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 others.
Today’s reflections are around ECOTEAS. As the second largest Yerba Mate company in the United States, behind Guayaki, ECOTEAS enjoys a level of status reserved for those who not only broke into the US first, but have worked hard to grow their consumer base. ECOTEAS was found in 2000 by three friends: Stefan Schachter, Brendan Girard, and Joseph Chermesino. The idea for the company came about after Stefan was handed a gourd by a friend back in 1999. The gourd of mate reminded him of a month he spent in Paraguay as a teeanger working on a service project. Stefan, along with his two friends, headed over to Ashland, Oregon, where they believed they could start the company, originally known as Mate Revolution.
The trio began selling mate at farmer’s markets, and expanded to wholesale accounts. Right when the business was taking off, they received word that their supplier of mate was going under. Not wanting to let the idea die, Stefan headed to Argentina in search of another supplier. After much despair, Stefan succeeded and ECOTEAS, now 17 years old, is one of the main suppliers of unsmoked, organic Yerba Mate. Here’s more on the story behind ECOTEAS.
Now that you have a little background on the company, time for some thoughts:
Tradition of Yerba Mate
One of the greatest aspects of ECOTEAS is its commitment to tradition. For almost two decades, the company was focused solely on selling loose-leaf mate and tea bags. Unlike Guayaki, their bread and butter wasn’t, and still isn’t, energy drinks. But as of 2016, the company made the decision to launch a line of ready-to-drink (RTD) iced teas. Does this mean that ECOTEAS isn’t as dedicated to the tradition of Yerba Mate and the gourd and the bombilla like they were before? No, not necessarily. While it’s obvious that they’ve noticed the success of other companies’ lines of RTD beverages, like Guayaki, MatéBros and more, adapting to a changing environment doesn’t mean that someone is selling out.
The purpose of any business is to make money, and the purpose of a responsible business is to make money while creating a positive impact in the world, which ECOTEAS is undoubtedly doing. Their iced teas are not only 100% unsweetened, but organic, which is great. They feature flavors like Mate Power (Mate and Lemongrass), Mate Flower (Mate and Hibiscus), Mate Fresh (Mate and Mint) and Mate Heart (Tulsi with Rose and Honeybush). Right now, all of their RTD beverages are sold out, which either means that the demand for them was through the roof, or they’re discontinuing them.
Environmental effects of production
Like Guayaki, ECOTEAS is an incredibly environment-conscious organization. Their tea bags are “zero waste,” meaning that their tea bags, and associated packaging, are made entirely from recycled materials (see photo below). They also say they’re, “the world’s first water neutral tea company,” which means that they not only offset their “office energy use with 100% clean, renewable wind power through the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF),” but that for “every ounce of water you use to make our tea, we work in partnership with the BEF to put an ounce of water back into the Klamath River Watershed in south Oregon,” which is pretty cool.
Aside from the company’s efforts to improve the environment and reduce waste, their packaging is also some of the most minimal I’ve come across. The photo above shows that their tea bags can be considered “zero waste,” due to the fact that the boxes the bags come in are made from 100% post-consumer recycled paperboard, the wrapper for the tea bags is made from renewable non-GMO wood pulp, the filter paper, which holds the tea, is chlorine-free and heat-sealed (no glue), and there are no tags, strings or staples.
While the care they put into their tea bags is evident, their larger, one-pound and five-pound, bags are also minimal. They’re easy to open (important given that some bags of mate are almost impossible to open), usually filled to the brim and feature colorful designs that make opening the bag exciting.
Relaxed approach to marketing
ECOTEAS has never been full-scale with its marketing like Guayaki. They have an unpronounced social media presence, and author educational blog posts here and there. This is neither good nor bad. The company likely feels like it doesn’t have to go all out due to first-mover advantage (it wasn’t the first, but it’s among them), as well as solid wholesale contracts with other, smaller US-based Yerba Mate companies. Remember that farm that Stefan traveled to all those years ago to find a new supplier? It’s Kraus (this is public knowledge), which likely also sets them up with domestic contracts in some form of a profit-sharing model. Plus, the company’s domain name is YerbaMate.com, which shows just how established it is.
Given that the company made a recent foray into RTD beverages, we may also see a larger presence on social media. Who knows, maybe you’ll start to see athletes, activists and other influentials with an ECOTEAS-sponsored gourd or bottle. I’m not against it; the more people who drink mate, the better.
Opinion of their Yerba Mate
ECOTEAS carries a few blends: pure leaf (Green Energy), leaf/stem (Traditional Cut), roasted, and Holy Mate! (with Tulsi and peppermint). All of their blends are organic, and quite good. Their green energy cut is, in fact, very earthy, and nice to drink throughout a day when you don’t need a mate that’s going to pack an intense punch. I’ve likely had their traditional cut, but can’t recall it. However, their Holy Mate! is one-of-a-kind. I remember first tasting it about five years, and my tastebuds were amazed at the blend of fresh peppermint, savory tulsi and their laid-back, pure leaf mate. I often recommended their Holy Mate! to friends who wanted a gentle introduction to the world of mate, meaning something a bit tastier (per the standard definition) opposed to traditional, bitter mate.
It’s also important to note that their mate is unsmoked, meaning that, opposed to traditional methods, it isn’t dried over a fire. This results in a cleaner, lighter taste. ECOTEAS is my go-to for US-based pure leaf mate (mate without stems). While it’s not what I’d select if I’m looking for a stronger blend (even though it is stronger than their traditional cut), it still serves a purpose and is a great addition to anyone’s inventory.
Overall thoughts on ECOTEAS
My overall thoughts are that ECOTEAS is a responsible, reputable and well-liked company based in the tradition of mate. They’re not too fancy, which makes them appear to be the more mature, even if not as lucrative, US-based mate company compared to someone like Guayaki. Their mate is good, and it’s always comforting that a company with their track-record had to work hard to establish and maintain themselves over the years. In a world where business is fiercer than ever, companies that prioritize the environment and a good product will (hopefully) always outlast others that are either in it for the quick buck or to ride the wave of a trend.
If you have any of your own thoughts, please leave them in the comments below. Discussion is good!