I first tried Guayaki’s yerba mate in 2013, as prior to this Guayaki’s products had been very difficult to acquire in the UK for a reasonable price. It was therefore a huge relief to me, and I’m sure many others, to finally see them in stock at UruShop.
Despite not getting the chance to try Guayaki straight away, I became acquainted with the company early on in my mate drinking career. As the top selling yerba mate brand in the United States, I witnessed and participated in many online discussions about the brand with US mate drinkers. With their vast array of products, including bottled and canned tererê, tea bags, and loose leaf yerba mate, Guayaki has been at the very centre of mate’s boom in popularity in North America during recent years.
Despite this, some mate drinkers appear to remain sceptical as to whether their consumption of Guayaki’s products constitutes an “authentic” yerba mate experience, especially since the brand is not sold in South America. In this short piece I will try to lay rest to these claims, and suggest that not only is Guayaki’s product the genuine article, but that their business model is a fantastic example of sustainable capitalism which should be championed across the world.
Guayaki was founded in California in 1996 by two friends, Alex Pryor and David Karr. As passionate yerba mate drinkers they teamed up with other like-minded individuals to spread the word about this wonderful drink, in a way that was compatible with their nature-loving lifestyles. In doing this they developed their “Market Driven Restoration Model”, meaning that as the demand for naturally forest-grown yerba mate increased, profits would be reinvested back into rejuvenating the ancient Atlantic Parana Forests of the region, which to this date have suffered around 95% deforestation. Guayaki aims to reconnect farmers and local people with their native lands, by assisting them in all aspects of the growing and cultivation process. Furthermore, the company are aiming to employ at least one thousand local people in living wage jobs by 2020.
UruShop currently carries four of Guayaki’s products, including two varieties of tea bags. In this section I will focus on the two types of loose leaf yerba mate on offer.
Guayaki Traditional yerba mate uses material from all three mate growing nations (Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil). The cut of the yerba is very much in the Argentine style, with a wide range of leaf sizes, and low polvo (dust) content. The aroma of the dry herb has pleasant hints of leather. The flavour starts off very subtle, but after about 2-3 cycles begins to wake up nicely. The result is a relatively mild but wonderfully delicate yerba, with gentle smokey back-notes. To sum it up, this would make an ideal first yerba mate for someone unfamiliar with the product, but also has plenty to offer seasoned drinkers.
The San Mateo uses material exclusively grown in Brazil. The cut is similar to the traditional, but contains noticeably more chunky palos, and has an even lower polvo content. The big difference between this and the traditional, is that rather than being roasted, the San Mateo undergoes a process of air drying, similar to the popular Kraus Organic. I’m not quite sure how they manage it with such minimal processing, but this yerba has an exquisite flavour, and the lack of smokiness really appeals to the green tea drinker in me. This has grown to become one of my very favourite yerba mates, and has been included in every one of my orders from UruShop since 2013.
I can understand why some of those that live in areas of the US where Guayaki is easy to come by, might choose to overlook this brand, believing it to be something not intended for “real” South American mate drinkers. The fact is, however, that what Guayaki are offering is some of the most genuine yerba mate on the market, grown organically under the rain forest canopy, and not overly processed, allowing the natural flavours of the herb to really speak for themselves. Whenever I drink these yerbas – and in particular the San Mateo – I sense a very unique energy, one that can only stem from them having grown in such natural conditions. It is clear in my mind then, that not only is Guayaki worth paying that bit extra for, but that the sustainable approaches adopted towards both the land and the people involved in its production, are essential to ensuring a future, not only for yerba mate alone, but for one of the most important ecosystems on the planet.