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Guayakí Yerba Mate - A Powerful Rainforest Experience

Buzz in the Press
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Buzz in the Press

Buzz in the Press

Founded by David Karr with Alex Pryor in 1996, Guayaki has an ingenious product and positive business model. They are not partially invested in quality- they are at full strength to bring a positive outcome to the rainforest and your cup. Keep in mind, this isn’t an ad. I wholeheartedly love this brand their philosophies and working methods. I choose to buy their products over all others, and they can be a bit expensive.  But I trust their product, understand their ways and pursue only the best, sincere, high-quality products. Especially in a drink I ingest practically everyday. Therefore, I bring you an interview with David Karr, and what Guayaki means to him.

Interview with David Karr, co-founder of Guayaki Yerba Maté.

David Karr

What was your basic motivation for starting your company and your current inspirations?

After drinking Maté for the first time (…) I just felt incredible. Whenever I drank maté, I felt so much more energized and clear. This had an incredible impact on my day. Another reason that drew me to maté was that I had really bad allergies- hay fever.

So Yerba Maté cured your allergies?

It wouldn’t completely relieve them, they didn’t completely go away. But it pretty much eliminated effects of the allergies. I could breath again. That was very important to me and all that really mattered. I came to find out that mate is a bronco and vasodilator. Of course, it has to do with the xanthine cocktail in maté. (Caffeine, theobromine and theophylline. The stimulants found in coffee, green tea and chocolate.)

Another thing that drew me to Maté, I was getting to know Alex Pryor , he was Argentine, and he grew up drinking maté.  He was seeped in the culture and knew a lot about it. I, at the time was someone who, in my third year at Cal Polytechnic University in San Fransisco, had just left the United States. I was rather idealistic and completely disillusioned with corporate business at that point, so I travelled to Europe to live for a couple of years and learn languages.  I started in Southern France and trekked around to Germany and to Spain.

When I came back I just had a different appreciation for family, hospitality, great food. Some things I had never really grown up with. After I met Alex, this Argentine guy, who was all about family and hospitality and was drinking this product that was all about all of these things. It meant so much to him. The Aha! moment for me was that maté was from the rainforest, it was a product that had been revered and enjoyed by indigenous communities and small tribes all over the Southern coast of South America and at one point in history, very much a currency for them.

For us, it represented the opportunity to do business in a socially just and environmentally sensitive way where I felt that we could sell the product to the US and beyond, but it could be a direct driver to improve the livelihood of the people there. Simply because it was a rainforest tree and I have a deep love for nature. I left business school, I didn’t see a way to do it, I was too disillusioned. But when I met Alex and I found out where mate came from, what it meant and what was possible, I had a renewed vigor and the inspiration to bring all these things to the world.

You sound incredibly passionate, it’s wonderful. Maté has reached so many people, it’s really beautiful.

People need a wake up, something to drink to wake up with. They often don’t know where to go because tea isn’t as rich or as satisfying as maté. It is just people often feel ‘hand-cuffed’ to the bean, not knowing where to turn for a rich and stimulating beverage.

Do you think the traditional gourd and bombilla with woman is unique? The act of ritual and women is ancient, I would assume they are the attracted greatly to the rituals of Yerba Maté?

To be honest, I have actually changed my opinion on it. For many many years, out of the gourd was the only way I drank maté. I still do, with all of my core friends. When I drink it on my own, I just French press it. I find, interestingly, men like the gourd more than women.

Really?

Yea, men enjoy- they like the idea of the whole gaucho idea of drinking with a metal straw, it is really strong and earthy and grassy. The people who tend to like the gourd are the type who drink strong black coffee. Woman usually tend to like sweeter tastes.

Honey and woman, yes.

Exactly, so women tend to like the lattes, even just straight maté. There are women who pack gourds. I know many of them but in generally I see men more attracted to the rituals.

Guayaki Logo

That is a really interesting fact, I am a gourd drinker for it’s tradition and strength. I will pack a gourd in the morning and let it get me through my entire day.

Well, generally you drink it with friends. It’s pretty unfavored, for some woman to drink by themselves. Because the tradition is- when you prepare a gourd, you fill it halfway or more, traditionally… and that is a lot for some women to handle. But I know women circle, they gather around and they do it during that time. Generally woman I know who drink it, they French press it in the mornings or they have a cup with a maté teabag in the afternoon.

How is maté processed?

People are very naturalistic in South America. They prepare it differently in Argentina and Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. They actually don’t grow it in Uruguay, they grow it in the other countries I just mentioned, but they prepare it a specific way for Uruguay. In Argentina, you can find all different types of maté but generally they are aged whereas in Brazil, they are not aged. When they harvest the maté tree, picture something the size of an orange tree, they clip off the entire branch. They pull off all the leaves, which also have the tender stems. That is what you are drinking, the tender stems and leaves.

When they go to harvest, they harvest the entire branch leaving it looking like a stump with a few green leaves left. It looks like it wouldn’t grow again, but it does and even flourishes more. The tree grows vigorously in it’s natural environment. That is what makes it a sustainable product. You can harvest it like that for 40-60 years, peak harvesting. The majority of

After they are harvested they go to dry “sopecadora”. A big drum on it’s side that spins that gets very hot and it rotates and pushes the maté through it which is heated by a fire.

The secound step, seen more in Paraguay and sometimes in Argentine, where they specifically wood dry it. That is called the “barbacuá”. They rotate maté, 24 hours, firing it by a wood smoke a hundred feet away, so it gets a warm, dry smoke comes up through the maté and gives it that woodsy flavour. In Brazil, they often don’t do that. The majority of Guayaki maté comes from Brazil and is air-dried, however we offer all different varieties on our website.

After the first step, they often just lightly age it for six months and then it’s ready to go where in Argentine and Paraguay, they like their maté aged for at least a year or two. It can age in steel chambers, wood cylos, everyone has a different method of doing it, it serves as mellowing the flavour. We sell five different types of mate that are fired differently and processed. Even a gaucho kind that is almost a powder maté, people make it in their espresso machines. It is very strong and new. People love that one. In South American there are roughly 400 different kinds in each region.

Does mate have addictive properties?

I don’t find that it is. I know that some people do, if they don’t have their maté they might get a little bit of a headache. We don’t hear it that often. If I stop drinking it, I’m fine.

How often do you drink it? How many cups? On average?

I drink it everyday. I had a cup this morning. It really depends on how much I have going on, if I have a lot to do I drink more. On average, 2-3 cups a day.

What is the difference between maté and coffee?

You feel great when you drink maté, but if you don’t have maté you feel fine as well. Maté compared with coffee, is a nourishing stimulant, coffee is a depleting stimulant. Coffee has oils and acids, which mess up peoples stomachs. The oils and acids also keep your digestive systems from absorbing nutrients, you also hear how it takes from your calcium, etc. This is completely the opposite from maté.

Maté’s loaded with vitamins, stimulant boosts, mood elevating properties and nourishing effects of drinking a green leaf rather than a roasted bean. People don’t feel the crash, the jitters, the upset stomach. A different feeling is produced in the body when you drink maté than when you drink coffee.

I don’t really eat with maté. In South America, they tend to have a half hour before the meals around maté. Something small, a light breakfast. I wouldn’t have a meal and have maté. I wouldn’t even have a a big dinner and have maté right after, like with coffee…

That is actually a good role for coffee. I think that is what coffee was meant for. After a big meal to drink a purgative, to cap it off. That is probably when it’s okay for you, coffee, when you have a big meal and you have a buffer there to handle it. Maté is your daily-healthy ritual and coffee is that once in while after-dinner-decadent-drink.

I know in sometimes in other brands they take out the stems, it loses it’s strength. Why do you choose to leave the stems in? Can you describe to me the different cuts, and the leaves and the stems?

We believe in the “whole plant” approach. We want to have the tender stems, leaves and powder. They add flavour. The stems we find, also have the component called Theobromine, that’s the euphoria in chocolate. A lot of the mood-elevating properties of mate come from the stems.

Can you grow this South American Holly yourself?

You can try. You might be successful in Argentina and Brazil. It really requires a pretty specific climate with rich, red iron soils. You could probably try it in tropical places along that latitude. It is really specific to certain soils.

A common misconception is that it is from the Amazon, but it’s actually not. It’s from an area South of there known as the Atlantic forest. It is one of the five most biologically diverse areas on the Earth. It is on a hot spot for priority conservation in the world because 95% of it has been cut down, and because of it’s extreme biodiversity people really want to see it around. That’s one of why we are so interested in protecting it (the forest) as well. Here is this amazing tree that only comes from those parts of this forest which has been 95% cleared. So as a company, we are actively reforesting in all three countries. All of our projects have reforestation programs.

Guayaki is certified Fair Trade, Organic, and Kosher, while using solar power! Do you find that being fair trade is a challenging move economically? Investments?

Ahhh, we are just used to it. We wouldn’t do it any other way, we have been since day one. We don’t think about it as challenging. Is it challenging to breathe? We are not going to operate any other way. We led the fair trade movement and development for yerba mate and Guayaki just received the first “fair trade certification” in March 2009. We are very proud! We have been basically been working in a fairtrade manner since we started our business in 1997, and we pay 2-3 times the price for our maté.

This enables us to intact certain stipulations for our growers and grower partners. We can say, “you need to pay a living wage to your harvesters, provide them with uniforms, safe drinking waters, clean sanitation facilities, breaks.”  Just normal basic human rights, look, we are not doing that much more than basic human rights. Most people don’t. We receive a lot of pressure around, they don’t like to see Guayaki down there instituting all this “fair trade-stuff” (laughs). It really makes the other people look quite bad, because maté is notoriously full of corruption. Commercial brands, who know what is going into that stuff? They are buying all the fertilizers they can get, rock bottom and throwing them on their trees in big plantations in the sun.

Why is it important to grow maté in the shade? What is the difference between shade-grown and the sun-grown?

It’s huge. Oh, you couldn’t think of a bigger difference. That is the biggest difference between our maté and all other matés. Picture yourself walking through a plantation and there are rows and rows of mate, and soils which are exposed to sunlight. If you look at the plants they kind of look different there, yellow and pale leaves and much smaller. Then you go walking though a lush forest, where the soil is shaded and there is an active decomposition happening of all the different layers in the rainforest and it all comes down and forms that top several feet of humus that makes up the soil that the tree is growing in. The leaves are twice the size because they need to become bigger to grab more light and they are dark green thick, emerald and waxy. You’ve never seen a more stark comparison. You have to walk through to see it.

Is it true you can lose weight by drinking yerba maté?

I know it’s true. Yes.

It’s one of those things that is more about weight management. You know it, you drink maté- you don’t get hungry. But you can’t use it solely like that. What I say is, you get yourself a good meal and afterward you drink it and it will sort of save off any hunger. It just helps you with your balance.

It’s more about you eat more appropriately, your not just snacking because you feel pretty good. Your not distracted with food. It balances your blood-sugar levels because it’s an anti-diabetic. If you do have a mood swings after meals, hypoglycemic, generally you tend to eat more because your body is saying I need to be up. Maté balances the body out. If you have a cup, then you don’t have the cravings and you don’t go and have the sugars and the chocolates and the fatty foods, the chips. You just have a cup of maté and feel great and are happy. (laughs)

Your favorite?

Loose mate. Bottles in the afternoon, in the summer. They are just so damned good.

You have a new mate bar open?

Yes. It is an all organic, vegetarian bar. Vegan treats as well. It’s a place where people can go and get really good food and maté at a good fare with a group of people who know a lot about it.

What would you say your motto would be?

Follow your passion.

HOW TO PACK A GOURD:

The dried leaves and stemlets are important when choosing your yerba maté, they must be cured (dried) for at least 12 months. Some companies choose to avoid this process, as well as take out stems from the maté, which is personal preference. However some people find the stemlets give it a bitter flavour, but they are rich in xanthines, and hold most of the nutrients.

I am on my way to personally ingesting every single flavour and type of yerba maté.

Maté Recipes:
Maté Alcoholic
Maté leaves are steeped in hot water before bourbon is added.

Maté Orange

Perfect for if you don’t have a gourd yet.  Cut the top off of an orange, gut the flesh partially and add maté leaves. Pour in steamy water and insert your bombilla filter. The oils of the peel will seep into your drink, adding a refreshing afterglow.