Scrolling through Twitter, I found many different descriptions of Club-Mate’s taste. From ‘smelly ashtray flavour’, to ‘old tea with bubbles’, it can be difficult at first to see why the mate beverage is so popular. DJBroadcast looks back at the origins of the beloved drink, exploreing its allegiance with the electronic music community.
Made in Germany, the caffeine-heavy, mate infused bottled beverage has been the ultimate clubbing companion for decades. Since being picked up by the software and hacking community, Club-Mate has gone on to become a global best seller. Whether you use it as a late night pick-me-up, or just as a vessel to hide your vodka intake, you cannot deny that clubbing and Club-Mate have become symbiotic. But in light of rising competition, Club-Mate’s market dominance is finally being challenged, and its affiliation with the techno community questioned.
From Bavaria to Berghain
Mate, or maté, if that helps you with the pronunciation, is a traditional South American drink built around an infusion of dried Yerba leaves. Dating back over centuries, the Yerba mate plant was originally cultivated by the indigenous tribes in what is now Brazil. After the European colonization in the 16th Century, mate’s popularity became widespread in the Americas, and eventually, to a lesser degree, the world.
Compared to other so-called energy drinks, these bottled mate beverages are relatively high in caffeine and low in sugar and calories. A half-litre bottle of Club-Mate for instance contains 100mg of caffeine, which equates to the same amount you’d get in 0.2 litres of coffee. It also has zero fat, supposedly reduces the risk of allergies and, unlike Red Bull, contains no synthetic Taurine, which has been linked to cases of high-blood pressure.
Now comes the fairytale party; the myth perpetrated by Club-Mate as to how the drink found its way into a German brewery towards the outset of the previous century. Georg Latteier, so it goes, owned a small brewery in Bavaria and discovered a drink called ‘Sekt-Bronte’ (sekt is German for champagne) at a local trade fair back in 1924. It remained a regional specialty until 1994 when the license was then sold to Brauerei Loscher who rebranded the drink as Club-Mate.
The Loscher brewery has always refrained from heavily marketing the beverage. Even one of the drink’s earlier slogans was ‘Man gewöhnt sich daran’, which translates into, ‘You’ll get used to it.’ After reaching out to the brewery to see if they had any additional insight as to how the drink became such an established brand, the firm’s PR team replied ‘We use the philosophy to let Club-Mate spread by itself [via] mouth-to-mouth propaganda.’ Its uptake across the world has solely relied on its reputation and other people taking the imitation to import it and spread the word.
And so the myth endures. Post reunification the father of Brauerei Loscher’s executive director, Markus Loscher, began selling the drink throughout Germany out the back of a van. During this time he earned the nickname of ‘Papa Loscher’ among his clients. It’s even written that in Berlin, bars were placing orders for the drink from a vendor peddling the drink from the back of a donkey cart. You really couldn’t make this stuff up. Nineties venue, Club Forschung, up on Rosenthaler Straße, was supposedely the first to stock the drink. The club’s then owner, earned the nickname of Mate Ralf, as most of the venue’s cocktails (well, let’s say mixed drinks) were all made from Club-Mate. It has also been suggested that the hacker scene only picked up on the drink because one of its main headquarters at the time, c-Base, was located next to Forschung.
Speaking to Motherboard back in 2014, Jens Ohlig, a former software developer, discusses how the hacker community picked up on the drink at the same time as the early ravers, back in the mid-nineties. The writer refers to the moment as a ‘synergistic cultural trifecta’, in which the rise of the Internet and clubbing community came about at relatively the same time.
“We sell Club-Mate because we believe it to have a metaphysical relationship with techno music”
Mate for the World
As soon as Club-Mate had formulated its attachment to the globally renowned, demur Berlin clubbing scene, it wasn’t long before the whole world wanted in on it. Club-Mate jumped the Atlantic backed in 2008, when a hacker collective started selling the drink at an event called The Last Hope. Brooklyn’s Bossa Nova Civic Club was the first American electronic music venue to carry the drink. Club manager John Barclay, supposedly drove two hours to buy the first crate of the drink, stating it had a “metaphysical relationship with techno music.”
Its popularity from there blew up. Popstar Sky Ferreira posted an image of a Club-Mate bottle on her Instagram account, stating that is was the “best thing to come to the USA since The Beatles.” This was subsequently followed up by a New York Post article entitled, ‘Look out Red Bull, this hipster energy drink is coming after you’.
Today, Club-Mate is available in over 40 different countries, from South Africa to Kazakhstan. It’s affiliation with the club scene, as well as the hacker community, has become synonymous with the brand. Rarely are there any events, especially within German, where you cannot get a cold bottle, of the Yerba infused mate drink. Its prominence built around the drink’s notorious connection with the Berlin clubbing scene; the parables of all-night clubbing, decadence and fine techno, all while drinking a funny-tasting, mate-beverage became legendary. But since Club-Mate came on the market, competition has increased with many other brands being made available.
“We've never wanted to have an image or seem artificial. I think we come across to consumers as pretty honest," Markus Loscher said in an interview with Al Jazeera. This passive approach to the market however may have dire consequences for the organisation.
‘Club Mate is over - MATE-MATE is the new Berlin <3’ writes berlindisaster on Twitter. Today many leading clubs within the Berlin electronic music community are switching allegiance, and stocking a different brand: MATE-MATE, as manufactured by Thomas Henry, a relatively new Berlin based drinks provider. As is the norm with Berlin based clubbing institutes, no-one was at hand to provide comment as to why Club-Mate might be losing its footing. Cost maybe a factor, or it could be MATE-MATE’s allegiance with Jungen Gegen Aids (Youth Against Aids) – a non-profit-organisation that works with schools and music events to raise awareness of sexuality and HIV.
Mate’s legacy in the clubbing community will prevail. Its natural properties and stimulating effects give it a more wholesome edge when compared to the Red Bulls and Coca-Colas of this world. But whether we will be sipping a Club-Mate, or another like minded mate brand is another question entirely.