One of the goals of this blog is to give all visitors of Berlin an insight into the local life. Part of this is telling you about what the local population eats and drinks.
Today we’ll start with a drink that has become very wide-spread in the city, but is very rarely known in other parts of Germany and the world:
I am talking, of course, about Club Mate!
First of all, resist your natural inclination to pronounce it English! Club Mate is a German drink an in German it is pronounced like this: [ˈklʊp ˌmaːtə]
The name comes from its main component: Yerba mate, a plant growing in subtropical South America, whose leaves are used to brew a stimulating beverage simply called mate. The extract contains high levels of caffeine and has been drunk by the population of countries like Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil & Uruguay for centuries.
In the 20th century it made its way to Europe and eventually also to Germany.
In 1924 a small beverage company in the city of Dietenhofen (Northern Bavaria) started to produce a drink called ‘Sekt-Bronte’, which is basically still the same drink we know nowadays as Club Mate. The production was only for the local market though and barely made it further than a 10km radius around Dietenhofen.
70 years after its creation the license was sold to another brewery called Loscher (they produce a beer with the same name) in 1994. Renamed to ‘Club Mate’ a wider distribution started and brought small quantities of Club Mate to basically all big cities in Germany. The Club Mate Django became its sign:
Since there never was an advertisement campaign to promote Club Mate it would have most likely never become big here if it wasn’t for Germany’s computer geeks. In the 2000s it became more and more popular among the German hacker scene!
Club Mate contains 20g of caffeine per 100ml, which is twice the amount of coke while it contains less than half of the sugar you consume with coke. It helps you stay awake without making you fat – quite important criteria if you just sit in front of a computer screen for half of the night.
Every year the scene meets in Berlin at the Chaos Communication Congress, an international hackers meeting organized by the German Chaos Computer Club.
From there Club Mate slowly started to drift into the Berlin club scene and from there took the city in a storm!
Nowadays you can it in a majority of all supermarkets, in basically all clubs and bars, a lot of cafés and restaurants. Actually the fact that Club Mate is on the menu or not has in my opinion become a yardstick on whether a place is meant for everyone or is just a generic, potential tourist-trap.
University cafeterias sell it in big quantities and for more than a year Club Mate can also be bought in the cafeteria of the Abgeordnetenhaus, the Berlin parliament.
In the 2011 election a young party was elected into a German state parliament for the first time:
The Pirate Party got 8,9% of all votes. This party is part of an international network that tries to promote internet topics, the “digital revolution”, shift into information society and free communication without any interference from the state.
A lot of their members and supporters are of course computer nerds and hacker.
Their first action in the parliament was to make sure that their favorite drink was sold there as well!
I personally stumbled over Club Mate a couple of years back. Naturally reserved when it comes to things that a lot of people consider ‘in’, I knew about the drink quite some time before I decided to give it a go myself.
Many people say that they don’t like the taste after their first sip. They call it interesting though on the second one and with the third, they are usually hooked up.
Club Mate, as mentioned above, does not contain a lot of sugar, therefore it is not very sweet while the Mate itself provides a slightly bitter, unique taste.
I don’t like sweet drinks very much, so Club Mate provided an interesting taste for me. Before I even noticed my first bottle was empty and, without even knowing it back then, I had joined the growing rank of Club Mate addicts.
Not drinking coffee or energy drinks (and coke only rarely) Club Mate almost instantly became my number one provider for caffeine.
The growing number of empty bottles in my kitchen speaks volumes to that:
I am not alone with my addiction:
A year ago, in the winter 2011/12 I studied a semester abroad in the south of Spain, in the city of Huelva to be precise. Even though I had planned the opposite, in the end I spent quite a lot of time with other Germans, especially with a group of three girls that were also from Berlin.
Having been in the south of Spain for more than a month I once mentioned, that the three things I missed the most were German bread, cheese and Club Mate. The three sighed and shouted out: “Ooh, Club Mate, we miss that so much, too!”
After I told that to a friend at home he offered to send us a care package from Berlin. It would have been ridiculous expensive, but I was almost ready to give in when I told: “Wait, I just checked online, you can also get it in Spain.” A click on their homepage revealed that Club Mate was available in quite a number of countries (right now you can get it in 33 countries outside Germany), but often in just a handful of stores spread around a country.
In all of Spain you could only get it in less than 20 stores back then and the closest one was almost 300km away from our town, in the city of Tarifa, the southern-most city of Spain, close to Gibraltar.
Fortunately though the girls had come to Spain in their own car, an old Volkswagen, which we used for roadtrips from time to time, sleeping at beaches or camping in the middle of nowhere.
So I planned a trip that would also eventually bring us to Tarifa (needles to say I was of course the tourguide during our trips!) and I told the three: If we get there, I have a surprise for them!
It still took us a month before we finally went onto that trip and every time we saw each other before they always asked: “What is that surprise? Tell us! How can you keep your mouth shut for so long?”
My lips were sealed!
After a couple of amazing days we drove into Tarifa. It was the middle of the day and I was actually quite afraid that the place I had checked out would be closed because of the infamous Spanish Siesta. We were lucky though!
When we arrived I told them to wait in the car, went in, bought a bottle, opened it and took a big gulp in front of the car.
They simply went crazy!
We had a great meal accompanied by a bottle of Club Mate each and bought a couple more for back home. Compared to Berlin standards they were heavily overpriced of course, so we just bought 3-4 each and saved them for special occasions.
By now it has become one of my habits to regularly introduce people during the breaks of my tours to Club Mate. I don’t work for the company and I certainly don’t get any money from them. I am just a fan who eagerly shares what he likes with his guests from around the world.
Even though it is getting more and more popular also outside of the city, Berlin is still the place associated with Club Mate the most.
If you don’t know it already: Try it, when you come to Berlin the next time, I’d be glad to share one with you!