The Maté Factor in Manitou Springs is something of a mystery to many. Before my visits, I didn't even know what maté was, and I'd been warned by numerous people to "go with a friend" and "watch out for the staff," who were supposedly cultish and always looking to recruit new members especially 20-something women like myself.
It only took a few trips and a talk with the café's manager, Dayag Anashiym, to make me a convert for life to the mat latte, that is. (No one actually tried to recruit me.)
Maté, Anashiym explains, is a South American herbal-infusion tea made from the yerba maté plant, a relative of holly. The leaves are ground into blends resembling loose-leaf teas, in flavors including a dark roast, hibiscus and chai. Traditionally, Anashiym says, the leaves steep in hot — not boiling — water and come served in a dried gourd with a filtered metal straw called a bombilla. The folks at Maté Factor brew large quantities in a restaurant-style coffee maker and serve lattes, cappuccinos and flavored iced drinks.
Maté leaves contain a chemical alkaloid related to caffeine called matine; according to Anashiym, matine gives your metabolism a natural boost rather than a jittery jumpstart.
"We don't consider matine to be caffeine," Anashiym says. "Some will say that it's caffeine, but it's a different chemical makeup and has a different effect on your body ... it doesn't have a hard drop or comedown. But if you're trying to sleep at night, yeah, don't drink a bunch before you go to bed."
Manitou Springs' Maté Factor was opened by members of the Twelve Tribes, a group that lives communally and stresses group contribution rather than individualistic desires. Nationally, Twelve Tribes has around 3,000 members and communities in countries like Germany, Spain and Brazil, where the maté is harvested.
"We went through a lot of different varieties and processed it a lot of different ways, but now we've found an organic, fresh, dried yerba maté," Anashiym says. "It opened up a door for their own plantations, and now our brothers [in Brazil] farm it."
The harvested mat leaves are processed, dried and packaged through the Twelve Tribes' Maté Factor Tea Company in Savannah, Ga. Another Twelve Tribes company, Tribal Trading, moves the mat from one community to another.
So how did mat become the unofficial drink of Twelve Tribes?
"A great chunk of our maté production and distribution has to do with supporting our communities in Brazil and helping them get an economy of their own going," Anashiym says.
A portion of café profits goes toward the basic needs, like produce or clothing, of the local Twelve Tribes community. The rest goes toward evangelism, done mainly though the type of literature available at the Maté Factor.
(It was in passing out some of this literature that Anashiym and fellow tribe member Chanan Noble were ticketed for trespassing at Red Rocks Park during an amphitheater concert last summer. With the help of an American Civil Liberties Union-affiliated lawyer, they are fighting the ticket in court, with a date scheduled for this April. See "Tribal conflict," News, Feb. 7.)
One of the booklets available at the Maté Factor outlines the missteps of the Christian church; another describes the "Three Eternal Destinies of Man."
Explaining the differences between Christianity and the Twelve Tribes, Anashiym says, "We would say that in the beginning, the Christian church was a 12-tribe nation of Jews and Gentiles, people from every different walk of life. But they had a tribal life together, which was fulfilling what was on the Creator's heart that people would always live tribally and love one another.
"They lost that love and therefore they exchanged the truth of God love for a lie doctrine," he continues. "We do believe strongly in the right doctrine, but love brings about the right doctrine. Love is the right doctrine."
The local Twelve Tribes community chose Manitou because of its diversity, Anashiym says.
"Manitou is a mini-Mecca," he says. "There is something very unique about this area that draws people from all around, and the people that live here tend to be greatly open-minded."
The café sits next to Soda Springs Park, and with its folksy music, maté-leaf-painted walls and spattering of hodgepodge wooden booths, it fits right into the downtown atmosphere. The group's two communal living spaces, which house around 50 members, are a stone's throw away from the café, so the community can have "a home right among the people," Anashiym says.
As for critics and those who consider the group a cult, Anashiym simply shrugs them off.
"That's what people said of the first church," he says. "They called Jesus a cult leader."
And while Anashiym and the rest of his counterparts at Twelve Tribes would love to have everyone buy into their beliefs, they realize they can't force that to happen.
"We want to respect people's choices and appreciate their sufferings," Anashiym says. "We're very open, we love to have guests and we want to excel in hospitality."