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If we have similar social media feeds, you would’ve come across a drink called maté (pronounced mah-tay). Also called chimarrão, a key feature of this beverage is that it’s served in a cup that’s filled to the brim with tea leaves and a metal straw that gives access to the liquid under all those leaves.

It’s made using yerba maté, a plant species native to South America.

Image Credit: Yerba Mate Lab

Bringing this drink to Subang is a brand called Maté Manos, which appears to be one of the very first maté cafes in Malaysia.

A journey to South America

Behind this business is 32-year-old Ozri Jon Bin Fitzrol, who actually has a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degree from Melaka Manipal Medical College.

After graduating in 2016, he decided not to immediately pursue a career as a doctor in Malaysia, but rather did the USMLE, the United States Medical Licensing Exam. Before he finished the whole course, though, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“Fast forward to 2023, due to the COVID lockdowns and certain events happening in my life, I developed a certain level of anxiety, mental fog, and had gained about 25 kilograms during the lockdown period,” he opened up.

“I’ll be honest, I prayed to God for some direction and for some help to clear my head and He came through.”  

One day in April 2023, as he was scrolling through YouTube Shorts, he came across this video of a guy brewing tea using a very familiar drinking apparatus.

As a teenager, he actually went to Argentina and Brazil on a trip with his family. While there, he noticed some locals drinking out of round cups with metal straws. It didn’t pique his interest when he was younger, but now, things have changed.

Image Credit: Maté Manos

“Intuition kicked in and I immediately decided to research it,” he said.

Finding out that the drink is called maté, he learnt that it comes with a myriad of health benefits and is said to provide a natural energy boost without the jitters associated with coffee.

He immediately ordered a pack of it, the special gourd-shaped cup, and a bombilla—the metal straw specially used to drink maté with.

“I still remember the first day I tried it, which was on April 24, 2023,” Ozri recalled.

“It granted me a level of mental clarity and focus I’ve never felt before with any other caffeine source. I’ve never had this level of energy which feels almost miraculous to me. It helped turn my life around.”

Image Credit: Maté Manos

Going all in

The caffeine industry in Malaysia right now is dominated by coffee. We’ve got endless options when it comes to a cup of joe, with local chains like ZUS Coffee and Gigi Coffee having a presence seemingly every other corner.  

Noticing that no other businesses in Malaysia was selling yerba maté-based drinks yet, Ozri decided to take the plunge and do it himself.

Image Credit: Maté Manos

Instead of going down the route of starting as a pop-up stall first, Ozri went all in by opening a physical outlet.

Ozri revealed that he actually conducted several market surveys in Subang Jaya. He would give out drinks and collect feedback, which he said was positive.  

As such, he kicked off the venture in July. Sourcing the herbal tea directly from Argentina, he set up shop in SS19. At first, it was mostly locals that visited, but now Ozri said that Instagram ads have brought in folks from other areas.

Image Credit: Maté Manos

Despite having no entrepreneurial experience, Ozri is now pursuing Maté Manos as his full-time commitment, fuelled by a passion to share his positive experience with other Malaysians.

“Even though it’s gonna take some hard work and a lot of luck, I would very much like to show to others that yerba maté is a lot better than coffee in terms of a source for caffeine,” he said.

More than maté

Instead of offering traditional yerba maté drinks using the gourd cup and bombilla, Maté Manos’ menu features drinks that are more like infused yerba maté drinks.

The offerings include a combination of recipes that are popular and also ones that Ozri came up with to suit the local palate. His current best-selling drink is the cold yerba maté with honey and lemon.

Image Credit: Maté Manos

The way Ozri is preparing these drinks isn’t necessarily traditional, but involve more innovative ways of brewing. He picked up these methods because he felt that traveling around with the gourd and bombilla wasn’t very practical.

Moving forward, he does plan on offering the gourd and bombilla to provide a more traditional experience for the consumption of yerba maté in the near future.

For those who have never tried the herbal tea, Ozri shared that the flavour depends on the variety of tea leaves used and where it’s sourced from.

But as a general description, it’s grassy with some earthiness to it. It can be a little bitter at times, while some varieties are nutty or smoky.

Aside from the drinks, Maté Manos also has a range of food items on its menu, including focaccia, sandwiches, and cakes, which are made in collaboration with a homebaker, Sun9bakers.

Image Credit: Maté Manos

“When I first opened up, I only had yerba maté on the menu and most customers who came in requested food,” Ozri explained. “So, I took it upon myself to learn how to bake bread and make sandwiches with them.”

Pioneering a new beverage in Malaysia

Being one of the first purveyors of maté in Malaysia, Maté Manos has both an advantage as well as a disadvantage.

“Introducing yerba maté to a market unfamiliar with it demanded a robust educational approach,” he pointed out.

However, he shared that social media marketing has been producing promising results. Still, it’s not easy to convince others to try the drink in the first place.  

Image Credit: Maté Manos

As such, it’s his current goal to get more people to experience yerba maté and get them to make the switch from other caffeine sources, just as he has.

“We plan to do so by increasing our online marketing efforts,” Ozri said. “We are in the process of completing our online store and making it more accessible for customers to order.”

Through these efforts, Ozri hopes to grow Maté Manos into the go-to source for yerba maté in Malaysia. 

  • Learn more about Maté Manos here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about F&B businesses here.

Featured Image Credit: Maté Manos

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