In an effort to further the discussion of Yerba Mate in the States, we’ll regularly offer our thoughts on a few brands large and small, such as Guayaki, ECOTEAS, Circle of Drink, Aviva Yerba Mate, Mate Factor, Matear, YMateina, Yerba Montana and more.
Guayaki Yerba Mate’s beginnings
Today’s reflections are around Guayaki Yerba Mate, the biggest Yerba Mate company in the United States. Guayaki was founded in 1996 by two friends, Alex Pryor and David Karr. Their goal was to spread Yerba Mate to as many people within the United States as possible, while also doing all they could to protect the environment. Soon enough, they were joined by three others: Don Miguel, Chris Mann, and David’s brother, Steven Karr.
When they weren’t surfing or sharing a gourd, they were driving a van around spreading the good word about the good herb. Today, the company is making millions of dollars (they made a reported $27 million in 2013), working to restore the rainforest and spreading mate throughout the world via major outlets like Whole Foods and 7-Eleven.
Now that you have a little background on the company, time for some thoughts:
Modernization of Yerba Mate
Shortly after experiencing mate for the first time (and immediately falling in love with it), I began to make YouTube videos. Some were with my brother, others were with friends I met while living in Abu Dhabi, and a handful were just me, a gourd and my thoughts (sort of like now). One of the first Yerba Mate companies I ever spoke with was Guayaki, who were more than generous with sending over free mate, t-shirts, stickers, gourds, bombillas and more. I was taken aback by how awesome everyone I interacted with was, such as Steven, Dave, Patrick and others I either spoke to via email, phone or eventually met in person.
As time went on, I learned much more about mate: the history, tradition, health benefits, science and the immense beauty of it all. I was a gourd and bombilla type of guy through and through, and while I appreciated Guayaki’s other products, such as their sparkling cans, glass bottles, and energy shots, I wasn’t sure how to feel about this perceived modernization of an ancient tradition. A part of me felt conflicted that people were enjoying cans of sparkling mate without ever picking up a gourd. But today, I look back at my infancy in the world of mate and realize I wasn’t only being a bit of a snob, but also closed-minded, because how someone drinks mate is far less important than them drinking it in the first place. Guayaki has done a better job than any other States-based company of spreading the drink to millions (no official figures, but I can only imagine) of people through their wide distribution of can and glass beverages, which is good for a handful of reasons. The first being that people are ingesting mate, albeit not in the traditional way, which can only result in more good. Good for their bodies, the environment (more on this below) and the world. The second reason being that I’m sure some people who pick up a can or bottle and do a bit of research eventually try drinking mate with a gourd and bombilla, further deepening their appreciation of the good herb.
Environmental effects of production
One of the reasons that Guayaki has become such a powerhouse in the US is that it is genuinely dedicated to helping the environment. The company has an explicit goal to “Restore 200,000 acres of South America Atlantic rainforest and create over 1,000 living wage jobs by 2020 by levering our Market-Driven-Restoration business model.” I wouldn’t be the least surprised if they achieved this goal ahead of schedule.
When you consume a Guayaki product, you actually reduce your carbon footprint, which is crazy. Typically, if you buy and consume a food-based product or beverage, you’re contributing to waste through the production of that good e.g. processing, cutting down trees, production of plastic, packaging, etc. You can see how Guayaki flips this in the photo below.
Given how Guayaki’s Yerba Mate is grown (organically and in the shade) that nets a negative amount of Carbon Dioxide (CO2), offsetting the creation of CO2 through processing, packing and transportation. For every pound of loose-leaf Yerba Mate you have, you’re reducing your carbon footprint by 573 grams, which is incredible. And, this is just one of their many contributions to the environment. Others include biodegradable packaging, cargo vehicles powered by biodiesel, recycling programs, chemical free facilities and more. This is a standard of business that should become the model.
Marketing on steroids
Aside from high production standards, another place where Guayaki shines is with their marketing. It seems as if every health-conscious athlete or environmental crusader posts of a photo of them drinking a bottle of Guayaki on Instagram or Facebook. This is because Guayaki made a conscious effort to partner with like-minded musicians, athletes, activists and other influential people to promote their product, which I can’t knock. Again, the more people who drink Yerba Mate, in any form, the better. I just hope that the people pushing the product don’t disregard the long history of the drink; the tradition of preparing a gourd, the bonds that are formed when sharing mate, and the true spirit of the drink that is more of the drink. My take is that this type of marketing becomes an issue when all of that is forgotten.
Opinion of their Yerba Mate
When it comes to Guayaki’s actual loose-leaf product, I think it’s pretty good. They carry three blends: Traditional, San Mateo and Biodynamic. The traditional blend is your run-of-the mill mate that skews slightly bitter. San Mateo is air-dried and unsmoked, making it a lot lighter than the traditional, and more grassy. Again, tastes fine. The biodynamic is special given that it comes from a self-sustaining rainforest, which passed a lot of tests and regulations to earn that name. I can’t recall having that one, but I’m sure it’s fine. The bottom line is that if I had a choice of Guayaki versus a handful of other brands, local to South America, I wouldn’t crave Guayaki. I enjoy complex flavors, which other brands native to South America are likely to feature. But if I’m comparing Guayaki solely to US-based brands, it’s up there and a gourd of it has yet to let me down. Now, I will say, they did have this deliciously smoked, Barbacua blend a few years ago, which my mouth waters at the thought of, but I don’t see that on their website anymore. Regardless, their mate is fine.
Overall thoughts on Guayaki Yerba Mate
My overall thoughts are that Guayaki is a phenomenal company who’s doing all the right things a conscious business in the 21st century should. They’re helping the environment, creating powerful evangelists, producing a good product and inspiring countless others to follow in their footsteps. Plus, they’re turning a profit, which is the goal of any business.
If you have any of your own thoughts, please leave them in the comments below. Discussion is the goal!