Allison Montroy

In South America, long days take pause as people stop to enjoy the cultural tradition of sharing a yerba mate gourd (a cup made of dehydrated vegetable shells) with friends.

At Cal Poly, Thursday morning took a pause as students stopped to enjoy their own yerba mate tea — in cup and bottle fashion — and learn about the fair trade company, Guayaki, which brought the South American tradition to San Luis Obispo and beyond.

The event, part of the Robert E. Kennedy Library’s Science Café series and co-sponsored by the Cal Poly Fair Trade Club, was a break from the library’s normal second-floor bustle. Two Guayaki sales representatives, Michael Newton and Ana Yazdi, spoke about the tea, fair trade and the company’s San Luis Obispo roots while students listened and sipped on complementary yerba mate (Spanish for “herb cup”), tea and pastries.

“We spend a lot of time focusing on college students,” Yazdi told listeners, “to be able to offer an alternative to coffee energy drinks. Yerba mate is less acidic, so it nourishes adrenals rather than depleting them. It has a much more balancing effect on the body.”

The Guayaki Yerba Mate company got its start in San Luis Obispo in 1996, when Cal Poly students Alex Pryor and David Karr (both avid yerba mate drinkers) teamed up with three other founders to share the yerba mate plant’s soothing tea with the world.

Newton joined the team under an internship as a recent Cal Poly finance graduate in 1997 and now lives by the tea — he even shared a gourd of yerba mate with Yazdi while speaking.

“Before I go surfing, I have some,” Newton said (gourd in hand), “to be able to feel the ocean.”

About 30 percent of a “gaucho diet” is yerba mate, and the complex plant, hailed for its nutritional values, is “utilized as a base for all their remedies,” Newton said.

Guayaki isn’t just about promoting wellness for consumers though — the company also operates under fair trade laws and follows sustainability practices to protect and restore rainforest growth, not deplete it.

“There are hundreds of mate companies in South America,” Yazdi said. “But most are cutting down rainforests and spraying with pesticides — we hope they can see and take our business model.”

They then played a video that showed how the yerba mate tea leaves are harvested and prepared in Paraguay for Guayaki.

Stephen Cupery, a local ecologist and dedicated yerba mate drinker, came to the lecture after seeing the event posters while doing research in Robert E. Kennedy Library.

“This is brilliant inspiration for current students to see alternative fair trade markets for their projects,” he said.

Similar to what the Guayaki representatives highlighted, Cupery said he drinks yerba mate tea to “calm the body, collect my mind, find clarity and energize myself for the day.”

The tea’s plant, found in the sub-tropical rainforests of South America, packs 24 vitamins and minerals into one cup.

“It’s a strong herbal concoction that will boost your day,” communications and public programs coordinator Karen Lauritsen said. “I drink it, it started here locally with the Mustangs, and now it’s a student favorite.”

Lauritsen said the Science Café series, which started in 2009, was created for students to “interact and hear stories in a low-stakes, casual learning environment.”

Thursday, the series was all about encouraging students to “slow down and enjoy the experience of yerba mate,” Newton said. “Every little pause in the day is an opportunity to share a gourd.”

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