The Yerba Mate Pope
So we’re in a hostel in Encarnación in Paraguay, about to watch the new Pope come out onto the balcony of the Vatican. Javier, our host, is drinking tereré, brewed with iced water infused with slices of orange and lemon. He passes me the mate, and there’s a sense of anticipation in the air, which I put down to excitement at the prospect of the first ever Latin American Pope. Then the smoke clears and the Argentine emerges, and Javier shakes his head. As far as he’s concerned, this is the last thing Argentina needs – they already have an infamous reputation for national arrogance, and now they’ve just laid claim to God’s messenger on earth. “¡Olvídalo!” he exclaims, refilling the mate. “Ya tienen Maradona el dios, Messi el hijo, y ahora el Papa también? ¡Por Dios!”
Rough translation: “Oh great. So they’ve already got Maradona the father, Messi the son, and now the Pope too? For God’s sake!”
This was one of our first experiences of sharing mate back in 2013, when my partner Charles and I spent nearly a year travelling in Latin America, and it has stuck in our minds as a formative one. I can totally picture the absolute care Javier put into preparing it, and how keen he was for us to like it. We bonded instantly, laughing and joking like old friends, and naturally ended up being invited to a typical barbecue later that day. Great for asado-loving Charles, not so great for plant-based me, but hey, there’s always peppers, corn, chimichurri and mate, right?
The alchemy of Yerba Mate
We loved how you’d see mate being enjoyed and shared by bus drivers at work, busy mums with prams in the park, old people sitting together on street corners, world cup winning footballers and business people alike. It’s completely universal and brings people together across barriers of race, class and gender – its way of connecting people seems almost alchemical, and it has led us to some pretty unexpected places. We’ve shared mates with some truly interesting people, and we now run a business inspired by those first experiences in Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina.
Our idea for Yuyo was to introduce the British public to yerba mate in a way that was accessible. It seems so perfect for the lives we lead here in Europe; a great combination of an energy drink with health benefits, and an ancient cultural heritage. Our feeling was that maybe no one had tried to adapt it to the way British people do hot drinks, so we chose to put it into blended infusions, in tea bags, rather than just selling loose yerba and gourds, which we thought might be a bit perplexing for people’s first encounter.
Escaping the ordinary with Yerba Mate
Charles is a biochemist and naturally good with flavour and product development, while I speak Spanish and had experience in marketing and communications, so our skills were pretty complementary. Our blending experiments led to a range of four mate infusions: Pure Yerba (100% organic yerba mate), Yerba Mint (mate with peppermint, garden mint essential oil and lemon verbena), Yerba Spice (mate with chai-like spices such as cardamom, ginger and turmeric) and Yerba Zing (mate with citrus peels, rosehips and grapefruit essential oil).
We really wanted the designs to convey our love for the colours, sensations and wildlife of Latin America, as well as the mind-expanding experience of drinking mate, so we worked with an amazing Berlin-based artist (Olaf Hajek) to create these wild images of heads with toucans, jaguars, snakes, flowers and fruits bursting from their heads. The tagline became ‘Escape the Ordinary’, because that’s what our trip to South America and getting into mate had been all about, plus mate represents a break from the ‘ordinary’ world of tea and coffee.
The #YerbaMateMission of Yuyo Yerba Mate
Alongside getting the right look and feel of the products, ethical sourcing and sustainability are our top priorities, so we work in partnership with Meta Mate‘s amazing Brazilian permaculture project to get the very best in organic yerba from an original wild forest habitat, rather than a monocultural plantation.
We do sell loose yerba too, and we’re trying to win people over to drinking mate the traditional way. That said, nothing is ever super-traditional with us, and we’re proud to stock Mateo Mates, from the Argentine company Silicosas, which are super cute silicone mate gourds in a range of vibrant colours that go perfectly with the Yuyo vibe.
Earlier this year we launched a campaign we called the #YerbaMateMission, to spread the word about mate in the UK. We worked with some great ambassadors, such as vegan personal trainers, health bloggers, actors and Argentine rugby international, Gonzalo Camacho. We made a short animated video, sent out hundreds of samples and got lots of press coverage – we really want mate to be the next big thing in drinks, following on from matcha and cold brew coffee.
We’re now stocked in a wide range of UK health and whole food stores, an online supermarket and we export to Germany, France, Sweden and the US. It certainly does feel like the tide is turning. When we first started doing tastings locally a couple of years ago, you could count the people who had heard of mate on one hand. Now, we’re seeing interest from well-known UK healthy food bloggers like Madeleine Shaw and we’ve noticed increased awareness in places like east London, where all good trends begin, with people having returned from Berlin or South America having tried mate.
Escape the ordinary!