Yerba Mate Tea: A Coffee Alternative Without the Crash and Jitters

Yerba Mate tea is growing increasingly popular worldwide as people look for a healthy coffee alternative. This herbal tea, which was originally brewed by the Guarani indigenous people of Paraguay, is said to have powerful health benefits that may even surpass those of green tea. What's more, it offers a similar amount of caffeine without the anxiety, jitters, or crashes, according to most yerba mate fans.

Key takeaways:

What is yerba mate?

In Ketchua and Spanish, "yerba mate" translates to "herbs from the calabash." The name refers to the herbal leaves that were brewed in traditional calabash fruit-dried vessel.

Ilex paraguariensis is the species of holly tree from which the dried and roasted leaves of yerba mate are derived. The herbal tea originated with the Guarani people of Paraguay. In the sixteenth century, yerba mate was also embraced by Europeans, including Jesuit missionaries.

The Guarani people thought the beverage was a gift from the gods and a means of fostering relationships with both the divine and humanity. Yerba mate is still used ceremoniously in many South American social settings.

Although yerba mate is becoming more and more well-liked around the world as an antioxidant-rich, high-energy substitute for coffee, its consumption abroad is still far less than that of coffee and green tea.

The top three producers are Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina. They produce an estimated 1.4 million tons of yerba mate yearly between them, but less than 5% is exported. Comparatively, global coffee growers produced about 168.5 million 60-kilogram bags of coffee during the 2021–2022 growing season.

Traditional yerba mate brewing

According to Guarani tradition, there is a precise way of brewing yerba mate, which many South Americans still follow.

The tea infusion is prepared using dried, hollowed gourds from a calabash vine. Ground yerba mate leaves are placed in the gourd to fill about ¾ of the gourd. The leaves are then covered with hot, but not boiling, water.

Next, a perforated straw is gently inserted and left in place to leave the loose leaves undisturbed. The straw, called a bombilla, filters out the crushed leaves as one sips the liquid. Bombillas were originally made from bamboo cane, but today, manufacturers usually make them from metal.

To reap the full benefits of the caffeine and antioxidants in yerba mate, hot water is continually added and drank slowly, often while sharing the drink with friends and family gathered together.

Yerba mate compared to coffee

South American indigenous people have long valued yerba mate as a stimulant.

The caffeine content in the tea is about 80mg, similar to an 8-ounce cup of drip coffee. However, the traditional way of drinking yerba mate, with the repeated addition of hot water, can produce roughly triple the amount of caffeine. Caffeine content may also vary in production, roasting, and brewing methods.

In addition to caffeine, yerba mate contains trace amounts of theobromine and theophylline, two other mild stimulants. Both have a similar structure to caffeine. While theophylline is a substance frequently used to treat asthma, theobromine is the same stimulant found in chocolate. As a bronchodilator, theophylline helps open lung airways.

Yerba mate compared to green tea

Green tea's many health benefits are well known. According to yerba mate experts and current research, yerba mate boasts many of the same powers and possibly more.

Green tea typically contains 30–50 mg of caffeine, depending on the type of tea and brewing method. Yerba Mate offers higher caffeine levels.

For those looking for a similar energy boost to coffee with health benefits like green tea, yerba mate is a promising alternative.

Health benefits of drinking yerba mate

A growing body of research shows that yerba mate offers antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and antimicrobial benefits. Daily consumption appears to help protect the cardiovascular system, lower cholesterol, prevent cancer, improve insulin resistance, and promote weight loss, among many other health benefits.

Vitamins and minerals

Experts say yerba mate offers wide-ranging health powers because of several nutritional components, including potent plant nutrients like polyphenols, saponins, carotenoids, and flavonoids.

Yerba mate also contains vitamins C, B1, B2, and B6 and vital minerals like potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.

According to a 2021 academic review published in the journal Nutrients about the current research on yerba mate, one scientific study found that the tea may serve up to 600 mg of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega-3 fatty acid. This is about half the daily recommended intake for women.

The review also highlighted studies suggesting that yerba mate helps protect against cellular and DNA damage. One study covered in the review showed that drinking yerba mate tea may help repair DNA and prevent cellular oxidative stress – essential to longevity.

Thermogenic and adaptogenic properties

Yerba mate has become popular among athletes for its thermogenic properties. By increasing metabolism and basal metabolic rate, it aids in the reduction of body fat. Its thermogenesis also makes it a popular weight-loss drink. Yerba mate is also popular among athletes due to its adaptogenic properties, which strengthen the body's resistance to stress and strenuous exercise.

There is more benefit to this increased metabolism for those who suffer from obesity and chronic metabolic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Yerba mate may also reduce blood sugar levels and suppress appetite. According to studies, it also improves satiety or the sensation of being full and content after eating.

Furthermore, brewing a cup of yerba mate may help reduce cholesterol in the blood and liver. These anti-obesity properties may help reduce the risk of serious metabolic diseases, which underline many chronic illnesses and speed aging.

The demand for yerba mate is driving an increase in scientific research on the herb. Based on recent studies, this elixir may provide the following numerous health benefits:

  • Boosted antioxidant levels
  • Reduced oxidative stress
  • Improved cardiovascular health
  • Reduces atherosclerosis
  • Decreased levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol
  • Reduced lung inflammation
  • Enhanced cognition
  • Improved mental health
  • Lowers blood sugar levels
  • Increased insulin sensitivity
  • Heals cellular health
  • Boosted metabolism
  • Enhanced cancer prevention
  • Increased bone density
  • Lowers biological age
  • Reduces chronic inflammation
  • Improved liver health

Risk of drinking yerba mate

Numerous medical professionals state that most people can safely and healthily consume large amounts of green tea or herbal tea on a daily basis. However, there are still some precautions to take because research is being done to confirm this. As usual, consult your doctor before using yerba mate on a regular basis if you take any prescribed drugs as it may interact with them.

It is still not a perfect science to know how much yerba mate to drink in order to reap its health benefits. According to stories, people in South America often drink at least a liter daily. In order for researchers to look into the health benefits of tea, many study participants drank one liter of it every day. Over a few months, the majority of study participants had few to no risks identified.

The strength of the health benefits appears to be unknown for individuals who consume less than one liter per day. However, health experts say even one mug of yerba mate per day will likely benefit your health, especially over a long period of time.

Tereré, or cold-brewed yerba mate tea, produced more nutrients and health benefits than hot-brewed tea in a number of studies. Research suggests that adding boiling water to yerba mate tea increases the nutrient content.

The tea leaves of roasted yerba mate may contain increased concentrations of harmful polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are known to cause cancer. Overindulging in a beneficial beverage, such as yerba mate, can carry some risks. While research is inconclusive, it appears that drinking unsmoked yerba mate tea may result in reduced levels of PAHs.

It's important to note that cancer rates are higher in some countries with greater than average intake, according to some studies. In light of the many health benefits of yerba mate, this data suggests that moderation is key.

While reports of these side effects are far lower than those of coffee drinkers, excessive yerba mate consumption may cause heartburn, restlessness, anxiety, or elevated heart rates in some individuals, similar to other caffeine-containing drinks.

Modern preparation methods

If you decide to try yerba mate, be aware that it tastes less bitter than coffee but more bitter than green tea. For many people outside of South America, it's an acquired taste. To help you get used to the taste, you could try adding some cream, cinnamon, and honey. Adaptogenic (non-psychedelic) mushroom powder is a wholesome addition, too.

How to brew a warm mug of yerba mate

Online tutorials and supplies are available for brewing yerba mate using traditional methods, but modern methods are possible too.

You can buy yerba mate tea bags, which you can steep in warm to hot (not boiling) water. Additionally, some grocery stores and online retailers sell loose yerba mate tea leaves.

Use two tablespoons of leaves in an infuser, tea bag, or French press for every 12 to 16 ounces of liquid to get at least 80 mg of caffeine. You can steep yerba mate for as long as you want to get the flavor you like, as long as the water is not too hot.

Whatever method you use to brew yerba mate, experts advise wetting the leaves with cold water first to shield them from hot water that could destroy their medicinal qualities.

Never directly apply boiling water to the leaves. Ingesting tea in extremely hot water ruins its health benefits. It also raises the risk of esophageal, throat, and mouth cancer.

How to make cold brewed yerba mate

Tereré is easy to make and keeps well in the fridge for up to 24 hours. The brew can be consumed on its own, blended into juice or honey, or added to smoothies.

To make tereré, you need these ingredients:

  • 1 cup (8-16oz) of cool water
  • 1-2 tablespoons of loose-leaf yerba mate or 2 tea bags
  • Honey, pineapple, orange, or lemon juice to taste (optional)

Just pour the water and yerba mate into a glass or jar, seal it, and keep it in the refrigerator for twelve hours. After 12 hours, strain the leaves from the liquid, and reheat the tea if preferred.

The extent of yerba mate's health benefits and the daily dosage required to minimize risks are still up for debate among scientists. According to research, most people find it to be a reliable substitute for coffee in moderation, with similar caffeine levels and all the health benefits of green teas.

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