About Yerba Mate
- History & Culture
- Botany & Ecology
- Health Benefits
- Our Yerba Mate Source
Yerba Mate History & Culture
The first people to discover yerba mate were the Guarani (pronounced wa-ra-nee). Their traditional homeland in Paraguay, northern Argentina, and southern Brazil overlaps the home range of wild yerba mate. The Guarani enjoy yerba mate as a daily tonic, and also as the basis of their medicinal system. They have a legend telling how yerba mate was the gift of a benevolent god, who gave the tree to a small group of weary travelers as a reward for their righteousness.
When Jesuit missionaries arrived in the region in the 16th century, they organized the Guarani people into a system of missions along the Rio Alto Parana. These missions grew so wealthy as a result of their yerba mate plantations that the regional secular governments ejected the Jesuits and took over production. This was an era of much hardship and turmoil for the Guarani people.
Over the course of the following centuries, yerba mate developed into an icon of national identity for many South American countries, especially Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. To this day, Argentines travelling abroad can be easily recognized by their mate gear, which they take out at every opportunity. If you see a group of young people sitting on a beach in Miami or in a cafe in Paris sharing mate, chances are you’ll overhear them speaking Spanish in their distinctive Argentine accent, which sounds just a bit like Italian.
At the heart of yerba mate culture is the ritual of sharing. If an Argentine asks you to share a mate, this is a great compliment. She is inviting you into a circle of friendship and hospitality. Like the Japanese tea ceremony, a subtle language has evolved around the rate of pouring the water, and also the size of the pours. Generally speaking, smaller and slower pours indicate a greater level of interpersonal connection because this makes the yerba last longer!
Yerba Mate is finally shaking off its sleepy regional roots and going global. It’s showing up as a “power ingredient” in energy drinks and other products in our fast-paced culture. However, if we North Americans want to become the #1 importer of yerba mate, we still have a long way to go. Yerba Mate has been popular in the Middle East for quite a while. Something about the communal nature of the yerba mate ritual must appeal to Arabic traditions of hospitality, friendship, and family. Believe it or not, the #1 importer of yerba mate is currently Syria.
Yerba Mate Botany & Ecology
Yerba Mate is known to botanists as Ilex paraguariensis. This Latin name literally means “Paraguayan holly.” That’s right, yerba mate is a type of holly. It naturally grows as a spindly tree in the intermediate layer of the forest. Imagine a tree as tall as a flowering dogwood, with large waxy leaves like a rhododendron’s. Farmers generally prune their yerba mate trees to keep them short and bushy, so they are easier to harvest.
Yerba Mate produces clusters of white flowers that mature into bright red berries. For years, botanists tried and failed to get the berries to sprout in other lands. One of the reasons that yerba mate never grew popular in Europe during the colonial era was that yerba mate was difficult to cultivate beyond its native range. Eventually, local Guarani people showed the botanists how the berries sprouted once they were eaten by toucans. It turned out that the toucans had acids in their digestive tracts that broke down the seeds’ hard outer coatings, making them ready to sprout.
Yerba Mate is a major component of the endangered Matto Grosso, or Interior Atlantic Forest type. The Matto Grosso is home to the toucan, the jaguar, and the coati, among a thousand lesser-known but no less wonderful endemic creatures. Sustainable yerba mate cultivation represents the last best chance to preserve this unique biological treasure trove.
Health Benefits of Yerba Mate
Yerba mate provides 25 mg of caffeine per 2g tea bag in 8 oz of water. For comparison, the average cup of coffee has 135 mg of caffeine. The average cup of black tea contains 50 mg. Green tea has 30 mg.
Not all ‘caffeines’ are the same, however. What we refer to as ‘caffeine’ is really a group of substances known to chemists as Xanthine Alkaloids. The caffeine in coffee is very physical and quick to take effect. Theophylline is the ‘caffeine’ found in green tea. It tends to be very mental. Theobromine is the ‘caffeine’ found in chocolate. It tends to be very slow-releasing.
Yerba mate actually contains a mixture of these three xanthine alkaloids. It also provides minerals to support nervous system function, and B-vitamins to relax muscles. For these reasons, it produces a balanced, long-lasting physical and mental stimulation.
At one point, South American chemists were so intrigued by the qualitative difference between yerba mate stimulation and coffee stimulation that they invented a phantom molecule called mateine to explain it. They claimed that mateine was a unique molecule in the xanthine alkaloid family. We now know this is not the case, though we still sometimes refer to mateine as the holistic effect of drinking yerba mate.
Yerba mate receives a lot of press as a diet and weight-loss tea. While nothing can replace a healthy diet, regular exercise, and a great attitude, yerba mate can certainly give you a boost:
- Yerba Mate raises metabolism.
- Yerba Mate regulates appetite, encouraging a healthy diet.
- Yerba Mate aids digestion.
- Yerba Mate is thermogenic. “Thermogenic” means that it actually induces the body to burn calories.
- Yerba Mate provides antioxidants, minerals, amino acids, and B vitamins to support a healthy lifestyle.
Yerba Mate is often touted as “the nutritious stimulant.” Below is a chart that shows the nutritional value of a mug of yerba mate tea.
|Serving Size||6 g of loose yerba mate in 8 oz. of water|
Yerba Mate Antioxidants
When brewed as directed, this tea provides an ORAC value of 10,000 µmolTE/240ml, which is five times stronger than a typical cup of green tea.
Yerba Mate & PAH
A lot of yerba mate is dried with smoke. In general, smoked foods often contain high levels of carcinogenic substances known as PAH’s (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). To be on the safe side, you may want to drink unsmoked yerba mate.
Yerba Mate pH
A cup of mate cocido brewed at medium strength yields a pH of around 5.5. Be aware that variations in brewing method and water quality will inevitably cause variation. For best results, use filtered pH-neutral water and don’t steep longer than five minutes.
Yerba Mate & Fluoride
If you are concerned about the high fluoride content in green tea, yerba mate might be a good alternative. Yerba mate has a lot less fluoride than green tea. An 8 oz cup of Ayni Foods yerba mate with one 2 g tea bag yields 0.021 mg of fluoride, which is only one-fifth the fluoride content of the average cup of green tea brewed at similar strength.
The Preparation of Yerba Mate
Yerba Mate Traditional-Style
Traditional-style yerba mate is a strong, invigorating brew. It is best shared with a small group of friends or family. The person who prepares and serves the mate is called the cebador (say-ba-door). Traditionally, the cebador is the only person who pours the water, passes the gourd around, and maintains the freshness of the herb.
To Be a Good Cebador:
- Fill a thermos with 150 F water (never boiling!).
- Fill a mate vessel 2/3 with loose yerba mate.
- Tap the herb to one side of the gourd to create a pit.
- Pour cool water into the pit.
- Insert a bombilla into the pit.
- Pour a small sip of hot water from the thermos into the pit, right over the bombilla’s head.
- Test this “first pour” to make sure that the temperature is right- not too hot or cold – and that the bombilla is flowing well.
- Do not flood the gourd. The top of the herb should stay dry as you pour water into the pit.
- Pass the gourd to one person at a time, allowing each participant to sip until the bombilla gurgles.
- Maintain a slow, steady rhythm and a fixed order so that each participant receives enough mate.
- Discourage people from stirring the mate with the bombilla, as this often leads to clogging.
- Refresh the herb when it runs out of flavor.
- Maintain a steady supply of hot water.
Yerba Mate Cocido
‘Mate Cocido’ is the Spanish term for yerba mate brewed like any other tea or coffee. You can use tea bags, a tea ball, a strainer, a French press, or a coffee maker. Use the same proportions you would for coffee or other tea. Here are some helpful tips to make a great cup of mate:
- Always moisten the herb with cool water first to protect the flavor and nutrients.
- Steep in 175 degrees F water. NEVER USE BOILING WATER!
- Steep five minutes max.
- To make a stronger cup of mate, use more herb. Don’t brew longer than five minutes. Tea quality diminishes with over-steeping.
Yerba Mate Gringo-Style
This is our playful term for a style of drinking yerba mate that is getting popular in North America. You could say it’s a cross between Mate Cocido and Traditional Style.
- Place the desired amount of loose yerba mate into a big mug.
- Add a bit of cool water and let it soak into the herb.
- Place a bombilla in the mug.
- Fill the mug with 150F water and enjoy.
- You can refill the mug a couple of times over the course of your morning. If the brew gets weak, add a touch more loose yerba.
Yerba Mate ‘Terere’
Enjoy iced yerba mate with a bombilla! Terere is a refreshing summer treat. It is more popular than hot mate in tropical South America.
- Fill a pitcher with water and ice.
- Add organic agave syrup, maple syrup, or unrefined cane sugar to taste.
- Squeeze a fresh organic lime or two into the pitcher. (Organic bottled lemonade or limeade can be used instead.)
- Fill a small glass or metal cup with yerba mate. (We don’t recommend using gourds for terere, because the lime and sugar flavors willl taint the gourd thereafter.)
- Insert a bombilla into the yerba.
- Pour sips of ice-cold, sweet, limey water right over the bombilla’s head.
- Share, Sip, and Refresh!
Yerba Mate Espresso
Brew yerba mate with an espresso machine. It’s easy and tasty!
- Thoroughly clean your espresso machine’s portofilter to remove coffee oils.
- Pour 2 tablespoons of loose yerba mate into a small cup.
- Add enough cool water to make a loose “paste.”
- Spoon this yerba mate “paste” into the espresso machine’s portofilter and pack it in lightly.
- Make a shot of green espresso for use in “mate lattes,” “green granitas,” etc.