The History of Yerba Mate in Poland

There’s something about yerba mate that brings people together. Although drinking yerba mate originates from the Guaraní indigenous people of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, it later crossed oceans and became popular in Europe.

Today you can see a strong yerba mate culture beyond South America in places such as Poland, Ukraine, Syria, and Lebanon, as well as other countries.

In particular, yerba mate has a strong presence in Poland. If you look at the Google Trends for “yerba mate”, you’ll see this ranking of search popularity:

Intriguing, right? Even though it’s not located in South America, Poland is listed as third for “yerba mate” in Google. So, what’s the deal with Poland and yerba mate?

Poland has an interesting relationship with yerba mate that began in the 19th century and experienced several ups and downs in the 20th century. In this article, we’ll look at the history of yerba mate in Poland.

The timeline of yerba mate’s popularity in Poland is connected to world events at the time. Below we’ve highlighted five major milestones about yerba mate in Poland.

Polish immigrants moved to Argentina and Brazil in the 19th century.

The Polish people first had contact with yerba mate during immigration to Argentina and Brazil in the 19th century. They headed to South America in search of better opportunity and stability. Unfortunately, during this time, Poland was divided into “Partitions” that were occupied by Russia, Prussia, and Austria. For this reason, Poles wanted to live far away from the European powers trying to oppress them. 

So, as Polish immigrants arrived in Argentina and Brazil, they picked up the habit of drinking yerba mate. Some of them even worked cultivating the yerba mate plant Ilex paraguariensis, also known as Paraguayan holly.

Poles brought the first yerba mate to Poland in 1882, but it was promptly suppressed.

The first reports of bringing yerba mate back to Poland occurred as early as 1882. Two Poles named Teofil Rudzki and Edmund Zaporski returned to Poland with yerba mate to share and sell. But Poland was still separated into Partitions until 1918, which meant that Russia, Prussia, and Austria were in charge of trade.

These European powers weren’t too pleased with the arrival of yerba mate because of other trade deals they had for tea and coffee. In particular, Russia was getting rich on the tea trade with China and didn’t like the idea of a competing tea product (no matter how delicious). 

In response, yerba mate was suppressed as a potential market through high taxes on yerba imports. Because of this, few Poles were exposed to this new drink. 

Poland gained independence in 1918, which opened possibilities to yerba mate, but World War II soon broke out. 

After over a hundred years of being ruled under Partitions, Poland gained independence in 1918. Generally speaking, Poles across the board were hopeful of the possibility of new markets and opportunities. In the case of yerba mate, this meant new potential as well.

Unfortunately, within twenty years of this new independence, World War II broke out and changed the economic landscape of Poland. Poles were busy trying to survive; yerba mate fell to the wayside.

Poland was under control of the Soviet Union until 1989, when free trade reopened and Polish immigrants in South America returned to their homeland.

After World War II, Poland remained under control of the Soviet Union until 1989. During this time, there was little economic opportunity for yerba mate in Poland.

However, once the Soviet Union fell in 1989, Poland transitioned to a democracy. This allowed for free trade within Poland once again, which meant that yerba mate now had the potential of being consumed by Poles.

In addition, with this change to democracy, many Polish people returned to their homeland. Those that were living in South America, especially Argentina, came back with the habit of drinking mate and a desire to buy yerba mate products in Poland.

These two factors – democracy and returning Polish immigrants – created the perfect situation for a successful yerba mate trend.

Yerba mate was popularized post-1990 by journalist Wojciech Cejrowski and social media channels.

A key figure in the history of yerba mate in Poland is journalist Wojciech Cejrowski. Cejrowski had a popular travel show called Barefoot Around the World (Boso przez świat) where he introduced many viewers to the joys of yerba mate. He was a big influence for exposing Polish people to this drink. 

At the same time, Polish family members returned from South America during these years and influenced others to drink mate. They shared the habit of yerba mate with family and friends.

The world had also become more globalized, which meant that Polish people saw yerba mate drinkers during their travels or through social media. A growing number of Polish mate drinkers also shared photos of drinking mate online, creating interest and buzz.

For these reasons, yerba mate became a popular drink in Poland and created a stable market for yerba mate producers in Poland.

Bonus: Polish producers started to make yerba mate for Poland in the 1990s.

Yerba mate really started to take off in Poland during the 1990s. This is also when the first Polish yerba mate producers come onto the scene. There are two major Polish yerba mate producers from this time:

  • Argentyna Limited, created by Leopoldo Buderacky. In 1990, he created the first company to sell yerba mate in Poland. 
  • Amanda, created by Juan Szychowski. Amanda is an extremely popular yerba mate brand in Poland still today.

Other popular yerba mate brands in Poland that are produced by other countries include Don Bosco, Colon, Cruz de Malta, Kraus, Pajarito, and Taragüí.

Because of immigration to Argentina and Brazil during the 19th century, Polish people started to drink yerba mate. When Poland gained independence in 1918, some Polish people returned to their homeland, bringing with them the habit of drinking yerba mate. 

However, because of World War II and ruled by the Soviet Union, the yerba mate trend didn’t gain traction until the 1990s, when figures such as Wojciech Cejrowski popularized mate and free trade allowed Poles to finally import yerba to Poland. 

Nowadays, yerba mate is a common practice of relatives of Polish immigrants to South America – especially those who returned to Poland – and also a trendy drink for young people who discovered yerba mate through social media. 

It’s clear: Poland is the heart of yerba mate in Europe.

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