Local company Yerbana started in the UW Entrepreneurship Program, in a class where students simulate starting a business. The concept clearly paid off, as the four-person operation — known for its craft-brewed, organic yerba mate — is up and running, and gaining a solid Seattle fan base.
"We didn’t have the full vision in mind when we began," said CEO James Tan. "But through experiences with the health benefits and culture of connection surrounding yerba mate we found it was the perfect plant to combine our passion of promoting health through nutrition and community."
Their energizing and rejuvenating beverages are subtly sweetened with organic agave, and preserved with vitamin C.
"Typically, beverages are mass-produced using extracts, concentrates and syrups mixed with soda water," said Tan. "We believe nature does things best, so we kept things simple."
Tan became passionate about yerba mate through his exploration of plant medicines and their ability to restore, energize and optimize the body. Wes (his business partner) became passionate about mate when he traveled to South America and was included in "mate circles, a ritual of community and sharing where people gather in a circle to drink mate and connect."
"Together we realized yerba mate was the perfect herb to create a wellness brand which promoted physical [nutrition], emotional [community] and mental [balance] health," said Tan.
A huge he's had with the food industry is that too many products are made to prioritize the health of the company's bottom line, not the consumer.
"While we were told to use yerba mate extract by consultants, we wanted our products to give you the same feeling and taste you would get from steeping the leaves," he said. "So, we decided to make Yerbana a craft-brewed yerba mate, staying local with craft breweries instead of using traditional beverage co-packers who are utilizing extracts and a bunch of artificial flavors."
Tan admits that business has been incredibly tough during the pandemic. Their original plan was to host events and tastings, both of which were not feasible until recently.
"With our vision so heavily centered around bringing people together, we hope that regardless of what happens in Seattle, people will remain open to connection, realizing life is better when our love for each other supersedes our fear," he said. "We are a group of friends with a vision, and the whole thing is a massive roller coaster. Every day is exciting, but it's not always a good excitement. Two of us live in a van, and we all live minimally to preserve resources, competing in an industry of giants."
Tan and his team share a view of health that extends beyond the physical.
"We have seen how community support and empowerment can help us overcome life's emotional challenges, and how mindful practices all contribute to well-being," he said. With this philosophy in mind, Yebana has launched a popular free yoga series at Gas Works Park, that will take place every Thursday evening through September 2.
"As a wellness brand, we aspire to spread our passion for holistic health by creating authentic community which empowers people to live balanced and healthy lives," Tan said. "With Yoga in the Park, and other future events, we hope to create a safe space grounded in inclusion and openness where anyone can come and find wellness and community."
Tan says that perhaps the biggest lesson of the whole experience has been that richness in life does not come from money, but rather from spending one's time with people and passions "near and dear to your heart."
The team looks forward to launching their online store this fall, meaning customers will be able to get Yerbana delivered free anywhere in the U.S, along with a subscription program option.
"Our Yoga in the Park series will continue throughout the summer," Tan adds, "and this fall we are partnering with Day In Day Out music festival. We have lots in the pipeline with big aspirations, so stay tuned!"
For now, find Yerbana's products at QFC, PCC, Met Market and most Natural Food Co-Ops.
"We get to do what we love, and that is very exciting indeed," Tan says.