Yerba Mate, a traditional South American drink, has gained so much popularity it can be found in everything from energy drinks to Maté lattes, hot or cold.
But What Is Mate Anyway?
Maté is an evergreen. Earthy and pleasantly spicy in flavor, indigenous peoples consumed it as a delicious beverage, to combat fatigue, and to settle gastrointestinal discomfort. It's 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 and Caffeine
Some sources suggest that it 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. It contains almost equal amounts of caffeine as a cup of coffee, in addition to theobromine and theophylline. In small amounts these chemicals prevent jitters, settle the stomach, and promote muscular relaxation, but in large amounts they can act similarly to caffeine and have stimulating action.
Maté can contain up to 85 mg of caffeine per 8oz cup! For that reason, and due to other phytochemicals, it is a popular substitute for coffee. As with coffee, though, it is best to keep it at no more than 3-4 cups 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.
Nutritional Benefits of Mate
Yerba Mate is a panacea of goodness! Full of minerals like zinc, potassium and iron and vitamins B1, B 2 and C, it makes a nutritious beverage. It also contains saponins: these decrease blood lipids, lower blood glucose response, decrease cancer risk, and are commonly found in adaptogenic herbs.
Maté is anti-inflammatory and full of antioxidants (with an ORAC level of 1700!), it stimulates immune cells, relieves pain, cleanses the bloodstream and stimulates bile flow.
It is used for allergies, arthritis, toning the nervous system, appetite control, stimulating the mind, enhancing the memory, and increasing energy. The antioxidants act to prevent early ageing, cell death, and DNA damage.
Mate and Temperature for Brewing and Drinking
How do I brew mate?
Mates burns easily. Therefore, be gentle when brewing it! Pour a small splash of cold water over 1-2tsp, just enough to completely wet the leaves. Then steep in 8oz (one mug) of water that has just started simmering (100-170F, never use boiling water!) for 2-3 minutes. (Using boiling water will burn the fragile leaves, destroying their nutrients and giving them a bitter taste, and pre-wetting them protects them from being scalded). As a rule of thumb, every time you pour boiling water, the temperature drops about 18F. So, pour your boiled water twice, then pour it over the mate leaves. 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, but is far more practical!
For iced mate, follow the same steps per tea, however triple the quantity of tea used and double the water. Let it steep for at least twenty minutes, possibly overnight. Then put in the fridge, or pour directly over ice. Note that, as with all our teas, and antioxidants tend to disappear after 3-4 hours of brewing, so be careful.
What is a safe temperature to drink mate?
This seems like a strange question, but hear me out: there are some questions and articles circulating as to whether or not it may cause cancer. First, yerba mate does not cause cancer. The studies that were reported on were all connecting the drinking large amounts of scalding liquid + smoking + drinking 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. Seems like an obvious thing to avoid anyway, but of course everything needs to be investigated.
Who happily scalds themselves when drinking tea, repeatedly!? Simply put, yerba mate happened to be the hot beverage investigated, but there was no connection between type of tea and cancer risk. Taken cold, there was zero increase in cancer risk showing that temperature is the defining factor in these studies.
So, rest easy. For those interested, the studies specifically found that when people consume large amounts of tea for prolonged amounts of time at very hot temperatures (149F+ when it actually hits your esophagus), this 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, then of course starts to cool, and all hot drinks cool down ~18F degrees when poured. So let's put this myth to bed.
Is Yerba Mate the Next Superfood?
I certainly think so! Its health benefits, tonic action, immune support and its reputation as being tough to rival in terms of nutritional value, make yerba mate tea a valuable and delicious addition to the diet. It 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).
A Note From The Herbalist...
Mate is most commonly consumed as a coffee substitute and 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 recipes? Any top tips?
Here are our yerba mates, offering a great introduction to pure and flavored mates!
'The Purist' Green Yerba Mate Looseleaf - An easy-drinking tea that wakes you up without the coffee jitters, a crowd favorite. $6 for 1oz, or ~14 cups
Roasty Toasty Mate Looseleaf - Strong and roasted, an excellent coffee alternative. $6 for 1oz, or ~14 cups
Wake Up! Caffeinated Rooibos Mate Looseleaf - An exclusive blend you won't find anywhere else! Antioxidant-rich and supersmooth. $7 for 1oz, or ~14 cups
Roasted Ginger Chai Mate Looseleaf - Ginger and traditional chai spices give a warming kick to this smooth green mate. $6 for 1oz, or ~14 cups
Zing in Your Step Lemon Yerba Mate - Summertime in a cup! Citrusy goodness with a caffeine boost. $9 for 1oz, or ~14 cups
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
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