Yerba Mate Tea: What is it and why is everyone talking about it?

Posted by Stephany Morgan on

Yerba Mate, a traditional South American drink, has gained so much popularity that it can be found in everything from energy drinks to mate lattes. However, there are still a lot of misconceptions about this delicious traditional beverage. In this article, I'm going to share:

  • What yerba mate is
  • How much caffeine yerba mate contains
  • The benefits of yerba mate tea
  • How to brew yerba mate tea, hot or cold
  • Whether yerba mate causes cancer
  • Why yerba mate might be the next superfood

Read on to find out more!

What Is Yerba Mate?

Yerba mate comes from an evergreen shrub. Indigenous peoples consumed an infusion of this plant as a delicious beverage to help combat fatigue and to settle gastrointestinal discomfort.

It is a member of the holly family, though not quite like your typical Christmas decorations! For one, its leaves aren't prickly, and it also only grows in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and parts of Chile.

Yerba mate has a smooth, woody taste; somewhat similar to green tea, but richer and more herbaceous. 

Since "yerba mate" is a term created by Spanish-speaking countries, "mate" has two syllables. Thus, you pronounce it as "yer-ba ma-tay."

Yerba Mate Loose Leaf

How Much Caffeine in Yerba Mate?

Some sources suggest that yerba mate contains no caffeine, but rather a chemically-similar compound called “mateine”. However, this is pure semantics! 

Mateine is a synonym for caffeine, and they are chemically identical. Yerba mate contains almost the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee, in addition to theobromine and theophylline.

In small amounts, these latter two chemicals prevent jitters, settle the stomach, and promote muscular relaxation. In large amounts, they can act similarly to caffeine and have a stimulating effect. 

Mate can contain up to 85 mg of caffeine per 8 oz cup! For that reason, and due to other phytochemicals, it is a popular substitute for coffee (which contains 95 mg of caffeine per 8 oz cup).

As with coffee, though, it is best to drink no more than 3-4 cups of yerba mate per day.

From our own experience, and the reviews and feedback from Matcha Alternatives' customers, mate doesn't give the 'coffee jitters,' and also doesn't cause the dreaded 'coffee slump' where you crash an hour after having a cup of joe. Instead, we've found it helps with steady concentration and alertness throughout the day. 

Caffeine Molecular Structure

The Benefits of Yerba Mate Tea

Yerba mate is a panacea of goodness! Full of minerals like zinc, potassium, iron and vitamins B1, B2 and C, it makes for a nutritious beverage.

Yerba mate also contains saponins - a group of compounds that decrease blood lipids, lower blood glucose response, decrease cancer risk, and are commonly found in adaptogenic herbs. (If you're not sure what those are, check out my post about adaptogens!)

Mate is anti-inflammatory and full of antioxidants, scoring a 1700 on the ORAC scale (for comparison, matcha clocks in at 1384). For more info about the ORAC scale and how it measures antioxidants, read my post on the subject.

Other benefits of mate include:

  • Stimulating immune cells
  • Relieving pain
  • Stimulating bile flow
  • Helping with allergies
  • Helping with arthritis
  • Toning the nervous system
  • Controlling the appetite
  • Stimulating the mind
  • Enhancing the memory
  • Increasing energy

The antioxidants in yerba mate act to prevent early aging, cell death, and DNA damage.

 Shop our scrumptious selection of Yerba Mates here

 

Yerba Mate Bombilla and Gourd

How to Brew Yerba Mate

Mates burns easily, so be gentle when brewing it! These steps will make sure you end up with the perfect mate tea:

  • Pour a small splash of cold water over 1-2 tsp of the loose leaves, just enough to completely wet them. This protects them from being scalded.
  • Steep the leaves in 8 oz (one mug) of water that has just started simmering (100-170F) for 2-3 minutes. Don't let the water boil - otherwise, you'll burn the fragile leaves, destroying their nutrients and giving them a bitter taste.
  • If you make your tea by boiling water in a kettle, it can be hard to gauge its temperature, so let it boil all the way first. Then, pour your boiled water twice, then pour it over the mate leaves (as a rule of thumb, every time you pour boiling water, the temperature drops about 18F; thus, pouring it twice will get you in the mate sweet spot).

Note that this is *not* the traditional way of preparing mate, i.e. in a hollowed out gourd, or bombilla, and consumed over time as part of the 'ronda del mate' ceremony. However, it's far more practical to make it this way in the kitchen!

For iced mate, you can follow the same steps as the hot tea; however, triple the quantity of tea used and double the water. Let it steep for at least twenty minutes. Then put it in the fridge, or pour directly over ice.

Antioxidants tend to disappear within 3-4 hours of brewing in hot water, so be sure to drink your iced mate promptly. However, you can make cold brew yerba mate by putting the leaves in cold water overnight, and the antioxidants should stick around for about a day (antioxidants degrade slower in cold water).

For a delicious cold brew mate recipe, check out our sun tea tutorial!

Morning Tea

Does Yerba Mate Cause Cancer?

There are questions and articles circulating about the rumor that yerba mate causes cancer. However, this is not the case.

The studies that started this rumor all connected drinking large amounts of scalding liquid, plus smoking, plus drinking alcohol to an increase in certain types of cancer.

When such specific circumstances are met for consuming any hot liquid, such as yerba mate, the studies showed there can be an increased risk for certain kinds of cancer, due to burning and scalding the throat.

Scalding your own throat like an obvious thing to avoid anyway, but of course everything needs to be investigated. 

Simply put, yerba mate happened to be the hot beverage investigated, but there was no connection between the type of tea and cancer risk. Taken cold, yerba mate showed zero increase in cancer risk, indicating that temperature is the defining factor in these studies.

In short, rest easy, yerba mate lovers!

So what did the studies actually find out? Well, the data suggests that when people consume large amounts of tea for prolonged amounts of time at very hot temperatures (149F+ when it actually hits your esophagus), it can increase the risk for certain cancers.

This is a seriously scalding drink, by the way! Your normal cup of black coffee or tea or yerba mate is somewhere between 120-140F when you drink it.

And, as we just learned, Mate is *brewed* at temperatures between 100-170F. It will, of course, start to cool even more by the time you drink it - all hot drinks cool down ~18F degrees when poured.

So let's put this myth to bed.

Mate Traditional Bombilla

Is Yerba Mate the Next Superfood?

I certainly think so! Its health benefits, tonic action, immune support and nutritional value make yerba mate tea a valuable and delicious addition to the diet.

Yerba mate has a rich history of traditional medicinal use, and is a healthy, safe, and beneficial drink ... unless you literally burn yourself with it (don't do that, please).

Yerba Mate Latte with cinnamon and maple syrup

A Note From The Herbalist...

Mate is most commonly consumed as a coffee substitute, and is enjoyed by many people around the world. My favorite is making a strong cup of Matcha Alternatives' Roasty Toasty Mate and adding cinnamon, steamed milk and maple syrup.

What are your favorite tea latte recipes? Any top tips?

Here are our yerba mates, offering a great introduction to pure and flavored mates! 

'The Purist'  Green Yerba Mate - An easy-drinking tea that wakes you up without the coffee jitters. A crowd favorite!

Roasty Toasty Mate - Strong and roasted, an excellent coffee alternative.

Wake Up! Caffeinated Rooibos Mate - An exclusive blend you won't find anywhere else! Antioxidant-rich and super smooth.

Roasted Ginger Chai Mate  - Ginger and traditional chai spices give a warming kick to this smooth green mate.

Zing in Your Step Lemon Yerba Mate  - Summertime in a cup! Citrusy goodness with a caffeine boost.

Wake Up! Caffeinated Rooibos Mate'The Purist' Green Yerba MateRoasty Toasty Mate

If you enjoyed this piece, subscribe to the MA Blog so you never miss another! It's all about tea, alternatives to matcha, antioxidants and smashing the pseudo-science myths peddled by the wellness industry. Also, don’t worry we hate spam as much as you do: we won't send any marketing emails. Any new teas or occasional offers are simply included in the regular "latest blog" notifications :-)

 

And of course... All of the information regarding the herbs, botanicals, minerals, vitamins, etc., is information drawn from traditional use data or academic research and should be regarded as such. If you, the reader, has a health or medical concern, please consult your healthcare professional. The information found here is not meant to diagnose, treat, prescribe or cure and has not been evaluated by the FDA. The information here is for educational use only.

Yerba Mate References and Further Reading

https://www.organicfacts.net/yerba-mate.html

https://www.herbwisdom.com/herb-yerba-mate.html

http://www.rain-tree.com/yerbamate.htm

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/8-benefits-of-yerba-mate#section11

https://www.seriouseats.com/2008/09/the-mate-latte-tea-rhyme.html
https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/adaptogen

https://circleofdrink.com/adaptogenic-herbs-explained-reduce-stress-and-fight-disease

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15117556

Natural Medicines. (2019, June 27). Yerba Mate [Monograph]. Natural Standard Professional Monograph. Retrieved from: https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=828

https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/body-mind-spirit/cancer/can-yerba-mate-tea-cause-cancer/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19695149

http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/12/6/508

https://guayaki.com/yerba-mate/

https://circleofdrink.com/adaptogenic-herbs-explained-reduce-stress-and-fight-disease

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/adaptogen

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