When you first walk into The Maté Factor in Manitou Springs, it seems your average, unassuming café. With a beautiful rustic, log cabin--esque interior, it's cozy and inviting, the aroma of brewed coffee, baking bread and scented candles soothing to your weary nerves.
Then you start to look around. You notice that the guys greeting you at the door and the ones behind the counter all have matching beards and hair pulled back into neat ponytails -- and the women behind the counter are dressed like Halfpint Ingalls and her Little House on the Prairie cohorts. Upon further inspection, you find various religious pamphlets, mostly over on the ledge near the door.
When The Maté Factor first opened last summer, some friends and fellow Manitoids affectionately dubbed it "the cult coffeehouse." But as we've gotten to know the folks who operate the place, we've come to reconsider that terminology.
The Maté Factor is owned and operated by a group of people who are part of a Christian religious movement known as The Twelve Tribes. They congregate in commune-like settings throughout the United States (here in the Springs they live on land by the airport), adhere to traditional gender roles (hence the attire), rest on the Sabbath, are excellent carpenters and highly self-sufficient, and quietly share their beliefs by providing literature for those interested and a community space (the café) for people to gather.
But mainly, they lead a happy, healthy lifestyle and offer some of the tastiest and most nutritious food in the city.
Using organic grains, they bake their own breads and desserts (cookies, date bars, carob peanut butter bars and muffins). For their soups and sandwiches, they use free-range, grain-fed meats that are hormone-, nitrate- and antibiotic-free. The soups, in addition to all sauces and salad dressings, are homemade. They offer fresh fruit smoothies that can be made with ingredients like soy milk and carob chips. They brew excellent coffee and espresso drinks and offer a specialty green tea drink called Yerba Maté. A South American herb that's chock-full of vitamins, Maté strengthens the coronary system, boosts the immune system and stimulates the nervous system (though it's caffeine-free). Religion or no, there's some good eating and healthy living to be had here.
The menu is not large, but it suffices. With a soup of the day, two different salads, three types of wraps, and five different sandwiches, there's little agonizing over your decision and you really can try everything on the menu. My favorite sandwich is the Turkey Reuben ($6.75) -- peppered free-range turkey, Swiss cheese, spicy mustard, sauerkraut and a "special sauce," all melted together and served on a phenomenal, homemade rye bread. A close runner-up is the tofu and veggie wrap ($4), made with lettuce, cheese, green onions, tomatoes, olives and, of course, tofu, seasoned with a vinaigrette dressing on an organic, sprouted whole-wheat wrap.
Most exciting about The Maté Factor is that they're open 24 hours a day, even the kitchen. They are, however, closed Friday night through Sunday morning -- though, this does not mean it's vacated. One Friday night, forgetting their hours, I stopped in for a cup of coffee on way to a movie and, much to my surprise, they handed me an empty cup, told me to help myself and refused to take my money. Turns out, no transactions are conducted on the Sabbath, but people still gather to socialize.
One of the great things about Manitou is its diverse population and small-town atmosphere. The people at Maté Factor definitely fit that bill. Perhaps that's why they've chosen to set up shop there. All I know is that they are a downright welcoming and friendly bunch who cook up some good, healthy food. And good food, gentle readers, is what makes the world a better place.