  • 1/2 Cup of Dried Figs, quartered
  • 1/2 Cup of Golden Raisins
  • 1/2 Vanilla Bean
  • 2 Tablespoons of Whiskey
  • For the Cake:
  • 2 Sticks of Butter, softened
  • 1 Cup of Sugar
  • 3 Large Eggs
  • 1 1/2 Cups of All Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 Teaspoon of Salt
  • 1/2 of a Vanilla Bean
  • 1 Teaspoon of Vanilla Extract
  • 2 Teaspoons of Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Cup of Whole Milk
  • For the Soak:
  • 1 - 12 Ounce Can of Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 1 - 15 Ounce Can of Evaporated Milk
  • 1 Cup of Heavy Cream
  • 1 Teaspoon of Vanilla Extract
  • 5 Chai Tea Bags

Instructions

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the water, honey, and 1 chai tea bag. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
  2. Next stir in the raisins, figs, apricots, whiskey, and the scrapings from the inside of the vanilla bean.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the mixture for 5 minutes before removing the tea bag.
  4. Cook the mixture for an additional 10 minutes, or until the liquid turns to a light syrup.
  5. Set the mixture aside to cool before serving.
  6. For the cake, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan and set aside for later.
  7. In your stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. This takes about 5 minutes.
  8. Slowly add in the eggs, one at a time, until fully combined and the mixture is fluffy.
  9. Combine all of your dry ingredients, then slowly sift in one-half of the dry mixture into the butter mixture. Mix until combined.
  10. Next add in the milk, vanilla extract, and the scraped inside of the vanilla pod. Mix until combined.
  11. Finally, add the remaining one-half of the dry mixture, mixing until fully combined.
  12. Pour the cake batter into your prepared cake pan and bake on the middle rack for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  13. Once your cake is baked, remove it from the oven and let it cool.
  14. While the cake cools, prepare your chai milk soak mixture.
  15. In a small saucepan, combine all of the ingredients for your milk soak.
  16. Over medium heat, bring the mixture close to a simmer, then turn off the heat. Allow the tea to steep uncovered for 10 minutes.
  17. After they have steeped, remove the tea bags from milk mixture.
  18. Turn out your cake onto its serving tray. Gently pour your milk mixture onto the cake.
  19. The soak will not fully absorb initially, so spoon any extra soak back onto the cake before serving.
  20. Serve the cake with the compote. The cake will last one day.
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Finsihed soaked cake topped with compote

 

A Review of Savannah’s Newest Teahouse: La Petite Abeilles

A Review of Savannah’s Newest Teahouse: La Petite Abeilles

Hospitality is one of the major qualities that defines being Southern. For many of us, anytime we host a guest we immediately offer them a glass of iced tea or some warm food. The same applies when we are guests in our another Southerner’s abode.

When I heard about the concept of a new tea house in Savannah, La Petite Abeilles, I thought the restaurant would be nothing short of a perfect fit in our town.

Chef and Owner Mia Guerin opened the doors to her home and La Petite Abeilles only a few short weeks ago. The Teahouse and restaurant sits within the walls of a classic and beautiful historic Victorian home on Barnard Street.

Guerin is doing the Southern thing and offering her guests the opportunity to sit on her wraparound porch and drink some tea. She relocated to Savannah from San Diego because her daughter began studying at SCAD. Before her short-lived move to San Diego, Guerin operated Miss Guerin’s Tea House and a full size bakery in Mesa, Arizona.

As for the name, Guerin explains why coming up with that was the easy part:“My dad is French. Growing up there were three daughters, and my dad used to sing that to us, La Petite Abeilles — the little bees. It is actually spelled incorrectly…but my dad used to sing the La, so it is personal.”

The menu of La Petite Abeilles pays homage to parts of Guerin’s menu at Miss Guerin’s Tea House while incorporating new creations as well.

Guerin explains how she approached creating her new menu as college English major: “Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors, so you will see there is Jane Austen characters within the menu. Everybody who is not from Jane Austen is either one of my kids or one of my nieces or nephews.”

As Guerin puts it, almost every single item available is made in house. She says “there are very few cans, tomatoes and beans I think we have in cans.”

To properly execute each dish, Guerin hired two Chefs that just graduated from The Virginia College, Tyler and Maddie. Every single baked good used by the restaurant is baked in their kitchen, even the sliced bread.

I asked Guerin where she sourced some of her local ingredients and her response doesn’t disappoint: “We use all fresh herbs, and I grow those here. From the rosemary, thyme, sage, mint, and pretty much everything. Tyler will walkout with a pair of sissies to clip the rosemary for his rosemary bread”.

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My husband and I went to try the brunch menu. He spotted the Grand Mariner Stuffed French Toast and could not resist. The menu offers more than just brunch or tea—lunch is available as well.

Four thick-cut triangles of toast are dunked in an egg wash before being seared to a golden brown, artfully arranged on a delicate plate, and finished with strawberries and a citrusy Grand Marnier infused cream.

The finished flavor is that of a classic French toast with grown-up kick of orange liqueur. On the side comes crispy fried bacon, the ideal kick of savory, salty seasoning to balance the overall sweetness of the dish.

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I ordered the Emma’s Breakfast, a plate of vegetable-jammed crustless quiche, rosemary roasted potatoes, and a warm scone. The vegetable to egg ratio in the quiche was mind-boggling, as it takes a skilled chef to be able to fill a quiche with so many items yet be able to keep the eggs from falling apart once baked. And although brimming with fresh vegetables, the eggs remained perfectly cooked and delicate.

As for what patrons have ordered the most, “quiche has been the number one thing, and it was the number one thing from before. It has three different types of cheese in it and it is veggie,” Guerin tells me.

Sarah’s Belgian Waffle was my husband’s second choice breakfast, and we decided to go for it too. For this creation you get a plate-sized airy waffle topped with your pick of candied pecans and maple syrup or a berry sauce and whipped cream.

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He opted for the candied pecan version, due partially because of the Southern in him, and it did not disappoint. The sprinkling of crunchy roasted pecans added the right amount to texture to the weightless waffle.

To partake in one of La Petite’s Afternoon Tea Luncheons, you must make a reservation in advance. There are seven available options in meals to devour with your tea. The tricky part is deciding the tea to drink, because La Petite offers over fifty different varieties of tea.

Guerin hand-selected the various tea options through her worldly travels. “I really was fortunate that I got to go to Africa and all these places to got to tea farms and see how it is rolled, how it is made, how it smoked, how it is dried,” she explains as we sit in the ornate dining room of her Victorian.

High Tea Service is available from 4-6 p.m., by reservation only. The service is enough for two people and comes with a choice of two teas and various delectables; including scones, puff pastries, bruschetta, and a crostino.

The final trick up Guerin’s sleeve is her catering skills. La Petite has not limited itself to breakfast, lunch, and tea service, but also offer locals catering options.

And even if you are not catering a big party, this holiday season the store is opening up its baking services to fill any holiday baking goods.

In fact while I was there, I took home a mini pumpkin loaf painted with chocolate, an ideal treat for any holiday table.

Original article can be found here.

Review: Pie Society

Review: Pie Society

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‘TRADITIONAL’ is a word that gets thrown around a lot in the food industry. I must say, if I was forced to pick a single term to describe the menu, ambiance, and attitude of Pie Society, I would be remiss to not describe it using that pesky term.

I ain’t talking about saying the blessing while holding hands before a meal, I am talking the type of tradition that makes the food of our ancestors so delicious.

Founded in 2013, Pie Society opened its first location in Pooler, and only a year later opened a second location in the historic district of Sa

vannah. This restaurant and bakery is steeped in tradition and is owned by a family, the Wagstaffs, born and raised in England; they relocated to Georgia to bring Savannah its only authentic British bakery.

Co-owner Gillian Wagstaff, mother to the other co-owners, brought a refrigerator from her home in England and placed it in the store — you cannot miss it behind the counter with a giant flag on the front.

The walls of the Pooler location are adorned with photos as time-honored as the recipes  cooked daily within the confines of the business. Most notable is a blown up picture of the Wagstaff’s family’s shoe shop, in Birmingham, England. Pictured in black and white, you can see their great grandfather, Thomas Sylvester Wagstaff, second to the right. Co-owner Melissa Wagstaff proudly poses in front of the picture.

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The Pooler location “is much bigger…and we sell more things such as British groceries and frozen items like English bacon and sausages” says Melissa, setting itself apart from the sister location in City Market.

Those are not the only things that make the Pooler location unique, they now offer traditional (in the truest sense) British Fish and Chips. Even if you don’t live near Pooler, these fish and chips are worth the short drive to experience the most authentic British Fish and Chips around.

The dish is so authentic, any Englishman would be proud to dub Pie Society a Chip Shop or Chippy, a title given to most fish and chips shops across the pond.

Each plate is cooked to order to ensure optimal flavor and that it arrives at your table piping hot, which only takes about five minutes. With the full portion of fish you get an eight to ten ounce deep fried filet of Alaskan cod that is balanced atop on a mound of thick hand cut “chips,” or fries as we defectors call them here in the States.

According to co-owner Emma Wagstaff, “the fish is fried in beef tallow (fat) in accordance with the traditional British method” to make these fish and chips as proper as the Queen herself.

The tallow is what lends the fish its unique flavor. The cod is meaty yet moist with oversized flakes, and coated in thin crisp batter that makes an audible noise when you tear off a chunk.

The fries that sit beneath are golden brown with a crunchy outer layer, and a pillowy, salty potato inside. At lunch the restaurant offers a half portion of fish that still comes with chips, a sauce of your choice, and a drink.

If you are of the belief that fish and chips must include a cold frothy beverage to wash it down, Pooler’s Pie Society offers several options in beer in wine, including Stella Artois and Newcastle.

As for sauces, the choices of pairings for your fish and chips are limitless considering each accompaniment is as good as the last. The extra creamy tartar sauce, a classic southern pairing for fish, is robustly chunky with bright parsley, sharp shallots, and briney capers.

The second option is preferred by most Brits: fresh mushy peas that are made from lightly blanched garden peas and finished with a touch of mint. It’s sort of a British version of refried beans.

Gravy, a third sauce pairing, is served warm with tiny chunks of steak floating about. This gravy is made using all of the leftover pie gravy from each morning’s bakes, and is hearty like a steak sauce but with a deep flavor of beef.

Lastly, yellow curry is available as an option to dunk your fish and chips in. Again, made from scratch in-house (like most everything on the menu), the curry is studded with caramelized onions and has the ideal amount of spice.

Emma Wagstaff recommends mixing the curry and gravy, her favorite way to eat fish and chips.

To finish your meal, a pastry and some tea is a must considering the head baker and co-owner, Ed Wagstaff, along with his team, begins baking every morning at one am to ensure both stores have the freshest baked goods available.

 The millionaire shortbread, an upscale take on a Twix candy bar, comes layered with chocolate and caramel resting smoothly a top a base of shortbread.A true bake of love, the caramel is just thick enough to ensure it does not overpower the slightly bitter chocolate. Each bite finishes with the sandy texture of a textbook shortbread that dissolves in the blink of an eye leaving behind the sapor of butter.

To wash it all down, the Wagstaff’s recommend the PG Tips tea, a tea that can be found in every English home. The drink is reminiscent in flavor of an Earl Grey, but coats your palate in a subtle floral flavor.

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I ask Emma her recommendation on how to dress up the tea:

“Absolutely with milk…sugar if you like, but you must first let the tea sit and brew,” she says.

As for the optimal amount of milk is almost a science,but the right amount results in a subtle caramel color.

As the recent winner of Best Savory Taste at Savannah’s Food and Wine Festival, Pie Society will have much more to come in the future considering they beat the competition with a Thanksgiving meal featured in a pie.

Melissa says her family would “like to open another place in Savannah that’s more accessible to locals.”

Find the original version in print with Connect Savannah, or online here.