Known as “Drink of the Gods” or “Drink of Friendship,” mate tea (or yerba mate) is a caffeine-rich infusion of tea leaves and stems from a type of holly plant known as llex paraguariensis, from the subtropical forests of South America. First discovered and prepared by the indigenous Guarani people, Mate is is grown in Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina.
Mate is extremely popular in South America: it is the official drink of Argentina, and is also widely consumed in Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Chile and Brazil. It is also very popular in Syria, which is the world’s leading importer of Mate, and Lebanon.
Mate is known for producing the energy and mental alertness of other caffeinated drinks, but without side effects like nervousness, stomach-aches or addiction. For this reason, there is a widely-held belief that mate contains not caffeine but a different stimulant referred to as “matteine,” although mate is in fact caffeinated (it has less caffeine than coffee, but more than most teas).
Mate is said to produce the energy of coffee, the calmness of tea, and the euphoria of the natural chocolate, cacao. It is shade-grown, and its dark leaves contain even more antioxidants than green tea. Mate is also rich in vitamins and minerals, and is known for promoting good digestion and heart health.
Mate is traditionally prepared in a wide, rounded cup known as a gourd, and drunk through a metal straw known as a bombilla. It is traditionally enjoyed in a social setting of family or friends, who pass around the same gourd of steeped, and re-steeped, Mate.
The tea is prepared by filling the gourd about half to three-quarters full with mate tea; the gourd is then turned upside-down, and with a hand covering the top, shaken vigorously for about five seconds. The purpose of the shaking is to move the smallest tea leaf fragments to the top of the gourd, to avoid drinking pieces of leaf (for drinking, the bombilla has a small filter that allows liquid to enter but not the leaves, although tiny leaf fragments might get through if not shaken from the bottom).
After shaking, the gourd is turned upright and hot water is added to the infusion -- water should be 160-180 degrees, hot but below simmering temperature. Now the mate is ready to drink; typically, one person drinks a full cup of mate, then water is added to the infusion again, and the tea is passed to the next person. Often mate drinkers will store hot water in a thermos to continue adding to their mate blend.