Édouard Dufour-Boiteau: From behind the camera to Mate Libre

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Édouard Dufour-Boiteau is used to working behind the camera. After a trip to Germany where he discovered yerba mate, he decided to recreate the recipe in his apartment in Montreal. A few years later, Mate Libre was born: an energizing beverage, without any bullsh!t, that we love!

Originally from Quebec City, Édouard moved to Montreal to study Film Production at Concordia University. While still a student, he set off to Europe to travel and discover the continent. His journey took him to Berlin, where he met up with a friend he had met in Cégep who now lives in the German capital.

“My friend gave guided tours. He started his tour of the city with a bottle of beer in his hands. He would tell tourists that it’s not beer, but rather a classic beverage in Berlin: ‘It’s a club mate, a typically Berlin yerba mate drink (produced in Germany).’ Me, I didn’t even know what yerba mate was. I tasted it and loved it. I realized that it gives you a little bit of energy, but it’s not like a coffee or an energy drink.”

“At the end of the tour, we went to a club and my friend ordered a mate-vodka. He was served the same bottle of mate, which looked like a bottle of beer. He took a few sips and gave the bottle back to the bartender who added a shot of vodka. That’s when I thought, this is a really sick product.”

Back in Montreal, Édouard went in search of a yerba mate infusion, a very popular drink in South America. At the time, there was only one equivalent. However, according to Édouard, the taste was not there and the product was too niche for a beverage with so much potential. As a matter of fact, the product disappeared from the shelves shortly after. So it was out of necessity — out of a desire to savour his Berlin discovery again — that the first eureka moment arrived: “Yo, I’m going to try making mate recipes in my kitchen. We went to Anatole’s (a friend), bought all the spices and brewed it. Then we saw what worked and what doesn’t.”

In the meantime, Edouard graduated from university and soon after landed several contracts as director of photography and camera assistant. Working on a freelance basis, he touched many aspects of video production. He was in charge of photo direction for commercials, music videos, corporate projects, as well as documentaries. “I’ve always liked to vary. You can be great at one niche, but dabbling in everything allows you to see many approaches and become more versatile.”

In early 2017, he was working on a documentary in Thailand that connected with another of his passions. The project followed an American who established himself in Bangkok to open a restaurant. “The documentary was about the culture clash between an American restaurant owner who wants to learn more about the culture of his Thai employees. It was really interesting because it was about food. I’ve always been into food. All my friends were telling me I should open a restaurant.”

As a photojournalist, Édouard had a lot of free time. He spent much of that time in his kitchen perfecting his recipe for his yerba mate infusion. With no experience in beverage creation — except for a strong love of cooking — he adopted a trial-and-error approach. In the two and a half years since his return from Germany, Édouard has created over 300 recipes, some of them lasting a full week, to finally arrive at a yerba mate brew that lives up to his obviously high standards. For him, it was important to have a product that tasted good before thinking about starting a company.

In early 2019, Édouard made the decision to officially market his product, and Montreal’s Mate Libre sparkling yerba mate infusion was born. A natural (and naturally caffeinated) beverage made with yerba mate, agave, orange, orange blossom and lemon that is meant to be a nice alternative to afternoon coffee (or a late night Jägerbomb). However, the work had only just begun for Édouard.

The first challenge that awaited the young company was to help their future customers, as well as investors, understand what Mate Libre is. A kombucha? An energy drink? A fizzy drink? An iced tea? “There is a lot of education to do. People tend to associate something new with something they already know. We have to make people understand that Mate Libre, yes it’s energizing, but that it’s not an energy drink; that it’s not kombucha, there’s no fermentation; that it’s yerba mate. Our goal is to create a new category of beverage.”

In addition, Édouard was proud to say that Mate Libre is certified organic and fair trade; no bullsh!t as their slogan says. “The recipe is the same as I used to make in my kitchen. We just use natural and fresh ingredients. During the marketing process, it was hard to say no to preservatives, potassium sorbate, colourants. That would have been the easy way out. We use ingredients that I would use in my kitchen.”

Always with a green mindset, Mate Libre also offers zero carbon delivery, while they work with bike messengers from summer to winter.

Today, Mate Libre is offered at 300 points of sale, not only in Montreal, but throughout Quebec. Moreover, the young company recently won two grants (Montreal Inc. and Match DUX). Édouard’s objectives are clear. He wants Mate Libre to become the reference in terms of Yerba maté beverages throughout the world: “It is a product that deserves to be known. I wish I had this when I was in school. I wish I had this when I was working in film. And for the last three years, I’ve been drinking two to three a day.”

Photography by Alison Slattery

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