Yerba mate pronounced (yer-bah mah-tay) is an evergreen tree from the holly family that grows in South America - in particular the subtropical forests of Paraguay, Uruguay, and the Parana state of Brazil. It’s essentially the English Breakfast tea of South America – the tea for when friends and family come round or pour yourself a hot brew before you go off to work.
This yerba mate plant is found in the wild but is also cultivated on plantations similarly to familiar kinds of tea.
In the countries where yerba mate is widely consumed, it assumes the cultural importance exemplified by coffee cafés and Japanese tea ceremonies. Drinking yerba mate tea is often a social event. Sharing this drink from a traditional gourd is a sign of friendship and bonding.
It’s wildly popular in Uruguay, where it’s not unusual to see people walking down the street sipping mate while carrying a thermos of hot water to refresh their drink.
It’s officially the national drink of Argentina where 500 million dollars worth of it is consumed every year.
Yerba mate is well known for providing its drinkers with a natural energy boost that’s calm in an introduction as well as quite gentle compared to other teas and coffees.
When you compare yerba mate to the other most commonly used stimulants in the world — coffee, tea, kola nut, cocoa, and guarana — yerba mate reportedly delivers the most balanced energy boost.
Yerba mate drinkers experience a state of alert wakefulness similar to that of coffee, but without coffee’s side effects. It rarely interferes with sleep and doesn’t cause caffeine jitters.
Yerba mate contains a moderate amount of caffeine, the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world. The brain-enhancing benefits of caffeine are commonly known - it enhances memory, mood, and alertness. Caffeine makes you more motivated and productive by stimulating the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Other than caffeine, yerba mate contains two related compounds, theobromine, and theophylline. These three alkaloids work together to provide unique, mild stimulant effects, as they also do in coffee, chocolate, and tea.
Yerba mate is high in compounds called saponins. Saponins are natural emulsifiers that boost the immune system and have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Yerba mate also contains potent antioxidants known as polyphenols. These plant-based compounds modulate the overactive immune response which contributes to seasonal allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes.
Overall, Yerba mate is one of the healthiest drinks in the world tea or not. It provides an energy and productivity boost similar to coffee, but with less caffeine and more nutrients. It is generally less stimulating than coffee and rarely causes caffeine jitters or insomnia.
Yerba mate offers a multitude of health benefits, from improved cognition to stronger bones. As a healthy replacement for caffeine-laden energy drinks or soda or just a change of pace from coffee, yerba mate is an excellent alternative.
Yerba mate is definitely an acquired taste, with a large flavour profile. And, if we’re honest it’s going to take some time to develop your palate.
Like a full-bodied red wine, Cuban cigar, dark rich coffee, and other things of the sort, yerba mate falls in the same category. When starting off, they almost always taste terrible. Or at least unpleasant.
When you break it down, first glass of wine will taste like a burning sour grape. First cigars will taste like burning smoke. Coffee will taste like a bitter cup of nothing. And what about yerba mate? Yerba mate will taste like dirt, soil, grass, and sometimes, a fireplace.
Which, yes, doesn’t sound appealing at all but it takes some getting used to. After weeks and a few months of drinking yerba mate consistently, you’ll soon come to love how it tastes.
The dirt, grass, and hay taste to be soothing and refreshing. The bitterness dies down a bit, and a gentle sweetness sweeps in. Again, it’s a strange thing. But as you drink, you can see for yourself how this is the case.
Once you’re used to it, there are fewer more satisfying and tasty drinks in the world.
Just because people in Uruguay drink yerba mate all day long doesn’t mean you should! Some people may experience the typical symptoms of excess caffeine — anxiety, nervousness, heart palpitations, and insomnia.
And since it’s great at keeping you regular, too much can have a laxative effect. Due to its caffeine content, yerba mate is not recommended if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or have anxiety issues. And keep in mind that if you smoke or drink alcohol heavily, these combined with mate might increase your risk for certain cancers. One comprehensive study conducted in Argentina found an increased risk of bladder cancer in yerba mate drinkers, but only in those who also smoked.
How to Brew
Traditionally, yerba mate is prepared in a gourd that is shared; this is part of the social and cultural experience of drinking yerba mate. In a mate ceremony, the “cebador”, or mate preparer, prepare a gourd of mate, sips it down to make sure the mate is smooth, and then prepares another mate in the same gourd to pass from guest to guest. Each guest sips down a gourd of mate and returns it to the cebador to prepare another for the next guest in the circle. This is a traditional ritual of friendship and hospitality.
While gourd preparation is still the preferred way to drink yerba mate in South America, modern-day methods work as well. Many companies marketing yerba mate as a herbal tea sell it in pre-packaged tea bags and as a loose leaf herb. Yerba mate can be steeped similar to a traditional tea in a teacup, teapot, French press or coffee maker.
For a more contemporary approach, brew yerba mate tea in this Kinto Couleur Tea for One - the 3 in 1 tea set comes with a 500 ml teapot, mug, and saucer and is the ideal solution to begin your yerba mate journey. The teapot’s filter mounted on the spout allows the inside of the teapot to be strainer free. With tea like yerba mate, it’s all about the rich taste experience, and with this teapot, you’re guaranteed a more balanced taste.