The idea of kombucha has scared me for a very long time. Kombucha is made of fermented tea, basically teaming with bacteria and yeast cultures. This creates a vinegar-esque experience that, at least from what I was told, sticks with you for hours.
I thought the yerba maté would be the same. So, when I was given the little purple and yellow box filled with Mobtown Fermentation’s brand new Icaro Yerba Maté drink, I honestly felt my gut sink.
The background of kombucha, with its live yeast cultures and vinegar taste, certainly floated around the back of my mind as I pulled each of the yerba maté bottles out of their packaging, one by one. The bottles felt foreboding in my hands at no fault of their own. “It’s just a drink,” I told myself as I played with the long glass bottles. “It won’t hurt you.”
Mobtown Fermentation, the creator of the Icaro Yerba Maté drink, is a Baltimore-based kombucha brewery. Founded by Sergio Malarin, Sid Sharma and Adam Bufano, Mobtown has created a total of eight different types of kombucha and two types of Yerba maté. Since their creation in 2015, the company has expanded its supply to more than nine states.
A quick flick of my wrist popped the long glass bottle open, and a billow of smoke rose from the bottle’s core. I was brought back to the poison apple from Snow White. This drink is dangerous, my brain screamed at me. I took a gulp of fresh air, thanked this world for the wonderful life I had lived so far, tilted my head back and took a large swig of the smoking brown liquid.
It tasted like Sprite.
I opened my eyes with surprise as the sweet drink made its way down my throat. The carbonation made my mouth feel bubbly and fresh, and I was left with the taste of sweetened iced tea. What is this drink?
“The yerba maté is not fermented,” Sharma says. “We take fair trade and organic ingredients and we steep them together to create the two different blends. …For a lot of people, it is surprising to realize that yerba maté tends to be richer than green tea in antioxidants. It also has anti-inflammatory benefits. It’s great for giving yourself a mental boost and good for heart health as well.”
The iced tea flavor was very similar to the black tea I normally drank during the day. It had a light lemony zest to it, and wasn’t overpoweringly sugary, which I gladly welcomed.
How it began
Growing up, Malarin experienced yerba maté firsthand when his family traveled to South America. There he drank it out of a gourd. Bufano, who was a touring musician, started seeing yerba maté pop up in bottled or can form in
“Really the influence of those two experiences came together, inspiring us to make our own,” Sharma says. “We brew the yerba maté in an extremely traditional way, but then we add the unique spin that we saw in the European market.”
And, he adds, drinks like these are becoming more common. “People are willing to try new different stuff more than the generation before us,” Sharma says. “I feel like the generation before us was the generation that build up the monster brands, like the Coca-colas, the Pepsis of the world. While our generation is more like artisan.”
Mobtown Fermentation uses yerba maté leaves from the Amazon and makes about 300 gallons of the tea at a time. While they started their brewing in one-gallon jars in 2015, currently they use three main 30,000-gallon tanks to produce their drinks.
Mobtown sells its kombucha in Whole Foods, Giant, Mom’s Organic, Harris Teeter and independent cafes. The founders are working to expand their yerba maté line in a similar manner.
Essentially every part of Mobtown has a homebrewed feel, from the completely internal production process to the self-distribution of the bottles, to its connections to local causes.
“We want all of our drinks to be cause driven,” Sharma says. “Our partner for yerba maté is Living Classrooms. For every bottle we give 1 percent for art education, specifically in Baltimore city.”
The company sold more than 14,000 within the first two weeks of yerba maté’s release.
“We are really excited because with that kind of growth, we can really have a large impact,” Sharma says.
With the last sip of the yerba, I was a bit sad to see the drink go. Though the caffeine kick is strong, I truly enjoyed opening the bottle, watching the smoke swell and taking a quick sip of the drink.
Yerba maté will roll out into more stores in the coming weeks and two new flavors of yerba will come out this summer.
And maybe, just maybe, I will put my fear aside to try some of Mobtown’s kombucha some point soon.