The latest locally-based libation isn’t made from grapes or grain, but the leaves of a South American tree.
Paso Robles beverage company Sunshine Bottle Works unveiled its new line of yerba mate teas in March 2019.
The 16-ounce bottles are already available at more than 350 retail locations from Cambria to Thousand Oaks – and the list of retailers is steadily growing.
All four yerba mate flavors — unsweetened, peach, berry and mint — are certified organic by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The teas join Sunshine’s existing lineup of 12-ounce craft sodas, available in root beer, cream soda, ginger beer and spezi flavors. (Spezi is a cola/orange soda blend.)
Sunshine Bottle Works founder and owner Doug Martin is no newcomer to the beverage world.
He spent more than 15 years in Germany working for a company that produced soda, water, juices and cider. Along the way, he learned all aspects of the business, from brewing to distribution.
In 2008, Martin moved to Atascadero to launch Einhorn Beer Co., a well-regarded, small batch brewery focusing on German-style beer.
When the search for a suitable brick-and-mortar location didn’t pan out, he phased out of brewing in 2014. Martin became “solely a beverage distributor, representing other breweries, cider houses and selling various non-alcoholic beverages here in San Luis Obispo County,” he explained.
He launched Sunshine Bottle Works about two years ago.
Yerba mate (pronounced yair-buh mah-tey) was the next logical step in expanding the company, in part because Martin has been a longtime personal fan of the beverage.
“It’s a sustainable and very interesting product in its simplicity,” he said.
The history of yerba mate reaches back into centuries of South American history, specifically Argentina and Brazil. Leaves and twigs are harvested annually from native trees — that’s Ilex paraguariensis, for all you botany buffs — then dried out and brewed much like Chinese black and green teas.
However, compared to those teas, yerba mate is more earthy, vegetal, grassy and usually more bitter.
To balance that flavor profile, Martin chose to use two different styles in the Sunshine brand. Brewing just the leaves of a Brazilian mate results in less grassiness, while the addition of a roasted mate extract provides a smoother, less bitter taste.
Naturally caffeinated, yerba mate provides more of a kick than green and black teas, but not the full jolt of java.
Yerba mate also provides a host of other beneficial ingredients, such as “vitamins, minerals, amino acids, polyphenols and antioxidants,” Martin said.
“We decided to up that game a bit by adding more antioxidants to our Sunshine yerba mates,” he said.
A proprietary blend of added ingredients includes organic beet root, sea buckthorn, barley grass and goji berry.
Only organic, fair-trade cane sugar is used to sweeten the three flavored mates – just the right amount to gently smooth out the taste. Those three options contain 95 calories per serving, while the unsweetened has only 5 calories.
“We’ve found that people are really steering away from sugar, especially with these type of drinks, so we went with just a hint of sweetness,” Martin explained.
He added that yerba mate is growing in popularity as “people become more and more concerned with what they’re putting in their bodies.”
“Consumers are reading labels, avoiding over-processed food and beverages,” he said. “They’re avoiding products with ingredients they don’t recognize or can’t pronounce.” Martin said it was important for him on both a personal and business note to offer organic and fair trade certified products, even though it wasn’t the easiest route.
After sourcing the ingredients for Sunshine’s yerba mate drinks, it took another 18 months for the USDA organic certification to be finalized. During that time, Martin tinkered with and fine-tuned his teas.
“It’s definitely the right thing to do, but I have a renewed respect for any product that is 100 percent certified organic,” Martin said.
Sunshine Bottle Works
Available in individual bottles at select restaurants and retail shops, including Soto’s True Earth Market & Kitchen in Cambria, Colony Market & Deli and SLO Donut Co. in Atascadero and California Fresh Market, High Street Deli, Gus’s Grocery, SLO Donut Co. and SLO Natural Food Coop in San Luis Obispo.