Yerba Maté – A South American Beverage with Caffeine

Yerba Maté (Ilex paraguariensis)

If you love botanicals, but still want a boost of caffeine, yerba maté may be for you! Yerba maté is herbal, but has plenty of caffeine to fuel you through your day. Read more information on this botanical form of caffeine and how to incorporate it into your tea-drinking routine!

Origins & Traditions

Yerba maté is the dried leaves harvested from an evergreen tree native to South American Atlantic rainforests. It is primarily harvested by yerbateros (cultivators) on small farms in Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. In Argentina, “yerba mate” originally translated as “the gourd herb”, i.e. the herb one drinks from a gourd. It is also known as ka’a (“herb”) by the indigenous Guarani people who first used it. 

Traditionally, after mate leaves are dried and ground, a dried hollowed calabash gourd is filled with the leaves and hot water. Using a special metal straw (or bombilla), the caffeine-rich, stimulating tea is drunk with close friends or family in a rotating fashion. Take a sip and pass it on! The brewer gives the gourd to each person, often in a circle. The recipient gives thanks, drinks the few mouthfuls in the container, and then returns the mate to the brewer, who refills it and passes it to the next person in clockwise order. 

In southern Chile, the ritual differs a bit. The recipient does not give thanks until he or she is done drinking. This strong social and cultural tradition brings people together and creates community. Being offered maté is a sign of respect, and in many instances an important precursor to making new friends on the road. 

Maté Properties

Yerba maté leaves contain 24 different vitamins and minerals, alkaloids, 15 amino acids and abundant polyphenols, making it a highly nourishing caffeinated beverage! The 85 mg of caffeine in a cup of maté (and several other chemicals) stimulate the brain, heart, and muscles lining the blood vessels. The average caffeine quantity of a cup of maté is less than coffee, but more than black tea. 

“Stimulating like coffee, euphoric like chocolate, and with the health benefits of tea”, yerba maté is not for the faint of heart. It is a tonic, laxative diuretic, and muscle relaxant, and can reduce appetite. It is also said to increase intellectual vigor. Some say it helps with diabetes, lowering blood sugar if taken regularly. Similar attitudes believe it can help lower LDL cholesterol or “bad” cholesterol. 

As with all herbs, moderation is best. Refrain from consuming maté if you are pregnant, nursing, or have sleep issues. Caffeine also slows blood clotting, so people with bleeding disorders should avoid it. Overall, maté should not be consumed in large amounts due to its high caffeine content. 

Flavor Profile & Fun Blends

When yerba maté leaves are harvested, they are often dried by a wood fire, imparting a smoky flavor. This roasty-ness is the main flavor that maté is known for! Maté also has the ability to get rather bitter if steeped for a long time. However, this bitterness is what some crave when drinking maté, whereas others may want to steep it for a shorter period or use fewer leaves when brewing to limit its bitter flavor. 

Yerba maté adds layers of flavor to tea blends! Its herb-like taste fits well with other botanicals, and its kick of caffeine can also be beneficial. Blends we incorporate yerba maté in are: Beat the Snot out of You, Spicy Yerba Chai, Have a Headache?, and Sabertooth Green. Of course, we sell straight yerba maté too! 

Written by: Greta de la Montagne, edited by: Boo Curry and Heather Kreilick

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