For this month’s edition of Brand in Focus I will be looking at the Argentine yerba mate brand Kraus, and in particular, two of their flagship products, Kraus Organic Yerba Mate and Kraus Pure Leaf. But first, a short story…
I remember it clearly. My first ever bag of yerba mate that had been gifted to me had completely run out. Anxious to get some more I resorted to Google, and soon stumbled upon UruShop. After several searches of “what is the best yerba mate,” I settled for the esteemed Rosamonte Especial, which appeared to receive near-universal praise. A couple of emails later I was in business, and the very next day I collected my supplies, rather conveniently living just around the corner from UruShop!
Once my rather large calabash gourd had finish curing, I simply could not help myself, and proceeded to drink two entire gourds worth of mate in the space of one morning. I think it is fair to say that I somewhat overdid it, and during the next couple of hours endured what can only be described as a mildly-hallucinogenic experience! I had learnt the hard way, and would strongly advise anybody new to mate who is reading this to take it easy – at least to begin with! – especially if drinking potent full-bodied yerbas like Rosamonte.
The next day I returned to my gourd but struggled with my herb. I wanted to drink, but found the intense smokiness just too much. I sent a rather sheepish email to Emma (UruShop’s co-founder) and asked for her advice on a milder flavoured brand which would better suit my beginner’s palette. As usual her response was swift, friendly, and to-the-point, and thus began my relationship with Kraus Organic yerba mate.
Kraus are located in Colonia, Santo Domingo, Savio, Argentina, in the province of Misiones. They are currently run by Milton Kraus, but were originally founded in 1894 by his great-great-grandfather Francis Kraus, an Austrian immigrant living in Argentina. Under the stewardship of Milton and his siblings, the company has in recent years attempted to grow the profile of mate both within and outside of Argentina, placing considerable emphasis on farming organically, and through adopting an ethical fair-trade ethos towards growing and selling yerba.
Kraus’ distinctive logo comes from Milton’s own recollections as a child of seeing large green grasshoppers sitting amongst the yerba. Although farmed on a plantation, Kraus reforest their land with hundreds of young native trees every year to create shade and biodiversity.
As well as remaining an independent family-run operation for three generations, the company operates a democratic employment structure, and pays a percentage of its profits in addition to a living wage to all its workers.
The unique production methods used by Kraus which result in a “smokeless” mate, were developed by Milton’s Grandfather, Juan Angel. First the yerba is blast dried with a smokeless liquid fuel fire to remove the bulk of the moisture. Next it is dried further using indirect heat from boilers, where a chimney is used to remove the smoke so that it does not come into contact with the yerba. Enormous industrial fans are also used to extract the moisture in the air.
All of Kraus’ yerba mate is grown organically, but it is the two products that are USDA certified organic that I will focus on here.
The variety simply known as Organic is probably the product for which Kraus is best known, especially outside of Argentina, and during my early mate drinking days I encountered numerous North-American drinkers discussing the brand online. With the recent success of Guayaki, and in particular the San Mateo air-dried variety, Kraus have obviously identified a considerable demand in the USA for un-smoked organic yerba mate, and this may explain their decision to have a number of their products USDA organic approved.
The Organic is what I would call a typical Argentine cut, with a variety of leaf sizes mixed in with plenty of chunky palos (stems), and just enough polvo (dust) to hold it all together.
The flavour, as might be expected, is a lot milder than a traditional smoked yerba, quite grassy and not too much bitterness. As such it would make an ideal first mate for the newcomer. Another category of drinker that I would recommend this variety to would be those that enjoy green tea, particularly Japanese sencha. With this yerba there is a very distinct fresh savoury sweetness – a flavour that is difficult to place – that is also present in some high quality Japanese teas. A common factor that may enhance this taste is the lack of roasting or smoke in the drying process. Similarly, unlike a lot of green tea which is pan roasted, Japanese sencha is processed using only steam.
If these savoury sweet notes are something you enjoy in the Kraus Organic, then you may wish to try the Pure Leaf variety. Containing no palos whatsoever, and consisting of a more consistently fine leaf cut – similar to a Uruguayan brand such as Canarias – the Pure Leaf is a much punchier yerba, which may be more satisfying to the established mate drinker’s palette.
As I mentioned in my September article on mate and coffee, I tend to prefer a more full-bodied yerba in the morning, followed by a lighter brew in the afternoon. Kraus therefore has something to satisfy all of my mate wants, and if your preference is for something lighter, or perhaps something stronger, then you may wish to try the either the Pionero smooth and mild blend, or rather the sharper sin palos (no stems) Gaucho variety.
The adoption of organic agricultural practices and fair trade principles are essential to the sustainability of a growing yerba mate industry. At UruShop we believe that Kraus are adopting the right approaches to producing yerba mate on a larger scale. We strongly believe in their products, and look forward to continue working closely with them in the future.
What are your experiences with Kraus? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org