EcoTeas, a premier maker and international marketer of the exotic and healthful yerba mate tea of Argentina, is back in Ashland, where it started in 2000, following a seven-year absence in Medford and Montague, California.

The company, now in a big gray building on Hersey Street at Helman Street, markets its products to 2,000 food stores nationwide, including their first customer, the Ashland Food Cooperative. It imports and sells over 100,000 kilos of yerba mate a year, says co-owner Stefan Schachter.

For the uninitiated, it’s pronounced "yerba mah-tay" and means herb that is sipped from a gourd.

The attraction of yerba mate is in its caffeine, about the same as green tea, and its full blend of minerals and nutrients that make it a healthful and energy-giving elixir, says co-owner Brendan Girard, a friend of Schachter’s since second grade.

They started the business in their kitchen on Fifth Street and built it into a going concern, in part by being 100 percent organic and fair trade certified. That means their employees, farmers, packagers and everyone in the food chain are paid a living wage, have a good social and environmental impact and create minimal waste with maximum recycling. Thus the name EcoTea.

While yerba mate is their foundational product, they’ve expanded into Tulsi tea from India and Rooibos tea from South Africa. The latter also comes in chai form, with cinnamon, cardamon, cloves, ginger and pepper. You can buy it as loose tea, in tea bags or in bulk and drink it all the usual ways, plus through its signature bombilla — a metal straw with a screen on the end to keep out leaves.

Girard says mate is different from coffee in that coffee sends you up fast and lets you crash later, while mate provides a gradual, more solid lift on a slower arc. Mate and tulsi are known as “adaptogens,” meaning they help the body increase immunity and deal with stress by reducing the effects of cortisol, a biochemical produced by stress.

In the region where it grows — Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay — people are absolutely nuts about it and drink it all day, even serving it to you on treadmills in health clubs, says Schachter, who discovered it in Paraguay when he was 17 and on a volunteer mission. In 2003, he found a steady supplier in a farmer whose family owned their farm since 1954. They established the relationship on sound environmental and financial grounds, he adds.

“Yerba mate tea is loaded with B-vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. For instance, a single serving of yerba mate provides 30 percent of your daily needs for niacin,” their websites says. “Yerba mate naturally contains caffeine as well as theobromine, the ‘caffeine’ that is found in chocolate, and theophylline, the ‘caffeine’ found in green tea. This medley of caffeines working in concert with yerba mate’s abundant nutrition may account for the more balanced, enduring boost that many people experience with yerba mate.”

The pair, and third owner Joe Chermesino, all live near the factory in the Railroad District, have children in Helman School and can walk to work.

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.