I’ll be the first one to admit that I am addicted to caffeine. I was introduced to tea (the gateway drug) as a child and loved it. By my early teens, it was drip coffee from my parents’ stove top percolator, and thick syrupy Pepsi from glass bottles that were returned to the grocery store once emptied. A few years later, I’m in the Army (doing Very Bad things to Very Bad people) using caffeine to stay more awake and more alert than the other guy. It worked, and a big mug of thick triple strength coffee became a constant companion of mine.
I recently had to cut way back on the java due to blood pressure issues, and went in search of a workable coffee substitute. I tried going back to tea, but the magic was gone. There’s a reason why you never hear the phrase ‘tea buzz.’ I was very unhappy, and slept entirely too much. The solution to my addict’s illness was found at the (then) new Trader Joe’s in Westlake Ohio – Guayaki brand Yerba Mate.
It was expensive, but what seemed at first to be odd-tasting tea, teabag included, was the answer to my prayers. Most who try Mate (there’s supposed to be an accent above the ‘e’…mah-tay) describe it as an acquired taste. I thought it was great from day one. In reality the caffeine content of Mate falls between tea and strong coffee, but of course the preparer has ultimate control over how strong it is made. For me, Mate provides a more gentle alertness without even a hint of coffee ‘crash’, and Mate does not interfere with sleep. Yep, a strongly caffeinated beverage that doesn’t interfere with sleep. The difference between the coffee rush and Mate mental clarity is so pronounced that many nutritionists call Mate’s xanthene alkaloid Mateine, rather than caffeine. My blood pressure is manageable with Mate, too. As time went on, I found cheaper and cheaper sources of top quality Yerba Mate.
If you’re serious about the stuff, you need to come up with a french press, a simple type of coffee maker popular in Europe. Get the biggest one you can find, you’ll want the biggest batch of Mate you can make. In South America, where Mate originated, a decorated hollow gourd is partially filled with Mate, hot water is poured into the gourd, and the beverage is extracted by a metal straw called a bombilla.
The Mate gourd is passed around a circle of friends until the Mate becomes tasteless, when the gourd is refilled. I don’t drink from straws (or anything else) others have been slobbering into, hence the french press. Anyway, to make the best Americanized Yerba Mate, a rounded half-cup of Mate (did I mention that it’s finely ground leaves and stems from a rainforest holly tree?) goes into about a cup and a half of cool water in the bottom of your french press. Wet the Mate thoroughly, as this helps release the nutrients of the Mate. In a few minutes, fill the rest of the french press with near-boiling water. Stir as frequently and as vigorously as you want, it only makes the finished product stronger. Let steep around 10 minutes, and press the filter through the leafy brew. You just made your first batch of Yerba Mate!
Remember that remark about Mate’s nutrients? Unlike your coffee or cola, Mate is full of stuff that’s actually GOOD for you…B vitamins, A, C, amino acids, fatty acids, trace minerals, antioxidants, polyphenols, so much good stuff that the Pasteur Institute and Paris Scientific Society stated “it is difficult to find a plant in any part of the world equal to Mate in nutritional value….(contains) practically all of the vitamins necessary to sustain life.” Know how do you top that? By finding a route to great tasting Yerba Mate that’s relatively inexpensive.
The Guayaki product is ‘organic’ and you pay more for it…about three times what you’ll pay for perfectly good stuff from yerbamate.us or the other sellers of South American ‘grocery store’ Mate. Rosemonte, a brand from Argentina, is my favorite, but you’ll find your own favorite among the dozen or so brands imported into the US. My suggestion would be (assuming you’ve never tried the stuff before) to buy the cheapest loose-leaf Mate you can find, probably Nobleza Gaucha, and never try anything else…there are differences in the brands, but it’s subtle. If you like Mate, you’ll like cheap Mate.
In the end, it’s a cheaper mug of caffeineated beverage than coffee, assuming you like it. I hope the readers of this post can benefit from my experiences with Yerba Mate, and perhaps share their thoughts about it here as well.