Sip, sip, hmm; it tastes like grassy, organic green tea and provides the kick of coffee without the jitters and negative side effects. This is the effect felt while sipping yerba mate (pronounced mah-tay). Yerba mate is a plant found mainly in Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina. You can find anyone in these countries sipping out of wooden gourds filled with dried, chopped leaves in a powdery mix called yerba. It is very common to drink mate socially at parks or anywhere, it is the health culture of these South American countries much like the North American health kick now turning to Acai, a Brazilian fruit. I have always been a health-concious individual, so I was very open and willing to sample yerba mate. The leafy taste was a bit much for me initially. Then I learned that not all mate tastes the same. Many different flavors are sold in stores and I have found Orange-flavored Mate to be my favorite.
So why yerba mate instead of green tea or coffee? According to scientists, mate contains 196 volatile compounds, of those 144 are found in green tea. Mate has 11 polyphonols which are phytochemicals antioxidants that help prevent numerous cancers much like lycopene in tomatoes, flavanoids in blueberries, etc. According to a 2005 study at the University of Illinois sampling 25 different types of mate, mate was found to have more antioxidants than green tea, http://www.yerba-mate.com/health.htm. Mate does have some caffeine in the leaves but is found to provide the mental alertness coffee does yet is calmer on the stomach. In my personal experience of drinking mate, I have found to have a kick of energy without the jitters I get from that Starbucks espresso. The distribution of yerba mate is as widespread as coffee here in South America, the same can't be said for North American distribution. Though mate is making its way to North America slowly, it may soon be a health forced to be reckoned with, if society is accepting of the mate-drinking process.
How is mate prepared? In a summed up version, the cut up dried leaves are poured into a wooden gourd about 2/3 full. Then, water is heated and poured into the gourd a little bit at a time. Then a metal straw is inserted and sip away. It is debated between countries on the proper way to prepare mate. For example, in Uruguay they only pour a very little water in at a time to preserve the flavor of the mate. Here in Argentina, they fill the gourd every time with the hot water. However, the water can not be boiling as it will kill the flavor of the mate and give you bitter-mate-face. For a more detailed explanation of how it is prepared please see ://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mate_%28beverage%29.
I can not forget that the process of preparing mate might be a little too much in the fast-paced, fast food American lifestyle. Yet the culture of it all has found a way to my liking and I hope to bring it back to my friends and family. I now find myself drinking mate every morning, a great substitute for waiting in line at Starbucks. The energy and alertness I feel in teaching my students is attributed to yerba mate. Maybe someday the yerba will make its way to your tasting and then I'll bring the gourd and thermos to share in our new cultural past time. Wishful thinking? Maybe, but now I must get back to my mate for its getting cold.