How Yerba Mate hooked me
“I have something that’s gonna fix you,” Victor says as I walk up to him, looking for coffee.
It’s the morning of day 3 at Rothbury Music Festival, and I’m completely exhausted from the first two 20-hour days of pizza-slinging. I’m still groggy and waking up, not really wanting it to be morning already but also so relieved that the end of the marathon is coming soon. I don’t really pay attention to what he’s doing, but before I know it there’s a metal straw sticking in my face. I take a tentative hot, weird, grassy-tasting sip, and get through the rest of the 18-oz paper cup not yet sure what to think of it. Then I rock that last 20-hour shift. To say I’m hooked would be an understatement.
“Sooo….strawberry lemonade?” I ask Brock and Ryan, just as much as I ask myself. We’re planning the menu for 99 Potatoes, our big-vision, cooperatively run, festival catering company that will make good-for-you, wholesome farm-to-festival meals the hot new thing. We all kind of groan. Lemonade is so overdone and really not even that good. We want to offer something that will rejuvenate the festival-goer — refreshing in the heat, but also energizing for the late-night DJ sets. (After all, who goes to festivals to sleep?)
Hmm… a drink that would hydrate you and keep you going… lightbulb moment. I thought back to my experience at Rothbury. “What about yerba mate?! What could we do with it?” My excitement seems to get Brock’s wheels turning.
“My friend Matt makes this mate drink with ginger… maybe I ask him if we can borrow the idea?” Brock asks. “Perfect,” Ryan and I reply almost in unison. As soon as we get the go-ahead, Brock and I hop into my parent’s kitchen and tinker around until we settle on the perfect festival brew.
We put “ginger-mate-limeade” on our menu next to our grass-fed organic burgers, gluten-free soy-free veggies burgers, and fresh-cut curly and sweet-potato fries, and take it on tour. It develops its own almost cult-like following at every festival, with only one exception – I’m not sure if Ohio was ready for yerba mate 4 years ago. (I have hope that maybe they are now.)
Yerba Mate goes to Los Angeles
Fast forward a year, and we’re back from tour with a weekly gig lined up at a brand-new farmers’ market in downtown Los Angeles, at the flower market. Then begins the existential questioning – with the Potatoes spread out all over the country, it’s only me and my rather-recent boyfriend in LA. Are we crazy to start working together a year into knowing each other? (The answer is yes, and since we’re just the right amount of crazy, we jump right in.) We’re passionate about food and all, but are we really going to try to make a name for ourselves as pop-up chefs in Los Angeles? (Spoiler alert: nope.)
I’m a woman of my word though, and I had told Susan, the manager of the market, and a businesswoman I looked up to, that I would be at this market. What was LA missing? What could we offer? Then we had an idea. Let’s try concentrating on the ginger-mate-limeade — like a grown-up lemonade stand! That way, we can share the amazing power of yerba mate that we have fallen so in love with, with the community that we call home. It’ll help people with their hustle, and keep them happy. It suddenly felt like a very important and necessary task to share this elixir with all of the dreamers, movers, and shakers of Los Angeles.
We take our VEGGIE BURGERS banner, flip it over, and enlist the help of my multi-talented roommate from college, Andrea, to paint GINGER-MATE LIMEADE (GML) on the blank side. As we’re talking through the setup of our booth, I have another idea. What if we also sell it in big bottles that people can refill, so they can have the joy of yerba mate not just on Saturdays, but throughout the whole week, and save lots of money and wasteful packaging in the process?
The first week at the market, we sell about two gallons of GML (as we lovingly nicknamed it), and three refillable bottles. Now, GML is a little different and goes by the name of “ginger-lime.” Ginger-lime is in good company with our best-selling hibiscus-lemon, as well as two other blends of fresh fruit and herbs, and one seasonal blend. About 20% of our sales now come from refills, and our newly-launched refill rewards program is putting us at the forefront of sustainability in the beverage industry.
The future of Erva Mate
Our team has grown to eight wonderful people who help us in the office, the kitchen, and at different events and farmers’ markets around the city. We brew and distribute about 200 gallons a week during our busy season, and are proud to offer looseleaf versions of our blends so people can drink them in the traditional mate-style with a bombilla, or make their own cold-brew to their liking.
It makes sense that Yerba Mate is known as a “friendship tea.” There’s an optimism and clarity that comes after drinking mate that I haven’t found in anything else, and I’m convinced that if everyone drank yerba mate every day, the world would be a much happier place. I am so grateful for the beautiful and supportive friendships that brought Yerba Mate into my life and allowed Erva to grow. I think the path we’ve been able to forge with their influence is the best honor and respect we could pay to the Yerba Mate plant.
I humbly hope that one day Erva gets to be a part of your story.