Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Yerba Mate

It's a real surprise that yerba mate hasn't become more prevalent in the US as it has many highly marketable qualities. These include relatively high caffeine content for an "energy" boost and the fact that it is an "all natural" botanic used for hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of years by people in South America. It is used to make a tea-like infusion and this ought to be popular in a time where herbal teas are all the rage. Celestial Seasonings actually has a tea, Morning Thunder, where roasted mate is mixed with black tea but there aren't any major providers of pure yerba mate.

sack of mate

I don't quite remember how I came to be familiar with yerba mate but I was excited to find that many little coffee shops started providing a mate-latte drink where it was prepared much like a chai. Inspired by the signs of availability we sought out a provider online where my wife bought some pre-made infusions and mixtures while I opted for a bag of lightly roasted, crushed leaves.

mate spoon

As opposed to tea, mate is prepared with hot water, not boiling water, after a light soaking in cool water to help protect against the breakdown of some of the desirable chemicals in the leaves and prevent the infusion from becoming too bitter. Initial steeping doesn't take very long and the same foliage can be used repeatedly (I get at least three good drinks out of the same leaves). The traditional method of brewing mate uses a hollowed out calabash gourd as the brewing and drinking vessel with a silver straw, called a bombilla, being used to sip the liquid. Because I don't have these items I use a french press to do the brewing and the results are fine. I'll try pick up a gourd and bombilla when I visit Peru this autumn.

mate brew

The aroma and flavor of yerba mate is very similar to green tea but stronger, more pungent, and with distinct notes of green vegetation, like fresh grass clippings. If steeped too long the brew can sometimes be a little bitter but adding a tiny bit of sweetener or drinking it with milk can counteract this. Overall it is a very tasty beverage and provides a reasonable dose of caffeine. Prices for the loose leaf variety can seem a little high compared with certain other teas but a little can go a long way, particularly if you use the same leaves for multiple infusions.

mate infuse

If you're a tea drinker, you ought give yerba mate a try... and if you're not impressed, please send me your leftovers.

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