Meet Maté: Your New Morning Brew
The hot drink of choice in Uruguay and Argentina, Yerba Maté (Ilex Paraguariensis), is not technically tea. It is an herbal "tea" with high caffeine content. An evergreen shrub native to South America, maté is deeply rooted in the culture.
Maté makes an appearance in moments when one might use coffee stateside. It has a strong herbal flavor which some refer to as "bitter." It can certainly be an acquired taste.
How To Brew
Preparation is simple. The traditional vessel for brewing maté is a hollowed-out, cured gourd and a metal bombilla straw. The straw has a strainer built into the bottom and strains the leaves as you sip! Insert the straw first, then add leaves. Add hot water, and it's ready to drink!
The Social Aspect
Drinking maté is often a social experience, a stark contrast to American disposable coffee cup culture. A single gourd is often shared and passed around amongst the company.
The gourd is small, and each steep contains less than ten sips. The leaves are continuously re-steeped until there is no flavor left to extract. Boiled water can be poured over the leaves up to 20 times before replacement.
The average cup of coffee has approximately 95 mg of caffeine. An eight oz. serving of brewed mate contains around 85 mg. Although the caffeine content is nearly equivalent between the two, the stimulation from maté is more mellow.
There is conflicting evidence about maté. There is a possible molecular difference in maté. Some claim that this slight difference makes "mateine" instead of caffeine. Others have debunked that concept. It's hard to find conclusive evidence in either direction.
Since maté consumption is continuous and unmeasured, caffeine is variable. The brew is highly energizing. It provides a boost, regardless of the stimulant's name or the number of milligrams consumed.
The maté plant was introduced to European settlers by the native Guarani people. The Guarani medicinally used the plant for innumerable reasons, including strengthening the immune and nervous systems. Modern research supports their reasoning. maté contains vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that aid the body.
The most apparent effect of drinking mate is the stimulant aspect. It provides:
- Mental and physical stimulation
- An increase in heart rate
- A certain clarity of cognitive function
It also contains theobromine, a vasodilator that supports cardiovascular health.
Studies have shown that mate increases the time the body is in glycolysis, which is when the metabolism breaks down carbohydrates for fuel. Xanthines in maté encourage smooth muscle relaxation and soften the stool, easing constipation while aiding digestion and elimination. The result? A less bloated belly! Sipping on maté can help to curb the appetite and aid in weight loss.
Researchers are discovering some antidepressant qualities in the leaf as well! A possible MAO inhibitor may help to level out serotonin and other feel-good chemicals in the brain, alleviating stress, anxiety, and depression.
Although it is a stimulant, it doesn't cause the jittery sensation commonly associated with caffeinated beverages. Drinking maté doesn't affect natural sleep cycles either.
Studies suggest the tea may increase the time spent in REM (rapid eye movement) and delta (deep) sleep states. A significant magnesium content improves GABA function. GABA is a neurotransmitter that calms the nerves and helps to relax the mind. Magnesium is also a subtle sleep aid.
Teeth and Bones
Women are at an increased risk for osteoporosis and weakening bones as they age. Maté may improve bone mineral density. Potassium levels in maté increase bone strength, reducing the risk of breaks and fractures. The result is stronger bones and teeth! Research has suggested this tea's protective effect on postmenopausal women's bone mass.
A unique compound in the leaf is quercetin, a saponin shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. Anti-inflammatories are beneficial for a wide variety of symptoms in the body.
Inflammation happens when the immune system starts attacking the wrong cells. White blood cells see a threat and go into a defensive mode. Anti-inflammatories reduce the swelling and pain associated with inflammation.
Yerba maté also contains a variety of minerals. A cup of mate contains iron, calcium, manganese, magnesium, sodium, potassium, zinc, and copper. A 1964 study of the mate plant went as far as to say that the herb has "practically all of the vitamins necessary to sustain life."
Drink to your health!
With a surprisingly long list of benefits, maté is an excellent addition to your daily routine. Many different flavored and blended matés are available on the market with delicious fruity and nutty flavors.
Give this South American herb a shot and check out what the buzz is all about!