My Best Mate, Yerba Maté

my best mate, yerba maté

After my most frequently asked question of “but where do you get your protein?”, people curiously ask what I'm drinking. I guess I do stick out like a sore thumb, trotting around the Cape Town city center wielding a straw that looks like a weapon lodged inside a weirdly shaped mug. 

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yerba maté

the drink beyond the drink

Yerba Maté has the strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea and the euphoria of chocolate.

Some people drink coffee. Some people drink tea. I drink both (and eat chocolate). But my true love is for a strange leafy, grassy plant that comes with a metal straw in a bulbous, ceramic cup. It's yerba maté. And I’m totally and unashamedly addicted to it. 

If you’re from South America or have visited the country, you will know all about it. It’s basically their national drink. In fact, in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, it's drunk more than coffee. From how it's prepared, shared and consumed, the people of South America take great pride in the customs and traditions that go with it. 

 I challenge you to a maté drinking competition with an Argentinian. 

I challenge you to a maté drinking competition with an Argentinian. 

Having drunk maté religiously for over a year now, I have become quite accustomed to the rules and regulations that govern this scared and precious drink.

here’s a quick crash course on the cardinal rules of maté drinking:  

  • Sit in a circle with friends - Sharing this drink from a traditional gourd (aka the cup/mug) is a sign of friendship and bonding. 
  • Always allow the preparer of the yerba to drink first. The preparation is an art and skill that takes time to master. 
  • Pass the drink in a clockwise direction.
  • Slurping is ok and encouraged. It means you have reached the end of your drink and it's time to pass it back to the preparer to give to the next person. 
  • Pass the gourd with the straw (aka “bomba”) facing towards the preparer when you are finished drinking. 
  • Don’t overflow the cup with water and drown the leaves.   
  • Do not, I repeat, do not stir the straw as this action will clog up the straw's filter with leaves. 
  • Refill up to eight times or more. 

so why do am I so dang obsessed with this foreign tea? 

Well, I feel like a superhero when I drink it. So it's no surprise that it has been called "The Drink of the Gods" by the Guarani tribe (the indigenous people of the Paraguay, southern Brazil, north-east Argentina and Uruguay regions).

The Guaraní have a legend that says that the Goddesses of the Moon and the Cloud came to the earth one day to visit. Instead of a happy welcoming, they were confronted with a Yaguareté (a jaguar) that was going to attack them. An old man who was nearby, saved them, and in compensation, the Goddesses gave the old man a new kind of plant he had never encounter - yerba maté - as a reward for his efforts. They encouraged him to drink it and share with his whole Guaraní tribe as the "drink of friendship". When the Guaranís learnt about this plant and felt its powerful affects upon drinking it, the name "The Drink of the Gods" was born. 

physical and mental energetic benefits 

Maté is so much more than caffeine and the health benefits of yerba maté go beyond mental stimulation and energy boosting. Yerba maté provides a smooth increase in energy that is gentle and clean without the shaky come-down that coffee is known for. Containing less caffeine than your daily cuppa but more than tea, it enhances memory, mood and alertness. By stimulating the production of the neurotransmitter, dopamine, as well as two related compounds, theobromine and theophylline, maté provides a uniquely mild stimulant effect. 

health and nutritional benefits 

Maté is also a nutritional powerhouse, loaded with practically all the micronutrients needed to sustain life, other beneficial phytonutrients such as tannins, trace minerals, chlorophyll, flavonoids, 15 amino acids and 11 polyphenols. Polyphenols are potent antioxidants that help the immune system fight against things like cancer cells, seasonal allergies and inflammation, and protect the heart and cardiovascular system . Maté exhibits more antioxidant power than any other tea-based drink. 

digestive and elimination tonic

If you want a healthy digestion, drink maté. Traditional yerba maté has been used for centuries in treating constipation and indigestion. It's also naturally antibacterial against E. coli, one of the most common causes of food poisoning, and helps to prevent and treat urinary tract infections, and bladder and kidney stones. 

but does it taste good? 

I'll be honest - It's an acquired taste. If you haven’t tried it or have grown up with it, the best way to describe maté is grassy and leafy, similar to green tea, but also not like that at all either :P Sorry to not be much help. I've had my friends say it tastes like straw, grass, moss and healthy (apparently "healthy" has a taste!). Most people who have tried it either pull a face of concern or say, "Hmmm, interesting, I could get used to this." And most of them do. 

Trust me on this and give maté a few tries. Try it smoked and unsmoked, aged or fresh, finely cut or in a rough form, or with lemon, rooibos or coconut sugar (find your favourite kind of maté here). Experiment and fun learning the art of preparing it. Share a cup with friends, and enjoy how the simple act of preparing leaves in a cup with a straw, can bring people together harmoniously.

 Coarsely ground yerba: Green gold goodness. 

Coarsely ground yerba: Green gold goodness. 

a cultural exchange: learn how to prepare yerba maté

Time to prepare: 2 minutes

You will need the following: 

  • One maté gourd (cup) 
  • Some loose yerba maté
  • A bomba (straw)
  • Water (cold or warm) 
  • Friends (recommended)

1. Fill the gourd ⅔ with yerba maté.

2. Place your palm over the top of the gourd and turn the gourd upside. Shake the maté to one side.

3. Press the maté firmly against the side of the gourd with the flat end of the bomba. 

4. Top up the gourd with your water down the opposite side of where the maté sits. Stick your bomba in the gourd. 

6. Drink up through the straw. Once the first serving is done, fill up the gourd with water again and pass to the friend you have hopefully invited to share with. The yerba maté should be good for eight top-ups or more.

 How to make maté your friend: Shake, tip, pour and sip. 

How to make maté your friend: Shake, tip, pour and sip. 

what type of yerba maté did i use? 

While I have my preferences, I find the varieties that are coarsely cut (shown in the pictures above) to be the easiest to prepare and the gentlest in flavour, making it perfect for first time maté drinkers. I always buy brands that harvest from organic yerba maté forests (not plantations). My favourite is the electic Berlin brand, Meta Mate 23.

While I enjoy rough cut varieties however, I really love drinking the finely ground, bright green variety called, Barão (pronounced, "bar-auw"). Don't worry, I still can't pronounce it. I find the taste to be more complex, but harder to prepare, as the finely ground yerba can get stuck in the straw's filter. The taste is definitely worth the extra preparation effort. 

so you're keen to buy some green power and get some $$$ off your purchase at the same time? 

If you live in South Africa, can you buy maté gear, flavour varieties and more from Yerba Mate South Africa.

Use the discount code " francescaeatsroses " upon checkout and receive R15 off your purchase :) 

See you in the maté circle xx