Yerba Mate has the “strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the euphoria of chocolate” all in one beverage. Of the six commonly used stimulants in the world: coffee, tea, kola nut, cocoa and guarana, yerba mate triumphs as the most balanced, delivering both energy and nutrition.
It’s certainly not uncommon for companies to make outlandish claims about their own products, particularly if they believe them. Whether we believe them or not is a different story. You know my love affair with black coffee; could Yerba mate really replace it? I’m always down to mine for value at the margins.
You remember my friend Cassidy from this post. Many months ago, she was preparing for some muddy, barb wired obstacle race, random Ninja challenge or whatever. She arrived at the gym drinking from a hard, dried out, shelled container.
C’mon Cass. We have mugs in Malibu.
Anyhow, she was drinking Yerba mate tea out of a container made from the outer part of a squash, called a gourd, apparently the traditional way to crush the beverage. The metal straw has a sieve at the bottom to prevent you from drinking the leaves, which are left in the drink while sipping.
So what the hell is in the stuff?
Yerba mate (yer-bah mah-tay) is made from the naturally caffeinated and nourishing leaves of the celebrated South American rainforest holly tree (Ilex paraguariensis). For centuries, South America’s Aché Guayakí tribe have sipped yerba mate from a traditional mate gourd for its rejuvenative effects. These rainforest people find tremendous invigoration, focus, and nourishment in yerba mate.
Again with the sell? All good, no judgment here. I was willing to try it, and Cass thoughtfully shared some out of her gourd. From epicurean.com:
According to Andrea Segovia, a Uruguayan native and co-founder of Madison, Wisconsin-based yerba distributor Natural Latitudes, “yerba mate is more than a beverage when shared between two or more people. It is a ritual of friendship that can break the barriers of language and differences in culture. In essence, it creates and strengthens the bond of positive attitudes between people.
Awww, thanks, Cass. But friendship rituals aside, the best way to describe the flavor is…I was unimpressed. That said, neither my first sip of beer nor my first cup of coffee, taken jet black, were chocolate brownie experiences. I wasn’t sold on this being the elixir of life promised by the advertising hype, but I was open to further experimentation.
Recently, my friend and very interesting human, Chris, shared his experience with Yerba mate. Chris is a spanish teacher extraordinaire and deeply comprehends and appreciates Latin American culture. When he muses glowingly about anything related, I listen. It was fascinating to digest his emphasis on the positive encounters he’s had with the beverage. He was so excited at the close that he asked if he could send me some.
Yesterday, I received a package from Chris with a bag of the stuff and a cup that looked like ideal for a 7 year old girl’s tea party. Chris, like I told Cass, we have mugs. Upon opening the bag, I couldn’t help but think, “this is green tea.” A quick inhale of the sweet, woody scent, however, and I was convinced of the differences. This was not unique to the smell, as the nutritional profiles of the two beverages are somewhat dissimilar. From the LA Times:
Because of yerba mate’s high antioxidant content, comparisons to green tea are common (one commercial yerba mate blend claims to contain 90% more antioxidants than green tea). But that is slightly misleading, says Elvira de Mejia, associate professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The two teas have very different arrays of antioxidants: Green tea is rich in epigallocatechin gallate compounds, while yerba mate’s main antioxidant is chlorogenic acid. Studies have suggested that both sets of plant compounds have the potential to reduce risk for heart disease and cancer, but the research on both is far from conclusive.
The highly touted health benefits definitely need closer examination. Some studies have noted a possible increase in various types of cancers (esophageal, bladder, oral, and a few others) in populations who consume large amounts of Yerba mate. That woody scent I picked up on comes from the way the Yerba mate plant is processed, which involves smoking the leaves. There are some cancer-causing compounds produced during the smoking, meaning that the tea, like anything else, should be best consumed in moderation.
What about the other ones? Like tea and coffee, since Yerba mate is a plant, there are significant quantities of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals like potassium, phosphorus, iron, and calcium. Yerba mate does contain polyphenols, which may help in fat loss. But most people are interested in the energy boosting potential of the drink, claiming that it provides all the benefits of a caffeinated cup of coffee with none of the downsides.
Personally, I don’t get jittery, anxious feelings from consuming my daily ritual coffee. For those who do, I would suggest perhaps a more moderate intake might be advisable (common sense, folks). But there’s no shortage of people trumpeting the mood and mind-enhancing properties. From Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Workweek:
I found by accident that my best sessions all followed a specific ratio: 3 cups of yerba mate tea for each glass of wine consumed. 3:1. I also like adding a little theobromine with a few E. Guittard 72% cacao chocolate cooking chips every 20 minutes or so.
Nothing illicit is needed, and it doesn’t become an addiction. In 2001 I was a caffeine/coffee addict because I “worked” 14 hours a day and coffee high only lasted 1.5-2 hours after I’d built a tolerance. I could have up to 8 cups in 24 hours. For a max 4-hour session, you wouldn’t consume more than two cups, so chemical dependency doesn’t occur. I use tea in place of coffee when possible because caffeine has a sharp crash for me, whereas yerba mate (which includes caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline) does not.
We’ve already discussed drinking 8 cups of coffee in a day. The caffeine in Yerba may enhance focus and clarity while the theobromine naturally present in it works as a relaxant, countering the typical stimulant effect of caffeine (relaxed focus, athletes?). Like with anything else, your experience will vary based on your personal tolerance and preference. Trial and error, baby.
Oh, and the taste on this go around? The flavor of my first brew was fairly light with some floral notes at the finish. Surprisingly, the sip was far from bitter and had a hint of sweetness, not too far off the beaten path of your typical Chinese restaurant house tea.