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Yerba Mate - New Trends, Old Traditions: Part I
By Serena Norr

What’s the deal with Yerba mate? From mate’s indigenous South American roots, to modern mate bars in California, this “drink of the gods” has a truly wide and growing appeal across the world.

Yerba mate, the quintessential beverage of South America has been venerated for centuries as natures most balanced stimulant - renowned for its ability to sustain energy, impart mental clarity as well as a bevy of health benefits. Revered by many as a “drink of the gods,” in 1964 the Paris Scientific Society concluded “it is difficult to find a plant in any area of the world equal to mate in nutritional value” and that yerba mate contains “practically all of the vitamins necessary to sustain life,” as instated from Guayakí’s website.

Origins of Yerba Mate
According to T.J. McIntyre founder and president of Pixie Maté, located in Boulder Colorado, “This plant has a wonderful South American heritage.” Derived from the holly shrub of the South American rainforest native to northern Argentina, Paraguay and southern Brazil. Yerba mate (pronounced “yerba mahtay”) or llex Paraguariensis “grows in the shady understory beneath the taller lapachos and pau de arcos. The native Guarani people were the first to brew yerba mate’s leaves into a stimulating, nutritious and antioxidant-rich beverage,” stated Joe Chermesino partner of Eco Teas located in San Francisco, California.

According to David Karr, Yerba Mate Association of the Americas chairman, president and co-founder of Guayaki Yerba Mate, “Yerba mate was first used by the indigenous people who lived as hunter gatherers/foragers in the Atlantic forest. These indigenous groups, the Guarani among them, lived in harmony with the forest and often traveled long distances to set up their community living areas. On these long trips, it has been documented that they drank yerba mate to sustain their energy and relied on its robust nutritional profile to nourish them during periods of draught and famine. ”

According to McIntyre, “Originally, indigenous tribes wild-harvested mate and it became a staple in their diet. Over time, colonialists too consumed mate and then they (primarily Jesuits) began formally cultivating yerba mate. This intentional production and harvest made mate more popular and today it ranks as the most popular beverage of choice in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil.”

“Jesuit Missionaries arrived in the area in the 16th century. They set up a series of plantations known as misiones to grow yerba mate,” added Chermesino. “The Jesuit Missionaries were the first to commercially develop the yerba mate industry. At first, when they witnessed the indigenous drinking yerba mate for its energizing and euphoriating properties, they condemned it. Shortly thereafter, they accepted mate, began drinking it and eventually discovered a way to cultivate mate in plantations, something theretofore impossible due to its germination requirements. In a natural forest environment it had passed through a toucan’s intestinal tract, which broke down the seed coat and enabled the seed to germinate. The Jesuits missionized very effectively and 100 years later, there were many Guarani (and other indigenous groups) working in the missions in their mate trade, which reached as far as Chile and Peru. After the Jesuits were expulsed in 1776, the yerba mate industry was declining sharply and ended up confined only to the Argentine, Paraguayan and Brazilian countries where it grew. The Argentine Viceroyalty levied high taxes on products (including mate) and overland transportation, which led to the collapse of the yerba mate trade on the Pacific side ending Peru and other countries’ love affair with mate.

“Over the years, the tea spread in popularity throughout South America. Today it is widely drunk in many countries around the world, from the U.S. to Germany to the Middle East, as well as in its native South America,” Chermesino stated.

Mate Infusion and Ceremony
The infusion is prepared by steeping dry leaves (and twigs) of yerba mate in hot water, rather than in boiling water such as in tea. It is a slightly less potent stimulant than coffee and much gentler on the stomach. The flavor of brewed yerba mate is strongly vegetal, herbal and grassy, reminiscent of some varieties of green tea. Many consider the flavor to be very agreeable, but it is generally bitter.

According to Mónica G. Hoss de le Comte from the book The Mate, “When people gather to drink mate, a ceremonial aspect occurs in which rites are carefully performed in the same way, day after day as it supplies a moment of leisure with friends and family. The beverage is enjoyed as a traditional social activity as people place the dried leaves into a shared gourd then add water and sip mate through a filter straw known as a bombilla that is passed around.”

Understanding the history and cultural significance of this drink is merely the first step towards ensuring that mate continues to grow in popularity throughout the industry and in the constantly developing market. In Part II of this series, we will explore the impact that mate has had on the industry outside of its South American roots, and where it will be heading in the future.

Serena Norr is a freelance writer based in New York. As a former editor at Tea & Coffee Trade Journal she enjoys writing about the industry.
GUAYAKI OPENS FIRST YERBA MATE BAR
Guayaki opened its first classic Mate Bar in Sebastopol, California. Since rainforest yerba mate is an entirely different drink and culture than coffee and tea, the goal of Guayaki’s Mate Bar was to provide guests with an experience to help discover the culture and sprit that is at the core of the yerba mate lifestyle.

The drink menu includes a wide variety of tasty organic yerba mate beverage styles such as mate lattes, cappuccino mate, mate mocha, mate chai, java mate, spicy mayan mocha mate, mate shakes, espresso shots, iced mate and drip brewed mate.

Finding Mate...


Pixie Mate: Tel: +1 (303) 641-6119, Web: www.pixiemate.com, www.heyheymate.com.
Guayakí: 6784 Sebastopol Avenue, Sebastopol, California 95472. Tel: +1(888) GUAYAKI (888-482-9254), Fax: +1(707) 824 6607, E-mail: info@guayaki.com, Web: www.guayaki.com.
Eco Teas: Mate Revolution, Inc., P.O. Box 1192, Ashland, Oregon 97520. Tel: +1(541) 482-7745, Fax: +1(541) 482-6780, E-mail: info@worldpantry.com, Web: www.ecoteas.com


Tea & Coffee - October, 2008
Triestespresso


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