This is an excerpt from the September/October issue of TEA Magazine
Many people look to herbals as caffeine-free beverages, a warm sip to soothe and calm. But herbals are not always the sleepy option. Some of these infusions are actually caffeinated coffee alternatives that are increasingly finding their places on cafe menus and grocery store shelves. If you’re looking for an herbal infusion that packs a punch, it’s time to consider yerba mate and guayusa.
Yerba Mate (MAH-tay) enjoys tremendous popularity in South America, its continent of origin. A species of holly (Ilex paraguariensis), the plant is native to Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay. Although it is called a “yerba,” or herb, it is actually a tree that can reach 50 feet tall.
Mate has captured the attention and the taste buds of many coffee drinkers. It is a rich, bold beverage that can be drunk alone, but also stands up well to milk. “Mate has a robust, earthy, deep, rich, complex body to it,” says David Karr, founder of the 16-year-old Guayakí Yerba Mate. “It has a mood elevating quality without giving you stress and edginess.”
The Guaraní, a population indigenous to interior South America, and some of the Brazilian Tupí were the first to embrace this beverage more than 400 years ago. Its spread north was slowed in the late 1800s by wars among producing countries. In the last decade, however, mate has been gaining a strong foothold in the United States.
The traditional way of steeping mate is in a hollowed out calabash gourd, also called a mate. It is sipped through a straw called a bombilla (bom-BEE-ya). However, one doesn’t need special equipment to make the brew. It can be steeped in an infuser, a French press or even in a coffeemaker. It can be purchased as teabags, loose leaf, or bottled. Typically mate comes in two varieties: traditional mate which is green and toasted which is smoother with spicy notes.
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