Mate tea is a beverage made from steeping dry leaves from the mate plant in hot water. It can be made sweet or bitter depending on personal preference. It comes from the yerba mate plant which is native to South America.
People called the Guarani from what is now Paraguay, Uruguay and parts of Brazil and Argentina are the first known people to consume mate tea. A legend says that the Goddesses of the Moon and Cloud were attacked by a jaguar when they came to visit the Guarani people. The old man who saved them from the big cat was rewarded with mate tea.
The steeping process of mate tea uses water that is hot but not boiling. Traditionally, a gourd is filled with yerba mate and various herbs can be added to enhance the flavor or provide health benefits. Then the opening of the gourd is covered by the hand of the preparer, turned over and shaken to get a fine powdery substance. The gourd is tilted to the side to keep the smaller pieces on top. At this point either the hot water or the straw is added. Which goes in first depends on the preparers preference. If the straw was put into dry yerba, mate cool water must be added first to prevent the hot water from scorching it. The gourd can be refilled many times without the drink losing its flavor if the yerba mate mound is pushed to the other side to allow access to fresher mate.
How it is Served
Mate tea is most often consumed in a setting similar to American coffee shops. In Argentina and Brazil the same gourd and straw are used by everyone. Some people like to add sugar or honey to make sweet mate. In homes where both sweet and bitter mate is consumed there is a different gourd for each type. The first serving is usually the least tasty, so the person who takes the first drink is considered very polite. The mold that often grows on the gourds is removed by some people while others leave it because they believe it adds to the flavor.
Mate tea is on the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) list of items that are “generally recognized as safe.” Proponents believe that mate tea can help with everything from fatigue to weight loss. While there have been some studies that have shown extreme mate tea consumption may cause cancer, it is generally considered at least as safe as coffee.
Mate tea can be bought loose or in bottled beverages in many American health food stores and on Internet websites. A Canadian bottled brand called Sol Mate is sweetened with sugar and is carbonated like a soft drink.
Research is still being conducted on the long-term effects of mate tea consumption. Since it has considerably less caffeine in it than coffee does, mate tea is considered safe in moderation. Mate tea will probably see increased American consumption over the next few years, similar to the increase of green tea consumption in the past decade.