You’ve probably seen the Maté Factor organic Yerba Maté tea line at health food stores and other select locations in Winnipeg. Ten blends colourfully and professionally packaged with vibrant pictures of animals on the boxes.
You may not know they are produced locally at the Common Sense Storehouse and Yellow Deli owned and run by the Twelve Tribes community.
In 1998, when they bought the old paint factory at 1- 490 Des Meurons, they were looking for a way to both work together and to support their sister community in Paranà, Brazil.
One of their fundamental values is to reduce income disparity between their communities and at that time the community members in Paranà were having trouble finding work that paid a decent days wage.
At that time the domestic market wasn’t as developed in Brazil and the US dollar was a lot higher. Through their marketing efforts, there is now a thriving market for their tea in Brazil and with the dollar being lower, the community is more self reliant.
The community recently started their own Yerba Maté plantation and it takes four to five years before the trees are ready to be harvested. In the wild, Yerba Maté plants can reach a height of 45 feet, but in a plantation they are trimmed down. All the Yerba Maté used in their teas has been cultivated by farmers with whom they have long standing relationships.
The Maté is then dried in a proprietary machine designed by Twelve Tribe members themselves. As a community they took bits and piece of industry knowledge and came up with the design for the drying machine which is literally the size of a small building.
This allows them to preserve the antioxidants in the Maté and keep its rich green colour. Other companies roast theirs, and the result is some of it’s health benefits, as extolled by Dr Oz amongst others, are lost.
The dried Yerba Maté is then shipped to Winnipeg in big containers and the blending and tea production begins.
The deli downstairs at 490 Des Meurons is always busy and whimsical wooden and leather accents abound giving it a playful Hobbit House look. In contrast, the Tea Factory, occupying three rooms upstairs, is pristine in it’s simplicity.
Sunlight streams in the windows and there is an air of quietness with cardboard boxes and other packaging materials lined up neatly on shelves.
It’s a three part process to mix the Maté blends. In one room they stock all the organic herbs and spices. These are first coarsely machine chopped.
A second large commercial grinder finely grinds them to the size needed to fit in a tea bag.
Lastly, another machine shakes the final blend for three minutes ensuring even distribution of herbs and spices. These aren’t your everyday mixers but rather commercial grade as they mix 75 lbs at a time to complete batches of 500 lbs of their most popular blends. Sounds like a lot, but they all go out within three months.
As well as supplying the busy deli downstairs, their communities have other restaurants in places like Nelson, BC. Having a distributor in Ontario ensures their teas pop up everywhere and they’ve seen a huge growth in popularity. They also do a large mail order business from their website.
Once they have the finished blend, there is a conveyor belt contraption to bag the tea which is somewhat labour intensive. Often they have volunteers from different countries helping and sometimes schools send students to get work experience. Often, like the day I was there, it’s just the community members themselves packaging tea.
If you want to volunteer and see what tea production is all about, don’t be shy as they love sharing their knowledge of tea and would be happy to answer any questions you may have.