How We Named Our Drink

Foreign products rarely gain mass appeal quickly—unless, that is, you can explain in simple terms to consumers how your product directly relates to or improves upon an existing and popular product. When we entered the beverage industry last summer, we saw yerba maté as exactly that: an outstanding but unfamiliar product to American consumers that could benefit from a name change. So Bombilla & Gourd launched Maté Tea — and it’s the most important decision we’ve made for the product.

Last July, with the ink on our business school diplomas still drying, we left corporate jobs in investment banking and real estate for what we call greener pastures and healthier liquids. We had no background in beverages, but we did think we were keen about what people wanted and how to build a brand around it.

We researched the available tea bases, looking for one that embodied what the market wanted: antioxidants, energy, vitamins and minerals in an organic, low-calorie form. On a trip to Argentina, we learned about yerba maté, the novel tea base that fit what we were looking for but hadn’t been taken mainstream. It boasted 90 percent more antioxidants than green tea, 24 vitamins and minerals, 15 amino acids, and “calm” energy from compounds that offered a sustained boost without a crash. So finding a base as exotic as yerba maté solved our formulation problem, but it created another big one: what would we call it? We couldn’t brand the product too exotically and still bring maté to Main Street with much success. Over a two-month period, we worked through lists of variations on the name, with “Maté Tea” surfacing as the proper choice. I’m not sure who to credit with the idea, but we now appreciate it as a make-or-break decision for us to call it Maté Tea —and that really hadn’t been done before.

There was a recent, well-publicized parallel to yerba maté in rooibos, the African herbal infusion commonly called “red tea.” Marketers made a similar decision that “red tea” was a more commercially viable alternative to “rooibos”—which is almost always pronounced incorrectly.

In hindsight, Maté Tea seems like an immediate and obvious solution, but it wasn’t at the time. There was formidable debate as to whether the name should include the term “yerba maté.” We mitigated that problem by adding “Organic Yerba Maté” as standalone text on the label front. There was less debate as to whether we should add or omit the accent on the “e” in maté. Some existing maté bag and leaf products did not add the accent, but it certainly prompted a lot of mispronunciation and bad branding by those who didn’t speak Spanish, and prompted us to add the accent.

That new moniker, Maté Tea, was one decision that guided, to a degree big or very small, nearly every other that we faced. It was a fairly cerebral process at the time, each of us mulling over what advantages or disadvantages the name had. One big advantage was obvious. The product would now directly associate in consumers’ minds with antioxidant-rich green, white and black teas, with one improvement — research showed maté was a much stronger antioxidant than green tea. That single fact made it to the front of our label, got expanded upon on the back, and became a central selling point.

At this point, we were receiving some help from Michael DePalma, a friend of mine from college who happened to possess a rare genius for package layout. Only days prior to the layout and graphics of the label being finalized, DePalma made the important decision to push “Maté Tea” prominently to the front and center of the package, making it the most important visual element at first glance. He informed us that on the one hand, the brand identity would inextricably be linked to maté and afford us a much higher probability of capturing first mover advantage but, on the other hand, would reduce the visibility of Bombilla & Gourd, the company name. In the future, we would make subtle modifications in the size, placement, and opacity of those elements to bring Bombilla Gourd more prominence.

So our yerba maté would now be Maté Tea, and after all, that’s exactly what it should be. Yerba maté leaves come from a subtropical evergreen native to Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. The leaves are brewed in hot water, just like tea, and in Argentina, they’re brewed in a hallowed-out gourd and sipped through a metal straw or “bombilla”—hence our name.

The entire process to bring our product to market took roughly six months, with the Maté Tea decision made about 1/3 of the way through—and we couldn’t have asked for a better reception with anyone we’ve introduced it to. Maté Tea was the right name for the right reasons.

Finally, we made an important and timely decision to trademark Maté Tea—after all, it’s our name and we want to keep it! None of us are attorneys by trade, but our lawyers tell us our chances are good we’ll get the rights to market Maté Tea exclusively. The trademark has definite benefits for us, but it also puts the onus of bringing organic, authentic maté to America on us, Bombilla & Gourd. We look forward to the challenge.