Very popular as a conversational drink in Latin countries for centuries, yerba mate, or mate (ma-tay), is a tea made from the young leaves and tender shoots of Ilex paraguensis, an evergreen tree in the Holly family.
Traditionally consumed from curiously shaped hollowed out gourds with a special metal straw, a bombilla, the brew and is very popular with all ages in Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina and other Spanish speaking countries and is a reason for getting together with friends. Traditionally the group of people partaking in the mate while seated in a circle, would pass the gourd, also called a mate, around returning it to the brewer, the one who brought the mate, for it to be refilled with hot water when the mate runs dry.
It is also consumed at breakfast, throughout the day and for afternoon tea, often accompanied by sweet pastries. It is also prepared as a cold drink combined with fruit juice and also as a soda.
As for the stimulating effects of yerba mate, yerba being ‘herb’, and why it doesn’t have the potentially jittery effects of typical more caffeinated teas and coffees, is because of the xanthines (zan-theens) in yerba mate. Caffeine, a xanthine itself, is present in the mate but it is also accompanied by two other xanthines of which this combination actually delivers a soothing effect on soft muscle tissues and a slight stimulating to myocardial (heart) tissue. So, there you have it, the perk without the jerk.
The cultivation of yerba mate is an important industry especially in Brazil and Paraguay, and the brew itself initially of ancient Native American origin, is and has quickly gained in popularity in the United States and other parts of the world.