Known to have the “strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the euphoria of chocolate”, yerba mate tea makes an exceptional beverage. Yerba mate is the plant that is widely recognized as the making the beverage mate.
Popular in South America cultures, it is consumed at a ratio of 6:1 over coffee. Yerba mate makes the national drink of Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. It is also consumed heavily in Bolivia, southern Chile, and parts of Brazil.
Yerba Mate Is Pope-Approved
In Argentina, most people (over 90%) drink it from a gourd and with a bombilla, oftentimes in social settings. Even Pope Francis, the first Catholic pope from Argentina has been seen sipping mate with his followers. Prior to European colonization, yerba mate was first cultivated and prepared in southern Brazil by the Guaraní people and in some Tupí communities.
Similar to meeting for tea or coffee around the world, friends and associates will meet and gather to share mate. An almost ritualistic event, with its own customaries and rules based on the region, sharing yerba mate has a purpose engrained in South American cultures.
Drinking Yerba Mate
Referred to as simply mate in Spanish-speaking countries or chimarrão in Brazil, it is made by traditionally by combining dry leaves (and twigs) of the mate plant, and hot (not boiling) water (70–80 °C /158–176 °F). Depending on preferences sugar may or may not be added, and the mate may be prepared and served with cold water.
The flavor yerba mate when brewed is vaguely reminiscent of green tea, but with a much earthier flavor. It has undertones of vegetables, herbs, and grass. Some deem the beverage as an acquired taste, and it is generally perceived as bitter. Many say that the flavor is too bitter if steeped in boiling water.
There are flavored mate options available, infused with options such as peppermint or citrus flavors, available in loose leaf, or bagged forms.
In Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, toasted and sweeter versions are commonly paired with breakfast, known as mate cocido (Paraguay) and chá mate (Brazil). These are infused with fruit flavors like lime. Milk is also common. In southern Brazil, this is paired with pastries for afternoon tea. Iced, sweetened versions are also sold bottled in iced drinks without fruit flavoring alongside soft drinks. Overall, there are hundreds of variations of the drink.
Cultivation of Yerba Mate Tea
The yerba mate plant is indigenous and to South America, and is grown most frequently in northern Argentia, Paraguay, Uruguay and southern Brazil.
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Those who cultivate the plant are known as yerbateros to Spanish speakers, and ervatiros to Brazilian Portuguese. Cultivating the yerba mate plant is a uniquely difficult and labor intensive task, from harvesting the seeds to keeping pests away in a plantation setting.
The harvesting process is particularly distinctive. When yerba mate is harvested, branches are often dried by a wood fire, which give the drink its smoky flavor. Female plants are more scarce, and also tend to have a milder flavor and be lower in caffeine.
Health Benefits and Risks of Drinking Yerba
Yerba Mate brings a high dose of nutrition and energy through its antioxidants, monoamine oxidase inhibition activity, and E-NTPDase activity.
It also has a high mineral content, with elements such as potassium and magnesium. It also contains three xanthines: caffeine, theobromine and theophylline.
Proponents of yerba mate say that it can relieve fatigue through its high doses of caffeine and antioxidants. There are many types of tea that are made with various spices, herbs, and other types of plants. Turmeric tea is another popular blend with many touted health benefits, but it’s also controversial as to how accurate many of the health claims really are.
Yerba Mate Tea can also promote weight loss and healthy digestion by inhibiting enzymes and acting as an appetite suppressant. It can ease depression, and help treat headaches and various other conditions.
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Limited research shows that it may improve allergy symptoms, reduce the risk of diabetes and high blood sugar in mice.
Overall it is important to note that there is no definitive evidence of these health benefits, and most claims are anecdotal. It’s also important to note that the consumption of hot mate tea is associated with certain cancers (oral, esophageal, larynx, and squamous).
Studies indicate a correlation between the tea’s temperature and increased risk of cancer, making it unclear of the role of mate plays as a carcinogen.