From South America to Europe. A brief history of Yerba Mate's journey to Poland.

A Brief History of Yerba Mate in Poland

Yerba Mate, the “hip and fashionable” drink of Poland

Yerba mate had to both overcome many difficulties and travel a long way to Poland before being featured in Warsaw cafes as the fashionable and hip drink it is today. The amount of people drinking yerba mate in Poland increases daily. People can order it in dozens of cafes, or buy it in ordinary supermarkets; the popularity of mate has exploded in the last few years! However, it was not always the case.

But, the fact is that eventually, this did happen, which causes us to ask the question, “how?” It’s easy to contribute yerba mate’s rise in Poland to popular travelers, courageous entrepreneurs, and even Pope John Paul II, but it’s more than that; there’s a whole history behind yerba mate in Poland that is important for anyone who loves the drink that is truly more than a drink to understand.

From South America to Europe. A brief history of Yerba Mate's journey to Poland.
From South America to Europe. A brief history of Yerba Mate’s journey to Poland.

How yerba mate traveled to Poland

“When we started in Poland, practically no one had an idea of what we were trying to sell,” said the owners of Argentyna Limited (found in 1990), the first company to bring yerba mate to Poland. “They were looking at us like madmen who wanted to smuggle some suspicious Indian herbs into Poland.”

Despite numerous difficulties, Argentyna Limited succeeded and Poles today appear in many different parts of our country with mate in their hands. However, there were many obstacles for yerba mate on its road to Poland.

The first obstacle was the Russian Tsar who refused to allow the transport of South American holly because tea imported from China brought a lot of profit to Russian merchants. Meanwhile, Poles astonishingly had much in common with yerba mate. This is because, in the 19th century, there was a massive migration of Poles to Argentina and Brazil, where most of them worked to cultivate the Paraguayan holly. Eventually, they created a thriving business and started exporting yerba mate to American markets.

Amanda Yerba Mate is actually Polish!
Amanda Yerba Mate is actually Polish!

Amanda, the yerba mate company with Polish accent

Firstly, it’s worth mentioning that Amanda Yerba Mate is one of the most popular brands in the world, which has many followers. It’s important to mention this because the company that is responsible for the production of Amanda yerba mate was created by Polish emigrant, Juan Szychowski. Szychowski was a hard worker, and all of the machines he used to produce yerba mate were made with his own hands. His entrepreneurial skills and great eye for business brought him fame; after his death, a museum was built in his name to house his achievements. Currently, yerba mate plantations in La Cuchuera (Misiones region between Paraguay and Argentina), are the lead exporters of Amanda Yerba Mate to the world.

The PRL ends and yerba mate begins

With the fall of communism (Poland was known as the “PRL” under it), came an injection of health into the daily lives of Poles. As it related to yerba mate, it’s beginnings were modest; small quantities of it were important into Poland. In a country that lacked basic necessities, it was difficult for people to even think of buying an unknown herb, like yerba mate.

As Artur Stawicki, co-owner of Argentyna Limited, recalls, “The beginning was difficult. One, no one knew how to drink it. Two, it was not easy to find a story selling yerba mate. These were not the magical times of the Internet, where you could buy everything.”

Initially, Poles could find yerba mate in pharmacies or specialized tea shops. Of course, only in the express forms of tea bags, also known as mate cocido. Finding a bombilla and guampa to drink yerba mate with was only a dream.

Despite humble beginnings, Argentyna Limited didn’t quit. On the contrary, they focused more heavily on promoting yerba mate as the “drink of friendship!” The owners knew that ordinary advertising wasn’t enough. So, they decided to bring yerba mate to Poles in the form of tastings using various occasions – from events related to Latin America to tea fairs and larger entertainment – as an excuse to share mate. After several years, the company managed to scale yerba mate and import it into the country through the use of shipping containers.

Given that someone as wretched and inhumane as the Pope drinks Yerba Mate, stay away at all costs!
The Pope drinking Yerba Mate

The Pope drinks yerba mate, and the Poles are Googling

Perseverance paid off. Over time, more and more yerba mate companies began to appear, and the drink was no longer known only in narrow circles.

Not only did the travelers persuade Poles to try a new drink, but even John Paul II publicly appeared drinking yerba mate! In 2007 he was photographed with a traditional guampa during World Youth Day in Argentina.

Of course, the number of yerba mate fans in Poland cannot be compared to those in Latin countries. However, compared to other European countries, Poland is above average. The interest of yerba mate among Poles is large, as evidenced by the fact that Poles are the third nation in the world in terms of frequency searching for “yerba mate” on Google.

It is a good idea to keep your fingers crossed so that Poland’s weakness for exotic drinks lasts as long as possible! The more people who drink yerba mate, the better. Salud!