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What is Yerba Mate?
Yerba Mate (pronounced Yehrbah Mateh) is a South American drink resembling tea, made from the plant Ilex Paraguariensis, a modestly sized tree from the Holly family, was introduced in South America by the Guarani Indians of the rain forest. The plant is poisonous if not dried before consumption, something the Guaranis discovered the hard way when they became seriously ill by drinking the leaves in a tea before drying them. Now the drink is brewed from the dried leaves and stems and goes through a strict and lengthy process before it is shipped to stores and imported.
The name “Mate” comes from the name “Mati”, a Quichuan word meaning gourd, which is what is used to drink it out of. The word "Yerba" means herb. The “Bombilla”, (pronounced "bombeesha"), is a metallic straw you put in the gourd to drink the Yerba Mate.
The average South American drinks up to 14 lbs of Yerba Mate per year, and that's just one person. In fact, there are as many Yerba Mate bars in South America as there are coffee shops in the United States, with people from all rungs of society enjoying this cultural beverage. It is very common to see people in Uruguay walking around with a gourd in one hand and a thermos full of hot water in the other. It is just as common as North Americans holding coffee cups.
It is also very affordable and can be found in almost any Hispanic store in the U.S. or you can purchase it online by the bag. There's a better chance you'll find the Bombillas online, along with the Mate, which are beautifully handcrafted and designed.
How does it taste?
The flavor of the drink is for the most part bitter but you can sweeten it, although there are some who prefer it sugarless, just as coffee drinkers prefer theirs black.
Factoid: The more stems in the Yerba, the more bitter the taste.
You're probably wondering, so what's the draw? It's from a poisonous plant, it's bitter, you drink it out of a gourd through a metal straw that may or may not burn your lips, you have to keep warming it up by carrying a thermos full of hot water with you all the time. I don't get it!
Well, there are amazing health benefits to this drink. First of all, it is very high in caffeine, which makes it a natural metabolic booster.
WARNING: Please check with your doctor before trying this. It has a very high caffeine level, which means it speeds up your metabolism.
Factoid: Anything that speeds up your metabolism is speeding up your heart rate.
It is an energy drink, for lack of better words. The Guarani Indians drank this all day for endurance in the forest to boost their energy and reduce hunger. Oh, did I forget to add that Yerba Mate is an awesome hunger suppressant? As if all the vitamins it contains wasn't enough to make you a fan, you can actually burn calories from this. The Gauchos; South American version of cowboys, drink this while herding cattle and horses, which can take days at a time. The drink keeps them awake for hours and suppresses their hunger so they can work.
What are the health benefits?
2. Lowers risk of Cancer (Breast, Prostate, Colorectal, Endometrial, Colon)
3. Promotes heart health
4. Promotes bone density
5. Boosts energy
6. Improves brain function
7. Some studies show it de-activates E-Coli
8. Suppresses hunger
9. Boosts immune system
10. Lowers blood sugar
How to prepare
This process in Spanish is called “Cebar el mate”. Cebar in English means to prime or to get ready.
First fill the gourd or cup ¾ with the Yerba, then add very hot water to soak the leaves, but not boiling, at about 176-185F. I'd say as soon as you see tiny bubbles just starting in the water, turn it off. Let it stand for about 20 seconds in the Mate and add more hot water. Put the Bombilla in the Mate and make a small hole in the Yerba and add sugar and more hot water. The Yerba will soak up the water quickly so keep adding water until you see the Yerba float up. If the Bombilla tip (which is metal) is too hot, don't drink out of it, just wait or you will burn your lips.
You'll find that depending on the size of the gourd or cup, you will be adding quite a bit of water. But remember, this is a very high caffeinated drink. Drink and wait a bit to make sure you can have more, just like an Espresso. If you're okay, keep going until the flavor is gone and replace the Yerba with new leaves and start the process over.
Tip: You don't want to let your Yerba sit in the Mate overnight. You want to keep the Mate clean, so dump out the used leaves and let the Mate air dry, keeping it fresh for next time.
Where can you get Yerba Mate?
Here's a great place to get your own Yerba Mate and kits including the gourds and Bombillas. There are so many types of gourds now. They even have some hand crafted in leather, intricately carved wood, natural organic or hand painted gourds, metals and even the Bombillas are just as ornate and the prices very affordable. Some Bombillas are made from silver and gold tipped. It depends on how much you want to spend. I like this place because all the supplies are from Uruguay and I trust that. You're getting traditional, authentic and original handcrafted work from Uruguayan artisans.
Being Uruguayan, I am used to seeing everyone drinking what they call "Drink of the Gods", but for me it's a little more than just a cultural identity. It's a personal step into where I come from and who I am. In Uruguay, drinking Yerba Mate is a tradition, a ritual, a way of life, a way of connecting with people, friends, family, neighbors, even yourself.
It contains a very meditative spirit if you drink it alone, soothing, calming, or keeping you awake and strong, depending on what it is you personally desire from it. We pass the Yerba Mate around and all take sips from the Bombilla, accepting an unspoken camaraderie that exists between everyone that's gathered together. It's a uniting of humanity, a bonding of souls and an invitation for peace.
I hope you try Yerba Mate and enjoy the benefits it has to offer and allow it to transport you to your own special place.
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Brewing Yerba Mate with Uruguayan Nicolás Mezquida
Rosana Modugno (author) from USA on November 10, 2012:
How cool! Thank you. I had no idea Dr. Oz was promoting it. I too prefer sugar. It is an acquired taste without, that's for sure. I'm very glad it works for you! :)
Janis Leslie Evans from Washington, DC on November 09, 2012:
Hi Rosana, I tried yerba mate tea after hearing Dr Oz promote it as a way to boost metabolism and lose weight. It worked very well and I liked the taste. I used a little sugar. I bought the brand in tea bags at an organic food store. Thank you for your hub. I appreciate that it's an important part of your culture.