Remember the hippies of the 1960′s? They had a reputation for bending the rules and avoiding responsibility.Â TheyÂ were notÂ very welcome in polite society either. Today, a differentÂ breed ofÂ hippie-looking folksÂ still come to the beach in buses like this one.Â In 2008 however, thanks toÂ the “legal leaf” from South AmericaÂ called yerba mate, they are very muchÂ welcomed as a part of a new health-conscious culture.Â
Yerba mate seems to be very popular in beach towns. Young, active people are naturally attracted to the good energy, health benefits and mental clarity that it provides. Perhaps one of the reasons young adults adapt to it so well is because they are willing to try something new.
Still another reason could be that they are fascinated by the traditional social ritual of sharing yerba mate from a gourd and bombilla. It’s just soÂ . . .Â wellÂ . . .Â like . . .Â you knowÂ . . .Â idiosyncratic . . .Â and stuff.Â Whatever the true reason is, whether it’s Copacabana Beach in Brazil or Ocean Beach in California, yerba mate is a hit in beach towns.
A few weeks ago, I was traveling in the San Diego area. On a tip from a friend, I visited a weekly outdoor “Farmers Market” in nearby Ocean Beach. It’s held every Wednesday afternoon and it just sounded like fun.
Canopies and booths lined each side of the block-long event. Street vendors were selling everything you would expect at an outdoor market such as: fruits and vegetables, flowers, artwork, cosmetics, clothing, fast food, desserts, kettle corn, a “bounce house” for kids and even yerba mate!
One booth that sold Argentine food, also sold loose yerba mate by the kilo. I asked if they sold it by the cup too, but the answer was “no.”
Another booth, decorated like a little mate bar, did sell yerba mate by the cup Â –Â freshly brewed in a French press. Several “hippie-looking” people worked in the booth and they offered many flavors and blends. I was intrigued with the whole operation. The brand they sold was Mate Factor. I have used this brand several times over the years and quite by coincidence, I had a cup of “fresh green” Mate Factor that same morning!
The group selling the mate was from a nearby religious community called the Community in Vista. One young man who was busy brewing mate told me the Community was made up of many people who had been disappointedÂ by theÂ traditional religions of the world. They haveÂ decidedÂ to band together, share resources and show their love for one another through self-sacrificing actions. TheirÂ lifestyle is patterned after the principles derived from the “twelve tribes of Israel.” The roots of their communal movement date back more than 35 yearsÂ to Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Yerba mate is a key ingredient in their “Community” lives. They brew itÂ early in the morning to start their day and then brew more for the men to take to work in a thermos. Their “work”Â includes building a new Mate Factor Cafe in nearby Vista, California. They expect it to open in the fall of 2008.
I checked out the various packages of loose yerba and tea bags for sale and bought a cup of “Chai” mate. The package design of Mate Factor suddenly struck me as very similar to theÂ Tribal BrasilÂ brand of erva mate tea bags I purchased last year at a market in Brazil. I wondered if there was a connection.
A quick search on the Internet that evening showed me that there were more than two dozen “Communities” in the Twelve Tribes network in the U.S., and a dozen more in other countries. In addition, there are about twenty cafes and stores in the U.S. and abroad that operate as Mate Factor or Common Ground Cafes and/or Stores.
Each Community has some type of business enterprise to support their lifestyle. The Communities that produce crops or products sell them through their own network called the Tribal Trading Company. There is no Tribal Trading Company per se; it’s just a means of distributing their goods.
My curiosity did not end there. When I returned home, I called Mate Factor’s new headquarters in Asheville, North Carolina and talked with the president, David Cohen. I asked David about the connection between the Tribal company in Brazil and the Mate Factor in the United States and other countries. He explained: “They’re the reason why we got started in the first place . . .” He added: “They’re a great group of people down there that are pioneers in the organic market.”
Cohen’s U.S. operation began in 1992 when theyÂ started importing bulk yerba mate from Brazil for various co-ops and specialty food companies. He went on to describe the origins of Mate Factor which adopted their U.S. brand name in 2002. The company operated as a sole proprietorship until 2007 when they became a Limited Liability Company.
The Mate Factor product line is sold through distributors and on the Internet. It is available at many health food stores and specialty markets. Their sales are increasing and a lot of their success is the result of the sales by the Communities.
When I inquired about any franchise fees or legal arrangements they had with the Mate Factor outlets around the world, he said there were no formal arrangements. He believes in helping good people and encourages their efforts to bring the healthy benefits of yerba mate to new markets.Â Like otherÂ outlets, the CommunitiesÂ buy the product wholesale and sell it at retail. The profits in turn,Â support their local Communities. This is known today as a “social enterprise.”
David actually lived in Curitiba, Parana, Brazil last year while working with Tribal Brazil. He wasÂ assisting them in developing new systems and procedures. As we talked, he recalled his passion to bring the new Brazilian style yerba mate to the U.S. This unique Brazilian mate is fresh, green yerba that is aÂ blend of both wild and cultivated plants.
Mate Factor has its own production criteria for the Brazilian-grown yerba, andÂ its flavor profile is different from the smoked and aged yerba that is produced in Argentina and Paraguay. The Brazilian process is to cure, package and ship within a few days of harvesting. He believes this yields a fresher yerba.
I have to admit, the flavor of “fresh green” yerba mate is different, but I like it. Don’t worry — it still has a rich greenish amber color when it’s brewed — not the putrid emerald green that tastes like algae. You now have a choice of several yerba mate profiles: green vs. smoked vs. aged vs. flavored, etc. You might compare this choice toÂ selecting fromÂ different varieties of whiteÂ or red wine. Each oneÂ seems right for a specific time and place.
Isn’t it amazing? After centuries of tradition, the yerba mate culture is still evolving!