Are you a coffee drinker looking to switch over to tea, but who still needs coffee-quantities of caffeine in your life? Mate (or Yerba Mate) may be the drink for you. It’s a caffeinated drink from South America, but it isn’t coffee. It’s brewed like tea, but it isn’t tea. It’s a totally separate plant, with a totally separate story.
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Mate (pronounced mah-tay, not like the British slang for friend) is the national infusion of Argentina. It’s a major part of Argentinean and Paraguayan culture, and also popular in Bolivia, Brazil, and Uruguay. It’s traditionally consumed out of a gourd, which the leaves are steeped directly in. A straw called a bombilla sifts out the leaves, and careful arrangement of them reduces the amount of fine silt that passes through the straw. The mate is traditionally passed around a group of people, who all drink from the same gourd.
However, if you aren’t in South America, you can enjoy your mate just like tea. Because it is an herbal, and not true tea, you cannot burn the leaves by using too hot of water, and cannot oversteep it. You can brew it in your favorite mug, if you don’t have a traditional gourd, and can brew it in any of our infusers. In northern Brazil, it’s frequently enjoyed with sugar, honey, or lemon, very much like tea.
Mate has about as much caffeine as coffee, but is much less acidic. Therefore, if you’re someone with the sort of stressful lifestyle that tends to come with that constant coffee-stomach (you know who you are), and refuse to consider the option of mellowing out some (please relax and try the rooibos), mate is a good idea. I also recommend blending it with ginger, which is good for a sour stomach, and lemongrass, which is full of vitamin C.
Unlike your morning cup of coffee, mate also has even more antioxidants than green tea. If you’re unfamiliar with antioxidants, I discuss them a little in this blog post, but they’re what make blueberries, wine, and chocolate all “healthy”. Antioxidants fight free radicals, which is to say, they reduce your risk of cancer.
While mate is full of caffeine, it is not a true tea, which means that it doesn’t have L-theanine, an amino acid which promotes focus, and which we talk about a little in this blog post. If you’re still looking for that boost, I recommend blending it with a black tea ( Blue Sapphireespecially), or a hardier green, such as Osprey Gunpowder. I recommend this green tea in particular because mate is an herbal, and should therefore be brewed at a temperature close to boiling, and Gunpowder does a better job of standing up to heat than most greens, which should in general be brewed at 160-180 degrees.
Learn more about Mate on Wikipedia