This traditional South American drink brewed like tea contains many health benefits and will give you a caffeine boost without the jitters.

By Katlyn Moncada
March 13, 2020
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As an avid coffee drinker, I can usually be found reaching for my French press or stopping at Starbucks for an iced coffee as part of my daily morning routine. But if you rely on caffeine to get through the day like me, you’ve probably experienced that dreaded afternoon slump that only coffee can fix. After meeting certified tea master Lisa Marie Gennawey, the founder and owner of J’enwey Tea Co., I learned drinking yerba mate could give me long-lasting energy, plus health benefits (more on that to come). Here’s what to know about yerba mate.

yerba mate cup with bombilla straw
Traditional yerba mate drinking cup made from calabaza gourd with a bombilla straw.
| Credit: Courtesy of Balibetov / Amazon

What Is Yerba Mate?

Yerba mate (pronounced like yur-buh mah-tey) is a leafy shrub variety related to the holly plant native to South America. The leaves are brewed like tea and were traditionally consumed out of a hollowed gourd cup with a bombilla, which is a yerba mate straw with a filter to prevent the leaves from coming through. While frequently called tea (and brewed the same way), it isn’t technically a tea unless blended with some other green or black tea leaf. The flavor is a bit earthy and bitter, so it takes some getting used to drinking on its own. Gennawey likes to add the energizing leaf to floral and fruity flavors, such as her popular hibiscus berry clean energy.

Yerba Mate Caffeine Content

The caffeine content of yerba mate lies between coffee and tea. An 8-ounce serving of brewed yerba mate contains about 85 mg of caffeine. Coffee (depending on the brew strength) will have about 130 mg of caffeine and green tea has 50 mg. While it has less caffeine than coffee, yerba mate's key difference is the sustainable energy it provides. And the best part? It won't leave you with that jittery aftereffect coffee sometimes creates.

“This type of caffeine stimulates the mind, increases concentration, and provides a sustainable level of energy for up to three times as long as caffeine found in coffee,” Gennawey says. Maintaining energy for longer periods of time can also boost physical performance (one study revealed yerba mate substantially increased exercise endurance).

hands on a calabash gourd a filled with yerba mate tea
Credit: Aleksandr_Vorobev/Getty Images

Health Benefits of Yerba Mate

Known in South American history as "Gift of the Gods," yerba mate was consumed in ancient times with the belief it had strong healing properties. And it’s true. The leafy plant packs 24 vitamins and minerals and 15 amino acids, and can promote good heart health and weight and blood sugar management. It's also been said to increase happiness. Here are a few (but not all) of the key healthy components of yerba mate.

  • Vitamins: A, B1, B2, B3, B5, C, E
  • Minerals: Calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium
  • Saponins: Bitter chemical compounds that are known to have anti-inflammatory properties as well as lower cholesterol and blood glucose levels
  • Polyphenols: A group of antioxidants that are known to help fight diseases and inflammation

How to Brew Yerba Mate

For a single serving, you'll want to measure out about 1 tablespoon of yerba mate per 8 ounces of water. This can be steeped for about 5 minutes in hot water that's between 160ºF–180ºF, which is a little less than the boiling point (212ºF). No need to get a thermometer, just let your water kettle rest off the boil 30 to 45 seconds. For a larger batch, Gennawey likes to use a French press to steep tea.

If you’re looking for a new go-to pick-me-up, maybe give yerba mate a try. Consider adding it to a spiked tea drink or your lineup of cozy warm beverages.


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