(First published in the January 23, 2020 issue of City Pages)
Silas Mahner tried a friend’s yerba mate – and he was so intrigued with the tea and its culture that he turned it into a business
Silas Mahner is the co-founder of Ché Mate, an online business selling yerba mate tea. He hopes to get it in Wausau stores soon as well.
Silas Mahner finds that drinking yerba mate is a wonderful way to connect socially with friends, not to mention it gives him a little mental boost. The flavorful leaf is steeped in history and culture and is commonly drank in a circle, shared from a single wooden or metal gourd. The South American drink is starting to get some recognition here and Mahner wants to help spread the word.
Mahner was introduced to yerba mate (pronounced yer-bah mah-tay) when last spring he had a ticket to a Final Four basketball game and he invited a friend to join. That friend, Ethan Hart, had just gotten back from Argentina. Hart tried the popular drink in Argentina and even though he didn’t speak the language, he felt as though he had bonded with those sharing the yerba mate with him.
Hart had brought back some yerba mate with him from Argentina and let Mahner, who was intrigued, try it. Mahner liked it so much that he and Hart decided to start the company Ché Mate and sell the drink. Toward the end of the summer they started selling the loose tea and gourds online. Ché Mate gets their leaves from Brazil and the gourds and bombillas from Argentina.
Yerba mate has slightly less caffeine than coffee, says Mahner, and is a natural releasing caffeine that doesn’t shock your system, he says. “It gives you this calm focus for a longer period of time.” Mahner says there are many different varieties of yerba mate and the blend they sell is slightly sweeter and not as strong as other blends.
There is a very specific etiquette to how yerba mate is brewed and drank. “When you drink it in a group setting, you have somebody called the cebador, he prepares it, gets it set up and drinks it.” The tea must be drank all the way to the bottom of the gourd. The cebador refills the gourd and passes it to the next person in the mate circle, they drink it and pass it back to the cebador until everybody has had the tea, he says. “It’s very rude to break the order of the circle. It’s also rude to move the straw, you break the seal and leaves can go through the filter.”
Ché Mate sells a small $15 bag of yerba mate that will last the average consumer about a week and a half. The complete set runs $40 and just the gourd and bombilla is $30.
Currently, Ché Mate is only found on their website, but Mahner says they plan to get it into stores in the Wausau area. They are also working on videos to explain how to properly make a cup of yerba mate.
“The idea behind Ché Mate the business… is to help people with the culture of it to sit down and slow down and appreciate their family and their friends around them,” he says. “Americans are always too fast. We need to slow down and appreciate the people around us.”