Yerba mate tea is an herbal tea from South America. Unlike most other herbal teas, yerba mate tea is high in caffeine, but because of its chemical makeup, yerba mate tea is more easily tolerated by those sensitive to caffeine.
Yerba mate tea is native to the subtropical forests of Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Bolivia. It was first used as a beverage by the Guarani Indians of Paraguay who introduced it to Jesuit missionaries in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Jesuits spread the custom of drinking yerba mate throughout South America where it is now one of the most popular beverages. The custom of drinking yerba mate tea has spread to Lebanon and Syria where it is very popular with the Druze minority.
The plant used to make yerba mate tea is an evergreen shrub or small tree that can reach 15 meters in height. The yerba mate plant has small greenish white flowers and red berries.
The leaves of the yerba mate plant are collected along with the small twigs. These may be "flashed" by drying them in a wood fire which gives the yerba mate tea a smoky flavor. The leaves and sometimes the twigs are ground into a powder.
Drinking yerba mate tea is an important custom in many South American countries. It is served in a cup (called a mate) which was originally a decorated gourd. Modern mate cups can be made out of metal or wood, and the yerba mate tea is drunk through a straw and a filter called a bombilla.
Yerba mate tea is available as tea bags, but the traditional method of brewing yerba mate tea is to fill the mate cup to about ¾ of its capacity with yerba mate tea. The mate cup is then filled with hot water (about 80 degrees Celsius) which the yerba mate tea leaves absorb. More water is added until the leaves are completely saturated.
There are many variations on this recipe. Sometimes milk and sugar are added to yerba mate tea, and sometimes it is supplemented with other traditional herbs. The tea can be replenished with hot water as many times as desired until there is no more flavor.
Health Benefits of Yerba Mate Tea
Relatively little scientific research has been done on yerba mate tea, but it is known to contain caffeine and therefore provide users with a mental state of alertness and increased energy. Unlike coffee and tea, however, the caffeine in yerba mate tea does not have the negative side effects of jitteriness or anxiety, nor does it prevent yerba mate tea drinkers from falling asleep.
The chemical makeup of yerba mate tea suggests that it has a relaxing effect on smooth muscle tissue as found in blood vessels and the gastrointestinal tract. Researchers at the University of Illinois also found that yerba mate tea has significant cancer-fighting properties.