Saturday, May 30, 2015

My Cuppa: G'day Mate!

Referred to as "The Drink of The Gods", Yerba Mate is a popular, caffeinated beverage from South America, specifically Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. Known by their botanical name, Ilex paraguariensis, they are a species of the holly family, and much like Camellia sinensis, they are evergreens in that they begin as a shrubs and grow into trees.

Fresh herbs!

Depending on where you live, there are a couple of different pronunciations. Yerba, rhymes with herb-ah. Mate can be pronounced mah-tay, which rhymes with latte. Or, just mate, rhyming with late. You may have seen an accent above the “e” to appear as Yerba Maté. Apparently this is 
an English thing.  It would never be written with the accent in Spanish or Portuguese.

Yerba Mate is loaded with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants. It has many health benefits including managing weight, boosting your energy, preventing certain diseases and cancers, and lowering blood pressure.

Traditionally, Yerba Mate is served in a gourd or mate. The dried herbs, or yerba are placed in the mate and hot water is poured over them. The infusion is then sipped through a straw called a bombilla, pronounced bome-bee-ja.

Good gourd!

Yerba Mate is quite versatile. It can be made hot or cold, drunk as is, or enjoyed with milk and sugar. It is available as blends mixed with other ingredients such as peppermint, vanilla, and even orange rinds. The liquor can even be mixed with various fruit juices. It is sold as a loose leaf as well as bagged. Yerba Mate is very much a social drink where the prepared gourds are passed around among a circle of friends. It is equivalent to coffee and tea meetups in North America.

The flavour of Yerba Mate is said to be herbal, vegetal, and grassy. Some people even detect hints of chocolate while others find the taste similar to some green teas. I've had Yerba Mate a few times and have enjoyed it. I find the flavour vegetal and very smooth without any bitterness. Most recently, I purchased a package blended with mint and carob. Labelled Mocha Mint, it’s produced by a company called Mate Factor.

Mocha Mint!

There is actually a whole procedure on how to prepare Yerba Mate, but I’m going to keep things simple here and just make it as I would tea. As well, I don't own a gourd or bombilla. These traditional wares can be purchased readily from the same shops one buys teapots from or online.

As instructed on the package, I steeped 1 tablespoon of loose leaves for every 1 cup of water at a temperature of 70 – 80 °C for 5 – 10 minutes. Yerba Mate is much like other tisanes in that it doesn't really become bitter even after a lengthy steep time. The liquor that resulted was a deep, dark amber. The aroma was phenomenal! I could smell hints of chocolate, mint, and steamed greens like asparagus. The taste was smooth, minty and vegetal. I noticed the colour of the liquor grew darker the longer it steeped, but it didn't hurt the taste.

Drink of the Gods!

The flavour of Yerba Mate is an acquired taste. If you've never had it, it may take some time getting used to, but it’s definitely worth trying especially for all its health benefits. If you need to, start with some of the flavoured blends before going straight to the basic, plain version. Enjoy!

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