I was in a supermarket in Jackson Heights, Queens, that carries a multitude of Latin American products, and as I often do, I chose a product that I’ve never seen before to purchase and try. This time it was orange-flavored yerba mate. (Actually, I picked up two new products—the other one being lucuma flour, but I’ll leave that for another blog).
For those of you who are not familiar with yerba mate, it’s an herb that when steeped makes an invigorating tea. It’s popular in numerous South American countries and is the national drink of Argentina.
The traditional way to drink yerba mate is to prepare it in a hollowed-out gourd and sip it through a bombilla, a special straw, often made of silver, designed so that it filters out the leaves and twigs. The biggest benefit of yerba mate is that it’s an energy booster. Some say that it’s just as effective at invigorating the body as coffee; others say that it falls somewhere between tea and coffee. It contains antioxidants, and it’s been said that it also helps with weight loss. Like anything else, it has its detractors, too, but the Mayo Clinic recommends that it’s generally safe to enjoy yerba mate in moderation.
The gourd itself is called a mate or guampa, depending on where you are in South America. Traditionally, tomando mate (drinking mate) with friends or guests involves a ritual of sharing out of one of these gourds. The gourds themselves require curing, like seasoning a cast iron pan. The ritual is a symbol of hospitality, and is reminiscent of a Japanese tea ceremony. (For more information about the history of yerba mate, the drinking ritual, and how to “season” a gourd, this site is pretty good. Note that I’m not endorsing this particular brand, only its information!) The one in the photo here was brought to me by my brother when he returned from a “back to my roots” trip to Buenos Aires, where he was born and spent the first few years of his life. Lovely, isn’t it? In fact, these gourds can be works of art, and antique versions can go for quite a bit of money (I’ve seen up to $300 for ornate examples).
Yerba mate has been available here in the U.S. for some time. I first tried it about 10 years ago. But, until now, I have never seen flavored yerba mate. I came to learn that in South America, yerba mate is often flavored with citrus, mint, or other flavors. Yerba mate has a strong flavor, herbal (duh) and a bit grassy, and I find it slightly bitter, so I’ve never been a huge fan. I was curious to see if the addition of orange would improve the taste for me.
Yes, it did. I found that the citrusy flavor, along with some honey, actually made it a pleasant drink to have. I made sure to have it in the afternoon and it got me through a very busy day.
If you’d like to give yerba mate a try:
Place some yerba mate in a tea ball or filter basket (same amount as you would use for any other tea). Heat some water, but don’t boil it—supposedly, boiling water makes it bitter. Pour over the yerba mate and let it steep for about 5 minutes. Add honey or anything else you like to use in tea. Then, enjoy!
If you’re fortunate enough to have a mate, steep the tea right in the gourd and sip through the bombilla. And don’t forget to share.