Do you love infusions? Then you probably drink tea and coffee. Yerba mate is also an infusion, and some people are even claiming it can put great competition on coffee, which is a strong statement.
Mate Coffee and the Buzz
The question arises: why is everybody buzzing about it? The main reasons why the attention has been drawn to yerba mate seems to lie on its natural properties; particularly, its caffeine content. You are probably familiar with what caffeine is, particularly considering a whopping 90% of adults consume it daily in North America. By definition, it’s a natural, stimulant substance. It can be found in seeds, nuts, or leaves of many plants native to South America and East Asia. The most common source is in coffee beans (which are actually seeds, by the way). But the very special south-american yerba mate is becoming increasingly popular.
We seek a caffeine fix to stay awake, to stop feeling drowsy, to get more energy when we can’t afford to take a ‘siesta’ (a.k.a, a nap). Sure, coffee is also great for its flavour alone – but I bet you’ve heard (or even used) the phrase “I can’t start my day without my morning coffee” and you knew it had very little to do with its taste. The thing is, there are side effects: some people experience anxiety, jitters, or even stomach distress; other have a “crash” when the effect wears off. This can be connected to the fact that a cup can have 100 to even 200 milligrams of the stimulant substance. Here’s where yerba mate is different, containing only 80 milligrams: much less than the beloved dark beverage, but a lot more than green tea (only 25mg) and even black tea (merely 42mg). Mate has the best of both worlds: the energy boost, without the negative repercussions. There are some questions regarding health risks, but most of them appear to be in connection not to the plant itself, but to the high temperature to which yerba mate is drank. Remember: the water must be hot, but not boiling!
On the downside, I admit that it can take a while to get used to the flavour. For people like me, who were born and raised in Argentina, yerba mate comes as natural as tea or coffee. But I’m confident that curious people who try it will end up loving the herb. Additionally, one could say it’s easier to make yourself a cup of tea or coffee than to prepare a mate. This is true, to a certain point: with a little practise, all those steps that seem tricky (shaking the gourd, not letting the water boil) will come naturally. Alternatively, you can choose to start drinking yerba not in a mate, but as a form of tea: this is known as mate cocido. This drink is comparable to green tea, having all the positive properties, and also being dead simple to make (cup + hot water + mate cocido tea bag)
Overall, the hardest part about transitioning from coffee to yerba mate is probably related to the fact that you just can’t find the south-american herb it in every café, fast-food joint, or office kitchen. On the other hand, there really aren’t “coffee shops” dedicated to yerba mate in the countries where the drink comes from: it’s more of a personal experience, so everybody has their own set. There are even products like this plastic mate cup with its own bombilla, which are not designed for everyday use, but some special circumstances (for example, to take on a camping trip). If you’re serious about replacing coffee with yerba mate, then there are simple lifestyle tweaks you can implement to help you in the process. For instance, instead of grabbing a grande Chocolate Chip Frappuccino on your way to work, have yerba-fuelled breakfast at home. If everything fails, you can always go “Uruguayan style“.