An herbal elixir


Mate has vitamins and coffee's kick

March 05, 2003|By Sara Engram | Sara Engram,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Water bottles have become ubiquitous among hydration-conscious Americans. But keeping your beverage of choice close at hand is an old custom in many parts of South America, where mate (pronounced MA-ti) reigns as the national drink and serves as far more than a thirst quencher.

Travel through Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and other areas where this herbal elixir is sipped, and you're likely to see locals carrying a pouch of tea, a thermos of water and a small, well-used gourd with a wooden or metal straw. Don't be surprised if someone offers you a palm-sized gourd filled with mate leaves and water; sharing this drink is a time-honored ritual of hospitality, friendship and good will.

Mate is making inroads in American beverage markets, and it's easy to see why. It has a full-bodied, earthy taste on its own, but can be nicely jazzed up with milk, sweeteners, chai spices and other flavors like citrus or mint. It can be combined with green tea, rooibos or other herbal teas with pleasing results.

Mate is easy to brew hot, or even cold as an instant drink. Drop loose or bagged tea into a mug and fill with hot water. Or brew mate in a coffeepot, a French press or even an espresso machine - add some frothed milk and a sweetener, and it makes a fine change-of-pace latte. If you're in the habit of carrying a water bottle everywhere you go, just add some to the water and let it infuse at room temperature.

However you prepare it, mate will reward you by gently stimulating your mind while helping to relax your body. Mate fans say it gives them the kick of coffee, without the jitters.

That may be enough to convince you, but the nutrition count on this beverage is pretty impressive - more active compounds than green tea (196, as compared to green tea's 144), a couple of dozen vitamins, including A, C, E and the B complex. It also contains several minerals, such as calcium, manganese, iron, selenium, potassium and magnesium, and 15 amino acids. No wonder it's a treasured drink. Mate is a good supplement to any diet.

Mate also contains caffeine, but this version of the stimulant seems to have a slightly different molecular structure and act on the body in a way different from other forms of caffeine. That has prompted some people to insist that the mate stimulant needs another name, so they call it mateine.

We'll let the scientists hash that one out. Suffice it to say that mate is a pleasant drink and really does seem to have a more soothing effect than most other caffeinated drinks. I sipped it well into the evening with no ill effects at bedtime.

You can find mate at many health-food stores and as an ingredient in some name-brand beverages. Celestial Seasonings has introduced three mate flavors, and its Morning Thunder tea has long included mate.

My introduction to the range of possible tastes came through a California-based company called Guayaki, which produces several flavors, including orange blossom, mint, chai and even Mate Chocolatte.

All are organically grown on a rain-forest reserve in Paraguay. The crop supports 34 indigenous families living there, as well as the reserve itself, which shelters more than 330 bird and mammal species. Guayaki Yerba Mate is available at several locations in the Baltimore area, including Green Earth and the Golden Temple, both on North Charles Street, OK Natural Foods on Preston Street and Health Concern in Towson.

You can also order tea and even gourds through the company's Web site at or by calling 888-GUAYAKI.

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