August 04, 2017

The earliest discovered use of cassina (also known as caseena, asi, yaupon tea, black drink, white drink) is estimated to stretch into the Archaic period of North America, also known at the “Meso-Indian period”, from 8000 to 2000 BC. This period is characterized as the beginning of cultural development of native societies in North America. This includes the formation of subsistence economies consisting of nuts, seeds, shellfish, and very likely cassina, which was sipped out of decorative whelk shell cups. As sedentary agriculture emerged in North America, societies flourished and so did the tradition of cassina.

The Hopewell Period (200 BC - 500 CE) saw the emergence of shell cuA map showing the Hopewell Interaction Sphere and various local expressions of the Hopewell culturesps become commonplace in the burial of a high ranking member of Native American groups, signifying the growing significance of the ritual use of cassina in society. The Hopewell Culture describes not just a period of time, but the common aspects of Native American culture found between populations stretching across modern day Canada, New York, Texas and Florida. These tribes exchanged goods and traditions along waterways allowing for the widespread dissemination of cultural tradition around cassina, with shell cups often being the indicator of a population entering the Hopewell Sphere.

The next archaeological discovery of advancement of the tradition of cassina is in modern day Illinois at Cahokia, the largest Native American city north of Mexico. Researchers discovered distinct pottery dating from between 1050 - 1250 CE. The key features of the “beaker” are in its lip crafted for pouring (either into another container or for the participant to drink from), the handle which provides evidence of a hot drink, and the motifs carved into the beaker representing Woodhenge (a ceremonial structure at CahA reconstruction of a ceramic beaker from the Cahokia Mounds siteokia), the underworld, and whelk shells. Testing of the inside of the beakers revealed traces of theobromine, caffeine, and ursolic acid in the correct proportions of cassina - proving archeologists’ hunch that these used for preparing and consuming the caffeinated brew. [We’ve had local ceramicists Wyatt Little and Long Lost Ceramics design us modern cassina mugs based on the beakers found in Cahokia, available here] But the real beauty of this discovery was the proof of the prominence of cassina in Native American cultures across the continent, as Cahokia was hundreds of miles outside the natural range of yaupon holly or Ilex Vomitoria, the sources of leaves for cassina.

Archeological evidence of cassina spans from whelk shell cups from the Gulf Coast found in far-away Wisconsin to finding traces of cassina in containers in modern day Northwest Mexico, over a thousand miles from where yaupon grew at the time.

Cassina held incredible importance to the many different populations across North America, valued for its natural caffeine content and used in ceremonies of purity by the important members of each society. At Wild South Tea, our goal is to spread the history and importance of North America’s only native source of caffeine and create a product that respects and honors the history of cassina.


Works Cited

Hudson, Charles M. (1979). Black Drink: A Native American Tea. University of Georgia Press.

Willey, Gordon R. (1989). "Gordon Willey". In Glyn Edmund Daniel; Christopher Chippindale. The Pastmasters: Eleven Modern Pioneers of Archaeology: V. Gordon Childe, Stuart Piggott, Charles Phillips, Christopher Hawkes, Seton Lloyd, Robert J. Braidwood, Gordon R. Willey, C.J. Becker, Sigfried J. De Laet, J. Desmond Clark, D.J. Mulvaney. New York: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-05051-1. OCLC 19750309

Griffin, James B. (1952). Culture Periods in Eastern United States Archaeology. University of Chicago Press. p. 360.

Crown, Patricia (2015). "Ritual drinks in the pre-Hispanic US Southwest and Mexican Northwest". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. HighWire Press. 112 (37): 11436–11442. PMC 4577151 Freely accessible.


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