Know your matcha from your maté: the hot new trend in hot drinks

By now, most frequenters in foodie circles know about matcha, the creamy green tea mixture from Japan that offers meditative moments as it’s whisked into a hot froth by a rounded bamboo brush. It’s trendy, healthy and can be found on most coffee shop menus catering for the modern minimalist, herbalist and hedonist. But have you heard of mate? 

What is it?

Maté is best described as an elixir, and it’s one that I’m betting all my bucks will be the next beverage to trend on our shores. (It’s also spelled maté, to indicate its proper pronunciation of ‘mah-teh’, but be careful – in Spanish that translates to ‘I killed’.)

Made from the Yerba mate tree, the brew is shared from a hollowed-out calabash gourd and drank through a metal straw. The straw, known as a bombilla, also acts as a sieve, keeping the bits behind while you sip on the hot drink.

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Where does it come from?

Mate is a South American drink, also known as chimarrão. The drink originates in South America with the Guarani and Tupi people. The Yerba mate tree is native to the jungles beside the Parana River, but now grows throughout the rainforests of Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay, where it’s also their national drink.

How to make it

Prepare it as you would a tea. Once the leaves are dried and chopped, the mixture – known as yerba – is then infused in hot water. There are some variations: without any sweetener, it can be called mate armago, or ‘bitter mate’; while mate doce/dulce is what it’s called when honey or sugar is added.

Once you really get into it, you’ll find that there’s a rather detailed shimming and layering that can be done to produce the most desirable brew. If you like dabbling outside of authenticity, though, you can add the fine powder to smoothies as well.

What are the benefits?

Mate is regarded as an energy-boosting brew with high antioxidant properties, supposedly richer in them than even green tea. It’s also rich in essential minerals and vitamins, especially the B vitamins, which really help with stressful times. The high caffeine content gives a great kickstart to the day! 

Where to try it

First prize is a trip to the grassy slopes of Patagonia. But shy of that, there are several health shops and tea houses that now stock Yerba mate powder for you to purchase and make at home. I have yet to discover a restaurant or café in SA that offers the authentic experience.

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