Traditionally, maté is drunk hot from a hollow gourd, also called a maté (and a matero and other names in Brazilian Portuguese), through a metal straw called a bombilla. But you can drink it in a teacup—or enjoy it cold in a bottle.
Organic, Kosher Yerba Maté, Flavored For Modern Palates
CAPSULE REPORT: One of the original “energy beverages,” yerba maté is drunk in parts of South America the way some Americans drink coffee: continuously, for vitality, clarity and well-being. Friends get together to share a cup—they sip from a common gourd, shown in the photo at the left. Unlike coffee or tea, however, maté is nutritious, chock full of vitamins and minerals. It just could be the next beverage trend in the health-conscious U.S. While the smokiness of maté may lessen its appeal, the flavored varieties bring it in tune with the American palate. The Guayakí Maté line in bags plus bottled drinks is delicious, organic, fair traded and kosher, too.
Yerba maté, or maté for short (yerba is a variation of hierba, “herb” in Spanish) is a fascinating beverage, made from the leaves of the maté tree (Ilex paraguariensis), a member of the holly family that grows in the South American rainforest. Like our common holly bush, the small clusters of tiny red berries grow close to where the leaves join the stems; but it is the green, serrated leaf that holds the “magical” properties.
For centuries, the indigenous Guaraní peoples have steeped the leaves of the tree into a restorative tea. They regard it as “the drink of the gods”: The goddess Yari showed the Guaraní the health and restorative properties of maté (in another area of Latin America, the god Quetzalcoatl brought the seeds of the cocoa tree from the Garden of Life and gave them to the Aztecs). Today, the Guaraní blend maté with medicinal herbs to enhance the healing benefits. The value of maté has been validated: In 1964 The Pasteur Institute and the Paris Scientific Society concluded that “it is difficult to find a plant in any area of the world equal to maté in nutritional value,” and that maté contains “practically all of the vitamins necessary to sustain life.”*
*You can read an updated compilation of research published in the November 2007 issue of the Journal of Food Science.
Guayakí Maté (pronounced gwy-uh-KEE MAH-tay), a leader among U.S. producers, is a socially responsible company committed to reforestation and providing income for indigenous peoples. Their operation has been named one of the best examples of medium-scale sustainable agriculture in South America. The business name honors the Aché Guayakí people, a branch of the Guaraní who have long inhabited the sub-tropical rainforests of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, home of the yerba maté bush. Having had their lands taken from them and forced into reduced circumstances, they now can earn a living wage cultivating maté in an environment like their ancestral home. Fair Trade certification means that in addition to a good wage, there are safe working conditions and no forced child labor so that the children can go to school.
Maté is traditionally brewed by pouring hot
water over the dried, aged loose leaves, in
a hollow gourd that can be plain or highly embellished with silver and semiprecious stones. Photo by Gonzalo Haro.
Located in one of the top five biodiversity “hot spots” in the world, the 20,000 acre Guayakí Rainforest Preserve in Paraguay is home to more than 330 bird and mammal species. Guayakí’s maté is shade-grown, an important difference. All yerba maté originally grew wild underneath the rainforest canopy. Today, much of it is grown commercially on sun plantations for maximum yield. Like coffee, shade-grown maté produces the most flavorful, highest quality product.
Maté leaves contain 24 vitamins and minerals†, 15 amino acids, 11 polyphenols and saponins (phytochemicals that bolster the immune system)—more antioxidants (although different ones) than in green tea. Of the six dietary plant-based stimulants in the world—cacao (the bean from which cocoa and chocolate are made), coffee, guaraná, the kola nut (which makes cola drinks), maté and tea—maté is the most balanced stimulant, delivering both nutrition and energy, via a unique combination of the stimulants caffeine, theobromine and theophylline. When brewed, the leaves provide the healthiest source of stimulation on the planet—not just a powerful rejuvenator but a nourishing, green source of energy.
†VITAMINS: A, C, E, B1, B2, niacin (B3), B5, B6, B complex, biotin, choline and inositol. MINERALS: calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, silicon, sodium, sulfur and zinc. PLUS: 15 amino acids, antioxidants, chlorophyll, fatty acids, flavanols, polyphenols and trace minerals.
As a healthy, nutritious and natural “energy drink” (it has more caffeine than Red Bull, with a counter-balance against caffeine jitters), maté is ready to break out as the next “hot” beverage. Beloved in South America, where it is drunk daily by millions of people, it is awaiting discovery by the rest of the world.
Today, more than 300,000 tons of yerba maté are cultivated yearly in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Maté leaves are processed somewhat like tea leaves. The tips of the branches are cut just before the leaves reach full growth and the leaves are either steamed and dried or fired (dried over fire, the original method, which produces a smoky flavor with bitter notes, and is also called smoked maté). The leaves are then aged to enhance the flavor of the maté, which has an earthy flavor that can be made “roasty” by the processing. There are very few matés in the world that are purely air- or steam-dried. Most all go over through the sopecadora stage (a long, tube-like furnace) where the maté leaf is quickly heated to start the drying process that inhibits oxidation and retains the nutrients. After this stage, most matés are then dried in the barbacoa, a wood-fueled steamer/smoker, for 24 hours to further dry the maté and to impart characteristic flavors. Some yerba maté is air-dried at this stage, therefore the term “air-dried” or “steam-dried.” You can see the process on the Guayakí Maté website.
As with tea and coffee, the flavor of maté can vary widely depending on the processing. We have tasted some that are naturally citrusy or minty with a sweet finish, some are smoky and tobacco-like. Some are stronger, some are milder. As with coffee roasts, everyone will have a personal preference. Guayakí Maté’s “Original” flavor is along the smokier style, but its flavored matés provide a full range of experiences and have none of the smoke. Depending on how the leaves are processed, the brewed tea can vary from shades of yellow and green, similar to green tea, to a reddish-brown that can be mistaken for a black tea (Guayakí Maté falls into this category).
Hot Maté “Teas”
Few Americans like to brew loose tea, so Guayakí Maté packages its maté in bags—in a variety of flavors, so that drinking maté never gets dull (Original is available in loose leaf). To broaden the appeal even more, the maté is available in six popular flavors, some of which mask the flavor of “original” maté. If you’ve tried maté before and didn’t like it, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Although the label indicates that stevia is included, no sweetness is apparent. Our comments reflect drinking the tea straight—no milk or sugar except as noted. Argentineans drink maté with sugar or honey; the majority of South Americans drink it plain. Your preference will likely depend on how you enjoy drinking coffee or tea: Feel free to add milk or lemon.
Maté is also a convenience food: You don’t need boiling water. In fact, it should be steeped in hot, not boiling, water, and will steep equally well in cold water. You can just shake a tea bag in a bottle of cold water if you don’t have the patience for steeping.
Chai Spice Maté: A blend of maté plus chai spices delivers good chai scent. When we added sweetener, it heightened the chai spices on the palate: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove and licorice. The company sells a Chai Maté Latté concentrate to be mixed with milk and served hot or cold, which we didn’t try; but when we added milk to the Chai Spice Maté, we enjoyed a latté effect—and liked it a lot.
Greener Green Tea Maté: A blend of maté (the primary ingredient), green tea and lemongrass. The lemongrass flavor isn’t apparent, but there is a good hit of green tea.
Magical Mint Maté: A blend of maté with peppermint and spearmint, this brew tastes just like regular mint tea. A favorite.
Boxes of maté “tea bags.”
Maté Chocolatté: A blend of maté, cocoa and spices, there’s only the barest suggestion of cocoa. While we love the name, the flavor doesn’t deliver—even after we added milk and sugar.
Orange Blossom Maté: A blend of maté, orange and lemon peels, rose hips and cinnamon produces a lovely, feminine orange flavor combined with a masculine roasty maté flavor. Interesting...and good.
Red Tea With Maté: The strong flavor of rooibos (Afrikaans for “red bush,” which has become known as “red tea”) will please lovers of red tea. The blend also contains some honeybush, another African herbal tea that is similar to rooibos. South Africans generally drink rooibos with milk and sugar; we thought this blend was delicious straight.
Traditional Maté: The best-seller, available in bags or loose leaf. It has a light tobacco nose and a lightly roasted flavor with notes of tobacco and citrus. Ponder hard enough and you might find some chocolate and coffee.
If you don’t like the taste of maté, Magical Mint, Chai Spice and Red Tea do the best job of covering up maté’s natural flavors. If you want your maté to taste like coffee, there’s Java Maté. We didn’t taste it, but the blend of roasted ramón nut and yerba maté promises to taste just like coffee with the gentleness of maté. It’s available in Dark Roast, Mocha Maca and Vanilla Nut. If you’ve had to give up coffee, give it a try—it’s available in loose leaf.
Passing The Maté Gourd
The gourd ritual was established centuries ago as a rite of hospitality. Tomando maté, drinking maté, establishes camaraderie among those passing the maté gourd, in addition to the nourishment and energy from the beverage alone. Typically, the cebador (maté server) prepares maté for a group of friends and drinks first, like a sommelier, to ensure that the maté is proper. The gourd is topped off with water and passed counter-clockwise in a circle, with the bombilla (bomb-BEE-ya, the metal straw) facing the recipient. Each person drinks the entire contents of gourd, which is then returned, with the bombilla facing the cebador. The gourd is refilled with hot water and follows the circle, continuing until the maté is lavado (flat).
Depending on the household, the maté gourd can a simple, natural gourd or made from ceramic, glass, horn or metal, including precious metals like silver and gold. It can be basic, rimmed with silver, even encrusted with jewels. Lovely specimens with silver decor, to be drunk from, can be had for $30.00 to $35.00, and $45.00 or so with semiprecious stones. Others are works of art purchased by master craftspeople, purchased as collectibles, never to be drunk from but to be admired.
This lovely maté gourd, enhanced with silver and semiprecious stones, is less than $35.00 at MyMateWorld.com. It is a small gourd, 2.85 inches wide by 2.85 inches high. (Product availability and price are verified at publication but are subject to change.)
Cold Maté Beverages
For cold refreshment, think about grabbing a bottle of maté. Each bottle of Guayakí Organic Yerba Maté contains caffeine levels comparable to a cup of coffee; however, the caffeine stimulation is balanced by maté’s theobromines and theophyllines, which provide a feeling of general well-being and don’t generate a “caffeinated,” hyped-up feeling.
The original three flavors, brewed with purified water and sweetened with organic cane juice, include:
Empowermint: Blended with fresh mint.
Raspberry Revolution: Blended with raspberry juice and cranberry juice with some rose hips and hibiscus.
Traditional Maté: Available unsweetened as well as sweetened.
The company recently introduced Organic Yerba Maté Fusions, which combine maté with potent herbs from around the world to achieve “special effects” functional foods.
Pure Endurance: A citrus stamina blend, combining maté with Siberian ginseng, a stamina herb; electrolytes for energy including Himalayan crystal salt from Pakistan; tangerine and acerola juices.
Cold maté beverages are available in an explosion
Pure Mind: For more clarity, maté is blended with gingko biloba from China, which improves blood circulation in the brain, veins and arteries; tulsi (holy basil) from India, which improves vitality and lowers blood pressure; antioxidant-rich pomegranate juice; and accents of spearmint and peppermint.
Pure Passion: Developed as a kundalini‡ blend with damiana leaf from Central America, catuaba bark from Brazil and passion fruit juice and a bit of peach and hibiscus flavor. While damiana boosts mental and physical capacity and catuaba is calming and anti-viral, both are considered aphrodisiacs.
‡According to Hindu teachings, kundalini is a type of corporeal energy, a potential form of life force lying dormant in our bodies. The word is Sanskrit for “coiled up” or “coiling like a snake.” There is a school of yoga devoted to concentrating on the chakras, energy centers in the body, in order to generate a spiritual power, which is known as kundalini energy.
ORAC & Caffeine Values Of Maté
ORAC. The Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity assay, ORAC, is a method for measuring the phytochemical level (antioxidant value) of foods, i.e. its ability to scavenge free radicals. As a frame of reference, blueberries score 2,400 units per 3.5-ounce serving (100 grams), prunes have 5,770 units per 3.5 ounces, Montmorency cherry juice has 5,286 per 8-ounce glass, milk chocolate has 6,740 units per 3.5 ounces and dark chocolate has 13,120 units.
Caffeine. Most of the Guayakí Maté products overlap in caffeine content with brewed and drip coffee.
Guayakí Maté Products
Chai Latté Concentrates (4 ounces)
Chai Latté Tea Bags
Greener Green Tea Bags
Java Maté Tea Bags
Loose Yerba Maté (3g)
Maté Chocolatté Tea Bags
Mint Tea Bags
Orange Blossom Tea Bags
Pure Endurance (Bottled)
Pure Mind (Bottled)
Pure Mint (Bottled)
Pure Passion (Bottled)
Raspberry Revolution (Bottled)
65-13 70 mg
Red Tea Bags
Traditional Maté (Bottled)
Traditional Maté Tea Bags
Black Tea (Imported, Average)
Coke, Pepsi, Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi
Black Tea (Domestic Brands, Average)
SOURCES: National Soft Drink Association, U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Health Benefits Of Maté
The medical community is increasingly interested in the benefits of maté. While claims have not been evaluated by the FDA, medical studies are referenced on the Guayaki.com website that discuss how it aids:
Energy: Induces mental clarity, sustains energy levels/reduces fatigue, boosts the immune system
Medical Conditions: Helps relieve allergies, aids in weight control, aids in elimination, helps in treatment of diabetes, inhibits lipid peroxidation, fights halitosis (bad breath)
All this and it tastes good, too? Try it and see for yourself.
Yerba Maté Beverages in Bottles, Loose Tea and Tea Bags
Certified Kosher by KSA
USDA Certified Organic
Fair Trade Federation
16-Ounce Glass Bottles
Case Of 12
Assorted Flavor Options
$39.99 (Shipping Included)
Java Maté 7-Ounce Package
Maté Latté Concentrate
32 Ounces Makes eight 4-ounce servings,
4 ounces each concentrate and