Food & Drink

Diaspora Presents a More American Americano

Seattle boasts the first yaupon espresso roaster on the West Coast

By Naomi Tomky June 6, 2024

Two people stand smiling under a tent at a coffee stand. They are surrounded by coffee cups, bottles, and a basket with flowers. A banner behind them reads "Yaupon Espresso Presents." The diverse diaspora of flavors includes their specialty, the American Americano.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

Seattle relishes its reputation as a coffee town, but a start-up beverage company hopes to help locals rethink their relationship to an industry with a history of colonialism and destructive monocropping.

Diaspora Cafe Yaupon Espresso roasts, serves, and sells yaupon, the only native North American caffeinated plant — and along with it, a message of celebrating Indigeneity. The dried green leaves, roasted, ground, and brewed like espresso, produce a drink somewhere between coffee and tea. “It has an herbal chocolatey nose,” describes co-founder Ian McCluskey. “The body definitely has red fruit, a bit sweet.” 

Diaspora Cafe Yaupon Espresso planted the first yaupon tree at the Beacon Food Forest in Beacon Hill

Photo courtesy of Diaspora Cafe Seattle

Yaupon, native to Florida, Georgia, and Texas, is often compared to pu’er tea, Vietnamese coffee, or yerba mate. This caffeine-rich plant offers a unique flavor.

Photo by Kella Carlton / Shutterstock

People trying yaupon for the first time at the South Lake Union Saturday Market, and the Fremont Sunday Market, where Diaspora sells weekly, compare it to pu’er tea, Vietnamese coffee, matcha, yerba mate or boba. “It has a lot of the same compounds as both tea and coffee, so often times people’s palates will pull out what they’re most familiar with,” McCluskey says.

Diaspora came together in 2022, when a mutual friend introduced McCluskey to Hector Ayala. While McCluskey had a lifelong passion for plant medicine, Ayala had come into it only recently, working on a kava farm on Hawaii Island. “In my time there, I found my love for plant medicine, and for my own Indigeneity,” says Ayala, who comes from the Yaqui and Purapecha people.

They zeroed in on yaupon as the ideal plant medicine for their company, in part because of the caffeine. “Revolutionary movements have been made over a cup of coffee for eons,” Ayala notes. But coffee didn’t come from North America — Turtle Island, in the preferred terminology of Diaspora and many Indigenous people. Yaupon, however, comes from Florida, Georgia, and Texas, where it is now often considered a weed.

When the U.S. displaced the Native peoples in those areas to Oklahoma, where yaupon didn’t grow, much of the knowledge around the plant faded. While Diaspora works toward finding its first wholesale and café location, it sells yaupon espresso, cold brew, and other preparations at markets, which allows it the chance to tell customers the story of yaupon. 

“It’s resilient, like the peoples have been” Ayala adds. He sees the plant and its story as a metaphor and an inspiration. “Indigenous peoples around the world have been neglected,” he says. “This plant can carry the message to continue the recognition of Indigenous people.”

Find more information about Diaspora and where to find drinks here.

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