Living in China is quite an exciting experience. I came to Shanghai about 3 months ago to pursue a second Master’s Degree, work in an automotive company and learn Chinese as a fifth language. All at the same time. Oh, didn’t I also mention that I am in the early stages of launching my own company?
All this is fine and with a little planning, also doable. The only problem is that the day only has 24 hours and the idea of getting some sleep once in a while is not bad at all! As my plans progress, I see myself sleeping less and less and when things sometimes get hectic, I really need that extra boost to get me through the day (or night!). That’s where yerba mate comes in.
Now, it’s not really the first time I am in China, but it is certainly the first time that I am here for the long haul. All the other previous times, I stayed for no longer than 3 months and made sure that I had at least 2 Kg of yerba in my suitcase. As I now hit my fourth month here in Shanghai, I’m also slowly drinking my way to the last few grams of my last 1 Kg Rosamonte Especial and times have got me wondering what to do!??!
Winter is here and just in case you haven’t been to Shanghai in winter, here is a little background information for you: China has a peculiar plan of how it delivers heating to it’s cities. Long ago, the government decided that all households in cities north of the Yangtze River shall be thermal isolated and equipped with heating, while all cities south of this river should not. This is all dandy if it weren’t for the simple fact that some cities on the south side of the Yangtze border (like Shanghai and Nanjing) often reach temperatures as low as -5 °C in winter days.
So to make a long story short, in the evening I am often sitting in my room, wearing just about every piece of clothing I have and praying that the next day comes, so I can go to work where a central heating system actually exists. Not to mention, that I catch myself drinking 3x more yerba mate in China than I usually do. One day I was video skyping with my family. It was so cold in my Shanghai living room, that they actually asked me if I had started smoking. True story. 🙂
So, in the current light of events, you can see why I’ve begun to get very desperate as my yerba mate stash shrinks day by day.
Determined to find a local yerba mate supplier, I fired up my browser and did a quick search for “Yerba Mate in Shanghai“. Unfortunately the only results I got were forum posts from other desperate laowais like myself. I decided to head over to China’s most popular e-commerce platform, TaoBao.
Unfortunately, what I witnessed sent shivers up my back. Even more so than the coldness in my apartment. It seems, China is the most expensive country, I know, for drinking yerba mate. 500 grams of Rosamonte Especial costs about 24.5 USD here, which means that a full Kilo ranges around 50 USD! Not to mention, that as a foreign national, I don’t have access to AliPay, which is like PayPal here and the platform’s main paying method. When purchasing things on TaoBao, I often have to ask Chinese friends to buy it for me and I give them cash later. In some occasions, I actually had to hire a TaoBao “buyer” who charged me 3% over my purchases.
Before coming here, I lived in Germany for about 7 years. There, the kilo of Rosamonte Especial could be easily purchased on Amazon for about 10 EUR (12.5 USD) with shipping included.
In order to make a quick comparison for the purpose of this article, I headed over to Amazon.com and found the same brand being sold at an average of about 16 USD/kilo. That is clearly more expensive than in Europe, but still a reasonable price.
Eventually, curiosity got the best of me and I looked up what the price would be in Argentina (Rosamonte’s homeland). Although yerba mate prices in Argentina have gone up considerably this year, the 1 Kg Rosamonte pack still sells for about 45 Pesos or 5 USD. Now that’s what I call a bargain. 🙂
Anyway, people may argue that since I am in China (home of Chinese tea), I should just adapt to the local customs and drink what they drink. I must say, I do love Chinese tea as well, but being the South American chico that I am, I just cannot let go of my mate. Mate just has that extra “kick” not present in any other beverages. Moreover, when I am drinking yerba mate; the taste and even the aromas take me back to some very special moments back in Brazil, now very far away.
I did end up paying 100 bucks for 2 Kg of mate, but I have also developed a new strategy to get the most buck out of my “vice”. I have a Kilo of yerba delivered to friends in Germany every month or so. Since I often go back there, I will bring back about 2 Kg every time. I also work in a German company here in Shanghai and have colleagues flying in and out on a regular basis. So, I sometimes just have my “goods” delivered to their address. I’m sure there must be a better way of doing this, but for now that’s my game plan.
So, if you are coming to China and you are a Mate addict, then make sure you dedicate a couple of pounds of your luggage capacity to your drinking habit! Take it easy, materos!