What is Yerba Mate Tea?
Let’s Explore Yerba Mate
Yerba Mate is for the adventurer in you! It brings to life a world of largely unexplored wilderness and delves deep into the many extraordinary cultures of the South American continent.
This Herbal Tea has been enjoyed for hundreds of years, and marveled for its incredible health benefits, Yerba Mate Tea is legendary in its own right. It tells a story for the ages and remains a vital foundation for numerous societies - both young and old.
Here at The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company, we have explored the true meaning behind this invigorating beverage, as well as its expansive, if somewhat turbulent history, and why it is rapidly increasing in popularity around the entire world.
What is the Yerba Mate?
Pronounced ‘Yer-bah-mah-tay’, this plant originates from the South American rainforest. It actually belongs to the Holy family (or, aquifoliaceae family) and often goes by its specific botanical name, Ilex Paraguariensis. It stands between 6 to 8 metres tall with some even reaching up to 15 metres! Meanwhile, its leaves are evergreen, and it is known to produce small fruit berries and greenish-white flowers.
The Yerba Mate plant is one of only a handful of plants in the world that produce caffeine, including tea (camellia sinensis), coffee, cacao, kola (or, ‘cola’) and guarana. While there have been a number of conflicting reports on whether or not Yerba Mate truly contains caffeine, we here at The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company can confidently confirm that it does.
Yerba Mate Tea Today
Once known as “The Drink of the Gods”, according to many indigenous tribes, and “The Green God of the Indios” by European colonists, Yerba Mate Tea remains, to this day, one of the most popular beverages in South America. In fact, after many centuries of consumption, South America’s millennial generation have since adopted this age-old drink as their own!
In Portuguese-speaking countries, like Brazil, Yerba Mate is known as ‘chimarrão’. In Spanish speaking countries, such as Argentina, however, it is predominantly called ‘cimarrón’. Despite the South American continent being one of the world’s largest producers of coffee, Yerba Mate Tea is generally considered to be the ‘choice drink’ of many nations.
Most notably, it is the national beverage of Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Further to this, one recent survey indicated that it was consumed 6 to 1 over coffee in these particular countries!
Many connoisseurs of Yerba Mate believe it resembles the combined flavours of lightly smoked wood, tobacco, and fine green tea. It is also recognised by its slightly astringent and even bitter taste, which can often linger at the back of the throat.
Generally speaking, this tea is largely considered an acquired taste. This certainly does not mean it's unpleasant, however, and is well worth a try even if you are unsure that you will like it!
Yerba Mate herbal tea is an experience, rather than merely just a drink. It brings out a sense of community, and is best enjoyed with friends and family who wish to partake in the joyous occasion.
How is Yerba Mate Harvested?
Wild Yerba Mate plants are only harvested twice a year because their leaves take a relatively long time to fully develop. Cultivated trees, meanwhile, can be harvested annually which is usually conducted in the latter months of winter to the early months of spring. High quality Yerba Mate, when grown for its consumption in beverage form, is typically shade-grown.
This growing method is thought to deliver a more defined flavour, as well as containing more medicinal and nutritional properties. On a large-scale commercial basis, however, a vast majority of cultivators (also occasionally known as ‘yerbateros’ in Spanish, or ‘ervateiros’ in Portuguese) favour sun-farmed varieties, owing to the relative ease of their mass-production. Brazil, in particular, is the nation with the largest production of Yerba Mate Tea. This is followed by Argentina, and then Paraguay.
During the harvesting season, only the youngest, greenest leaves are gathered for consumption. They are then dried over open fires, which imparts the unique smoky flavour celebrated in this beverage. Following this, the leaves are chopped and ground into a powdery mixture, known as ‘yerba’. This substance is now ready for infusion, and can be placed into a specially designed cup, as hot water (never boiling) is poured over it.
How to Drink Yerba Mate
Typically, too little yerba in your cup results in a ‘long’ mate, while too much is known as a ‘short’ mate. Sugar may be added as an accompaniment to the beverage, but this is not necessarily traditional. Once left to brew for between 3 to 5 minutes (depending on your personal taste) the Yerba Mate Tea is then ready to be enjoyed!
This tea is an integral part of many South American social events. It is often served in a cup known as a drinking ‘Gourd’, and drunk with the use of a Bombilla (Spanish) or Bomba (Portuguese) - similar in appearance to a drinking straw.
Prior to modern-day consumption, a gourd was, in fact, made from a hollow, dried-out squash. Today, however, these drinking utensils are largely made from metal, ceramic, or even wood. Meanwhile, the Bombilla has the ability to filter the herbs, preventing it from congregating in your mouth as you sip.
Enjoying a cup of this tea is often a communal experience, and represents more than just a drink. It is frequently passed around, from guest to guest, establishing friendship, trust, and togetherness. An almost ritualistic experience known as ‘pasando el mate’ (or, ‘passing the mate hand in hand’) is a common occurrence at parties and gatherings.
Similar to the different meanings of Japanese tea rituals, the consumption of Yerba Mate can be associated with various gestures of goodwill. For example, slowly pouring a small amount of water means that there is a strong interpersonal connection between guest and host.
This is because the leisurely process of pouring the water will make both the infusion and the ritual last longer. The server (also known as ‘cebador’ or ‘celebrator’) is the only person that can pour the water, pass the mate between guests, and maintain the freshness of the leaves.
History of Yerba Mate Tea
The first known consumption of Yerba Mate in beverage-form dates back hundreds of years. It is believed that the Guarani tribes of Northern Argentina and the Tupi people of Southern Brazil were the first to incorporate this beverage into their respective cultures.
For decades, these tribes passed the traditions of Yerba Mate through the many generations. However, change was coming with the tides, as the Spanish conquistadors spied the South American continent in the last years of the 15th Century. Their arrival brought about a new age in Yerba Mate consumption. They found themselves astonished by the remarkable health of these indigenous populations. The natives told the Spaniards that the secret of their fitness, energy and strength was from drinking daily.
These tribes believed their God had granted their ancestors the tree as a special gift and had been a reward for their righteousness. Upon hearing these tales, the Jesuits - a Catholic congregation originating from Spain - believed this ‘God’ was, in fact, the Devil in disguise. By 1616, the Jesuits had banned the consumption of Yerba Mate among the many South American tribes. They considered it a ‘demonic drink’ that “led to addiction”.
This was short lived, as these tribes had no interest in sacrificing their favourite beverage. The Jesuits soon realised their imposed prohibition had impacted the number of Catholic converts they were receiving, and so the ban was subsequently revoked. As the demand once again increased, the Spaniards began to exploit the tribes, obtaining great fortune from controlling Yerba Mate production and sale.
Many natives were put into slavery, forced to work on Yerba Mate plantations to the benefit of their conquerors. During this time, the Spaniards began to see Yerba Mate as “green gold”. Roads were built for its transport, while exportation began to nearby countries, and even overseas. The Jesuits in Paraguay, in particular, began to encourage the consumption of this beverage, informing the indigenous populations under their control that this plant had been provided to them by the God of Christians.
In 1767, the Spanish King, Charles III, expelled the Jesuits from Spain and her colonies. Subsequently, the plantations were abandoned, and the indigenous populations found themselves in a state of relative freedom, if only for a short while. The production of Yerba Mate began to decline, and would not fully recover for over 100 years.
This was further affected by the Paraguayan War (1864 - 1870), which saw Argentina and Brazil annex critical farmland as part of the 1876 peace agreement. Further to this, between 60 - 90% of the male Paraguayan population had been killed during the conflict, which led to further damage within Paraguay’s Yerba Mate production industry. It did, however, give Argentina and Brazil the opportunity to expand their enterprises.
By the 20th Century, production of Yerba Mate throughout the continent was thriving once again. The Yerba Mate Tea Company (based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US) was eventually established, and mass-sales began to spread into the United States and Canada.
Meanwhile, an influx of European immigrants began to re-establish Yerba Mate Farms in South America. In 2011, Argentina broke the world record for exports, which has been further aided by countless scientific studies since establishing this brew’s incredible health benefits of Yerba Mate.
Yerba Mate in Argentine Culture:
Some of the most famous international exports to originate from Argentina are beef, wine, and tango. However, Argentina Yerba Mate is likewise extremely popular, as the country is arguably the best known for this beverage’s mass-production.
The Provinces of Misiones and Corrientes are the country’s biggest producers. Meanwhile, Yerba Mate is not as readily available in restaurants and other establishments as Argentina’s neighbouring countries, such as Paraguay and Uruguay. This is largely due to the consumption of it being a very personal experience among Argentinians, and is often enjoyed with family at home.
Incidentally, one of our fellow colleagues at The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company, Annabel Taylor, has grown up with stories of Argentine Yerba Mate. Her Grandfather, a missionary called Mr. Walter Robbins, spent many years amongst the indigenous tribes of the country, learning the culture and traditions behind the consumption.
During his time in Salta, Argentina, while teaching English to the Wichí people, Mr. Robbins fondly remembers sitting around an open fire; sharing Yerba Mate with his family. This tradition has continued upon their return to the UK and today, family meetings consist of relaxing in the garden, and ‘pasando el mate’!
Yerba Mate in Brazilian Culture:
In Brazil, Yerba Mate goes by the name of ‘chimarrão’, and is pronounced, ‘sheem-a-HOE’. The consumption of this beverage is especially popular in the southern regions of the country. This includes the state of Rio Grande do Sul, where many of the inhabitants are called ‘Gaúchos’ - the ‘cowboys’ of South America.
Here, drinking this beverage is part of many Gaúchos’ daily routine, and is said to help them keep on top of their workload. These Gaúchos can also be found in other South American countries, and follow similar routines. Across the border, in Uruguay, Brazilian Yerba Mate is very popular. However, as a matter of pride, this isn’t often talked about!
Yerba Mate in Uruguayan Culture:
Some reports have suggested that in the Uruguayan city of Montevideo, an estimated 75-80% of men and 79-82% of women drink Yerba Mate, daily! These figures have been known to further increase in the outer reaches of the country. In fact, such is its immense popularity, the Uruguayan Government has since passed laws to make it illegal to drink from a bombilla while driving!
A number of deaths have been attributed to this, but city-dwelling Uruguayans are still permitted to drink Yerba Mate on public transport, providing it is contained within a thermos. If you choose to visit Uruguay, you will notice a vast number of restaurants, cafes, and bars selling Yerba Mate. As well as this, you will likely notice 8 in 10 Uruguayans carrying their Gourds as they walk through the streets.
In July 2014, much controversy arose when it was revealed that Uruguay's President, Jose Mujica, looked to Paraguay's Yerba Mate as an alternative to his own country’s produce!
Health Benefits of Yerba Mate
Depending on your beliefs, Yerba Mate may or may not have been ‘The Drink of the Gods’, but it is certainly an excellent choice of beverage to help improve your day-to-day life! Since its further development in the latter half of the 20th Century, Yerba Mate has been rigorously studied by many scientific institutes.
Research has indicated that this brew contains an astounding number of vitamins and minerals! These include: Vitamins A, B1, and B2, riboflavin, carotene, colin, pantothenic acid, inositol, and a total of 15 (yes, fifteen) types of amino acids. Further to this, Yerba Mate also contains significant amounts of potassium, sodium, and magnesium, as well as antioxidants called polyphenols.
Although, as stated previously, Yerba Mate does contain caffeine, it is certainly less than a cup of coffee, varying between 25-75% content. It is also important to note that the incredible Yerba Mate Benefits are most prominent when it is consumed as part of a healthy and active lifestyle!
Yerba Mate Weight Loss
Many scientific studies have discovered correlations between the consumption of Yerba Mate and weight loss. This is largely attributed to increased fat oxidation, slowing of gastric emptying, and increased feeling of satiety.
This beverage also has the ability to provide a similar boost to coffee, without the unwanted calories! Further to this, when combined with the other minerals and nutrients provided by Yerba Mate, your metabolism may begin to speed up. This, in turn, can help your body to burn fat more efficiently, providing you maintain an adequate healthy eating and exercise plan.
Yerba Mate can Improved Digestion
For hundreds of years, South America’s indigenous populations have consumed this beverage to aid their digestive tract. It now appears they were onto something, as again, scientific studies have now been able to support these age-old claims.
Some of the unique compounds found in Yerba Mate, such as xanthines, are able to promote smooth muscle relaxation. This makes this brew a perfect choice for anyone struggling with bloating, constipation, cramping, and other digestive system-related issues.
Yerba Mate and Improved Sex Drive
Yes, you read that right - Yerba Mate is known to help with… well, you know! Traditionally, Yerba Mate has, on occasions, been used as a mild aphrodisiac. Frequent consumption is said to increase the male’s libido, and even sex drive!
Meanwhile, the rich vitamin and mineral content can help to improve fertility, hormonal balance, and reproductive health. Further to this, the caffeine content found in Yerba Mate can improve muscle contractions, reduce fatigue and improve ‘sport’s performance’ by up to 5%. Although this is not directly related to impotence, these enhanced abilities will certainly aid with overall sexual performance.
Yerba Mate can Aid Diabetes
Although further studies are required, initial research has suggested that frequent consumption can help reduce complications with hyperglycemia in diabetes. A recent study examined 29 patients with type two diabetes and 29 patients who were pre-diabetic.
Together, these 58 patients were split into three groups. The first group consumed Yerba Mate 3 times a day for 60 days, while the other two groups were given different dietary supplements. The study established that Yerba Mate positively affected for diabetics both their blood glucose and HbA1c levels, with the latter showing a decrease by 0.85% after 20 - 40 days.
Not only can we provide you with this enticing brew, but also the very utensils to consume it! While Yerba Mate can, by rights, be drunk with the use of a simple cup or mug, we believe this beverage should be enjoyed the way it was always meant to be!
We sell both the Gourd and the Bombilla for your convenience! So, now that you can confidently maintain tradition from the comfort of your own home, let’s move onto the Yerba Mate itself!
Our conventional Yerba Mate originates from Brazil, and consists of the trademark flavours known and loved around the world. We also have a Yerba Mate Matcha Tea, for those who would like to try something a little different! Alternatively, we also have an especially unique Detox Yerba Mate and Chilli Tea, if you are looking to heat things up! Bursting with fiery chilli and ginger, revitalising ginseng root, and stomach-settling lemon grass, this Yerba Mate blend is a perfect combination of detoxifying ingredients - and tastes great!