Wojciech Cejrowski via Wiadomosci

Why Poland is Europe’s True Home of Yerba Mate: History, Important People and the Future

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Yerba Mate is known for its ability to connect people, especially strangers and others from different cultures. It’s common to see people from various countries, with different ethnicities, enjoying some mate together Good things, such as music, food, dance and Yerba Mate tend to melt the barriers between people. Therefore, it’s not a surprise that mate is growing in popularity in areas other than Southern America, where it’s consumed on a daily basis as a part of tradition.

My name is Jan, I come from Poland, and in this article I want to describe how the yerba spread to my country and how is it doing nowadays. Although mate culture isn’t as pronounced here as in, for example, Argentina, I think that it’s way more evolved than in other European countries. To give you some kind of background, I’m going to present the “history” of Yerba Mate here in Poland, meaning the things that happened before year 2000.

One of Poland’s most famous promoters of Yerba Mate, Czajnikowy
One of Poland’s most famous promoters of Yerba Mate, Czajnikowy

The history of Yerba Mate in Poland

Everything began in the 19th century, thanks to Polish emigrants who were looking for wealth and peace in Argentina. After settling in the land where mate flows freely, they started to grow ilex paraguariensis.

First attempts of bringing back the herb to their motherlands were made in 1882 by Teofil Rudzki and Edmund Zaporski. Here I have to mention a very important event in Polish history; the Partitions, which happened in the late 18th century. Russia, Austria and Prussia divided our country between themselves, which basically resulted in Poland being wiped off of the map for close to 123 years. Then, we finally regained our independence in 1918.

How is that relevant to the topic of Yerba Mate? Well, one of our oppressors, Russia, imported and exported huge amounts of tea, and yerba was a serious threat for this business. In a short amount of time, Russians imposed a high duty on mate, therefore importing it brought no profit. Soon after that, yerba disappeared from Poland for over 100 years.

Poland is Europe’s true home of Yerba Mate
Poland is Europe’s true home of Yerba Mate

The situation changed in the early 1990’s (20th century), where Poland, after tons of boundaries (which I’m not going to describe, because in this article I want to focus more on yerba, however, I implore you to look up about Poland’s history after WWII, just to be aware of certain things), finally became a free country. The emigrants came back to their motherland, bringing back non other than – Yerba Mate. An important name here is a man named Leopoldo Buderacky, who started the first company selling the Green Gold. That took a place in 1990. The company’s name is (because it exists till this day) “Argentyna Limited.”

When it comes to emigrants, I must mention one more name, which is Jan Szychowski. He emigrated to Argentina in the year 1900. He arrived in Buenos Aires and sailed the famous Parana river. Midway he was in another very important mate region, which is the Misiones. He finally made it to Apóstoles, where he had settled. He started to learn smithery, and after few years he shone as a inventor. He invented his own agricultural machines, which provided him wealth and fame. In the year 1936 he made a machine destined to cut leaves and twigs of ilex paraguariensis. Don Juan (as he was widely known in Argentina) was a founder of famous Amanda Yerba Mate brand.

Well, that was a nice Yerba Mate history lesson, however, it all happened before I ever existed, therefore I had to help myself with some literature to provide all these informations. Now, as my job as a historian is done, I can tell you about things that are more familiar to me; things I experience today.

Yerba Mate in Poland today

I’ve been drinking Yerba Mate for over six years now, and during this time I noticed a burst of popularity of this wonderful drink in my country. There are plenty of online shops providing ilex, and still the new ones continue to arise. In the ‘real world,’ we can also find stores to buy yerba. There are tea shops selling it, shops dedicated solely to Yerba Mate, or even tobacco shops that sell it as a some kind of ‘background’ product.

As we are talking about mate popularity in Poland, I find it necessary to mention two names, who to a great extent contributed to the growth of the Paraguayan Herb’s recognition in our country. The first person is Wojciech Cejrowski. A traveler and a journalist known mainly for his TV documentary called “Boso przez świat” (which translated to English means ‘“barefoot through the World”), where he presents his journeys to different countries. He’s widely recognized as a man in colorful shirt with a palo santo mate gourd in his hand. One of his episodes included travel to Southern America, where he shows Yerba Mate plantations and the production process. You can find him on Youtube after typing in ‘Yerba mate Boso przez świat Wojciech Cejrowski.” Unfortunately it isn’t supported with English subtitles, however it’s nice to look at just images of ilex paraguariensis growing in its natural habitat and mounds of yerba in farmers’ storages. Theres also second movie on Youtube, where Cejrowski suggests a way of preparing mate (titled “Yerba mate Cejrowskiego”). It is fair to say that Wojciech is one of the most important ‘yerba individuals’ in Poland.

Wojciech Cejrowski, the man who popularized Yerba Mate in Poland
Wojciech Cejrowski, the man who popularized Yerba Mate in Poland

Another person, who should be entitled as a preacher of the Green Gold is Rafał Przybylok, a blogger and Youtuber, more widely known as Czajnikowy (which can be translated to Kettle-man). In his work he includes movies that we can watch with English subtitles, which I encourage you to watch, because in his repertoire he has, amongst others, an over 1 hour long (!) movie called “Yerba mate dla początkująch. Czajnikowy.pl,” where he explains the history of yerba, ways of preparation, brands, health benefits and many more. He’s written a tea book too, where he dedicated an entire chapter to Yerba Mate. He appears in television from time to time, giving an insight on teas to a wider audience. All of these achievements ensure him a title of the Green Gold promoter in our country.

The future of Yerba Mate in Poland

Now I’m going to jump to my private observations of mate’s growth in popularity here in Poland. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been drinking it for over 6 years, and during that time I’ve been trying to convince basically everyone to get started. I regularly drink mate with three people, whom I successfully infected with the yerba virus (shout out to Kuba, Kacper, Ala and Robert!). This shows the power of this drink; it became a social binder, some kind of baseline and bedrock linking us together; an excuse to go out and have some time together.

The last thing I want to talk about is the Slot Art Festival. It’s a festival organized in, if you will, a manner of “Peace and Love “ (but don’t think about Woodstock now, both festivals are very alike, yet different). The main idea is to dissolve barriers between people, spread friendship, good vibes and love. People there want to socialize with strangers, meet others, enjoy art (concerts, workshops, etc.) and just have a good time during summer. It’s not a coincidence that the Paraguayan Tea is present there. It’s sold in a ready-to-drink form, or as an addition to refreshing drinks in food trucks. There are also stalls that sell Yerba Mate  accessories and the herb itself. I’ve even seen people from South America there, who arrived there to sell their own yerba-related stuff! Yerba Mate is everywhere in the Slot Art Festival, which shows the nature of this herb very well. A nice trivia is that Czajnikowy also went to this festival to record some videos and to organize tea workshops, which I proudly took part in.

Yerba Mate and a pipe
Yerba Mate and a pipe

Summing up: the subject of Yerba Mate in Poland is complex. It’s history shows that there’s something special about this plant. It survived attempts of Poland’s oppressors to get rid of it, war; traveled the whole ocean, and now it’s spread by lots of people on social media. It’s present in a festival where thousands of people meet and share love. If you’re reading this, I encourage everyone to start drinking Yerba Mate; if you haven’t already – your life is going to change. Have a nice day and drink on!          



Featured photo via Wiadomosci


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