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Meet Mate: Your New Morning Brew

Meet Mate: Your New Morning Brew

The hot drink of choice in Uruguay and Argentina, Yerba Mate (Ilex Paraguariensis) is not technically tea. It’s actually an herbal “tea” with a high caffeine content. An evergreen shrub native to South America, it is deeply rooted in the culture. Mate is utilized in moments where one might insert coffee into their day in the U.S. It has a strong herbal flavor which some refer to as “bitter.” It can certainly be an acquired taste.

The traditional vessel for brewing mate is a hollowed out, cured gourd and a metal bombilla straw. The straw has a strainer built into the bottom, and the leaves are strained as you sip! Preparation is simple. The straw is inserted first, and then the leaves are poured in to surround the straw. Just add hot water and it’s ready to drink!

Drinking mate is often a social experience, a stark contrast from the American disposable coffee cup on the run. A single gourd is often shared and passed around amongst 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 they need to be refreshed.


The average cup of coffee has approximately 95 mg of caffeine. An 8 oz. serving of brewed mate contains around 85 mg. Although the caffeine content is nearly equivalent between the two, the stimulation from mate is a much more mellow experience. There is conflicting evidence and information about mate as to whether or not there is a molecular variation in the caffeine. Some claim that this slight difference makes “mateine” as opposed to caffeine. Others have tried to debunk that concept. It’s hard to find any conclusive evidence in either direction.

Since mate is not traditionally served in an 8 or 16 oz. cup, but rather steeped and sipped continuously, the amount of caffeine that the drinker is consuming is also variable and not entirely comparable. The brew is extremely energizing. It definitely provides a boost, regardless of the stimulant’s name or the true amount of milligrams consumed. The boost it gives often comes without unwanted jitters.


The mate plant was introduced to European settlers by the native Guarani people. The Guarani used the plant medicinally for innumerable reasons, including strengthening the immune and nervous systems, and detoxification. Many of the reasons for which they used the mate plant in the past have been proven through modern research in the present day. Mate contains vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that aid the body in many different aspects.


The most obvious effect of drinking mate is the stimulant aspect. Containing caffeine, it puts a pep in one’s step! It provides mental and physical stimulation, an increase in heart rate, and a certain clarity of mental function. It also contains theobromine, a vasodilator which helps to improve cardiovascular health and decrease hypertension (high blood pressure).


Mate is a known appetite suppressant. Sipping on mate throughout the day can help to curb the appetite and aid in weight loss. Studies have shown that mate increases the time that the body is in glycolysis, which is when the metabolism is breaking down carbohydrates for fuel. Xanthines in mate encourage smooth muscle relaxation and soften the stool, easing constipation while aiding in digestion and elimination. The result? A less bloated belly!


Researchers are discovering some antidepressant qualities in the leaf as well! A possible MAO inhibitor, it 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 mate doesn’t affect natural sleep cycles either, and it has been suggested that consumption of the tea may actually increase the time spent in REM (rapid eye movement) and delta (deep) sleep states. A significant magnesium content increases 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

Mate has been associated with a higher bone mineral density. The result is stronger bones and teeth! Potassium levels in mate increase bone strength, reducing the risk of breaks and fractures. This is of particular interest for women, who are at an increased risk for osteoporosis and weakening bones as they age. Research has suggested that there is “a protective effect of this tea on bone mass of postmenopausal women."


A unique compound present in the leaf is quercetin, a saponin that has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. Anti-inflammatories have received quite a bit of press recently, as they are very 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 within the body’s systems and go into a defensive mode. Anti-inflammatories reduce the swelling and pain associated with inflammation.


Yerba Mate 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, mate is a great addition to your daily routine. There are many different flavored and blended mates available on the market with fruity and nutty flavors that are super delicious. There are even mates coated with matcha powder for an extra boost of goodness! So, why not give this South American herb a shot and check out what the buzz is all about?