An idea is born
Ever notice how some people seem to glow, as though they are destined to create something special? That’s how I felt about my business partners, Stefan Schachter and Brendan Girard, when I met them back in the 1990’s in Santa Cruz. We were college kids with our heads full of questions about what the “Good Life” meant. We wanted freedom, health, community, and right livelihood. We didn’t know how we would achieve these things, but we knew that if we worked together, we could figure anything out.
After college, life pulled us away from each other. We crisscrossed the country pursuing advanced degrees and internships, making music, farming organically, and teaching. Throughout that time, we managed to stay in touch with each other via handwritten letters (this was before cell phones made everyone seem a tap and a click away).
Finally, Stefan had an epiphany in 1999. In his cousin’s living room in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Stefan was offered a traditional-style mate. This reminded him of the month he had spent in Paraguay as a teenager on a service project. He remembered waking up each morning in a rural village to the taste of Yerba Mate, welcoming the day with his host family in a ritual of community and connection. As he sipped the frothy brew and felt a surge of herbal energy, he wondered aloud, “Why aren’t there more organic Yerba Mate companies in North America?” His cousin shrugged and smiled.
An idea was born. After much daydreaming and list-making in his journal, he loaded all his belongings into his pick-up truck and moved to Ashland, Oregon, a town that Brendan assured him was the perfect place to start an organic business.
Stefan’s enthusiasm has always been contagious. None of us had two cents to rub together. Bumper stickers held our rusty cars together. We didn’t know a thing about running a business. But as Stefan explained his idea in greater detail, Brendan and I decided to wrap up our other commitments and jump on board.
The Yerba Mate revolution
Fast forward a couple of years to 2001. We were living together in a tiny house in Ashland’s railroad district. Mate Revolution Inc. (soon to be known as ECOTEAS) was growing nicely in our local region of southern Oregon. We were hand-blending organic herbal formulas in our kitchen. We were selling mate by the cup at farmer’s markets. We had around ten wholesale accounts scattered from northern California to Eugene.
And then we received a notification from our Yerba Mate supplier in Colorado. Just as our business was starting to thrive, our supplier was going under. We always knew that we wanted to develop our own direct supply of organic Yerba Mate in South America, but suddenly this intention grew from a strategic goal to an existential necessity. We pooled our resources and bought a single plane ticket for Stefan to fly down to Buenos Aires and seek a source.
Journey to the Yerba Mate source
Stefan’s “Journey to the Source” did not start well. He encountered hospitality from growers and governments alike (at one point he got a free tour of Paraguay’s Yerba Mate region from the ministry of agriculture in an SUV), but the concept of “Certified Organic” wasn’t well known down there yet. Most Yerba Mate was being grown “conventionally” with heavy use of herbicides to control weeds.
After a couple of weeks of following dead ends from Paraguay to Brazil, he ended up back in Buenos Aires without any leads. And then he had another epiphany. He went to an internet cafe and searched for Buenos Aires natural food stores. Then he hurried out the door and walked a mile through the sprawling city to the nearest store. Inside he found what he was looking for: a half-kilo bag of certified organic Yerba Mate.
He bought it right away and opened it as soon as he got outside. There was something special about this Yerba Mate. Even amid the buzz and throng of downtown Buenos Aires, it smelled fresh and bright, rich and alive. He didn’t fully understand the difference until he read the bag in greater detail. “Elaborado Sin Humo” it said. “Dried Without Smoke.”
Unsmoked Yerba Mate
After a pay-phone call to the number on the side of the bag, Stefan found himself heading back up to Argentina’s Yerba Mate region, which was a twelve hour bus ride through the night. The next morning he met the grower’s son. They piled into his car and headed north, out of the city, along a river as wide as the Mississippi, then down a bumpy dirt road to a farm alive with tropical birds and fireflies, clear flowing creeks, and a warm-hearted family of farmers.
“How do you dry your Yerba Mate without smoke?” Stefan asked when he arrived.
“It may be easier just to show you,” came the answer.
We coined the word “Unsmoked” to describe this special process. It involves an unlikely assemblage of conveyor belts, fans, and hot water running through radiator tubes. Our family farm partners developed this process to dry Yerba Mate with a lighter, cleaner taste over 70 years ago. Today this unsmoked taste has become the signature characteristic of ECOTEAS Yerba Mate.
Our business has grown and changed since its inception. Not long after we found our source, we acquired yerbamate.com from our previous supplier. Our products can now be found in stores across the country. We supply Yerba Mate to many brands of bottles and tea bags. We’ve developed many products of our own, experimented with every imaginable herb, flavor, and format. But in our hearts we remain the idealistic kids who value authenticity and simplicity above all else. As a brand, ECOTEAS begins and ends with the goodness of loose Yerba Mate. Organic from the beginning. Unsmoked by a series of happy accidents fueled by inspiration, hope, and perseverance.
Check us out at yerbamate.com or follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We are also excited to announce our new mobile shopping app which you can find in the iphone app store. Yerba Mate – Powered by ECOTEAS makes it easy to stay supplied with our organic, unsmoked yerba mate with just a few taps on your iphone!