Yerba Maté

Wikipedia: Yerba_mate | Teaviews: mate-tea 
Updated: Mar. 19, 2014 

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About Yerba Maté | Best (Top-Rated) Yerba Maté

About Yerba Maté

Dried green yerba mate leaf, in small piecesGreen yerba mate, ready for brewing. Photo by André Helbig, Soultea, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
Yerba maté (pronounced "mah-tay"), often just called mate and sometimes called Paraguay tea, is an herb that has stimulant properties.

Yerba maté is made from a species of holly, Ilex paraguariensis, and is one of several species of holly that naturally contain caffeine, others being
guayusa and yaupon. In addition to caffeine, yerba maté contains other chemicals that make its effects somewhat different from those of tea or coffee. Because yerba maté is prepared similarly to tea, the drink made from it is often referred to as mate tea or yerba mate tea.

There is a lot of variability in the form and processing of Yerba maté, including the portion of stem, leaf, and dust included, whether it is green or roasted, whether or not it has been smoked or unsmoked during drying, and the degree to which it has been aged.

Flavored yerba mate

On RateTea we list only pure mate in this category. Blends containing mate among flavorings or other ingredients are classified as flavored yerba maté, unless they also contain tea, in which case they are classified as miscellaneous blends. Common flavorings include spices, often leading to the creation of "mate chai" or "chai mate" blends, a reference to masala chai or spiced tea.

Cultivation and production

Yerba mate trees growing with bare soil showingYerba mate cultivation in Argentina; the exposed soil here shows an environmentally-unfriendly farming practice. Crop of photo by Ilosuna, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
Yerba mate is native to South America, but it is typically cultivated in large monoculture plantations in a very different environment from the rich, biodiverse ecosystems which the plant naturally occurs in. Many of these plantations, like that pictured on the right, have exposed soil which can contribute to soil loss. Using a cover crop can protect the soil.

Mate production contains many steps, some of which are necessary, but others of which are sometimes omitted and lead to different finished forms. Mate is gathered and then briefly blanched over a fire, to stop the natural oxidation that occurs in the leaf, making its production somewhat analagous to green tea, more similar to pan-fired or baked Chinese green teas, less so like Japanese steamed green teas.

After blanching, a second drying phase begins. This stage must be thorough, as the leaf is poisonous until fully dried. Some varieties of mate are dried over wood fires, often described as smoking, a process which imparts a smoky aroma to the finished leaf.

After drying, the leaves are milled, and then the mate is left to age. The ageing usually is carried out for a minimum of six months, and sometimes for as long as two years.

Some mate is roasted, giving it a darker color, a bit like coffee. Dark-roast mate tends to be milder in flavor than coffee, often sweeter than unroasted mate, but it also has an aroma that is slightly more reminiscent of coffee, and more suggestive of cocoa or chocolate.

Traditional preparation & consumption

Yerba mate gourd and straw
Yerba mate gourd
Photo by Olof Johansson
Traditionally, yerba maté is served in a dried and hollowed gourd, with the loose leaf kept in the hot water. Sometimes the gourd would be protected with leather or even metal. Vessels in the shape of a gourd are also made out of various materials, including wood or metal (even silver). The gourd is then passed around and shared among a group of people. The drink is sucked through a straw, which has a built-in strainer at the base. These straws are often ornate and made of silver.

Health effects

Yerba maté has not been as widely studied as tea, and there have been mixed results as to its health effects. It has been found to have significant antioxidant content which is likely preserved when it is consumed as tea.[1][2] It also contains vitamins and minerals, including vitamins C, B1, and B2, and phosphorus, iron, and calcium.[2]

However, there is a single case report of consumption of very large amounts of Yerba mate over a long period of time being pointed to as a likely cause of liver damage.[3]

The findings on yerba maté's effects on cancer are mixed, but can be explained when looking deeper at the various studies; two reviews have concluded that drinking hot maté is probably carcinogenic to humans, but that the effect was probably caused by the fact that it was a hot beverage and was scalding the mouth and throat, not by any substance in the maté causing cancer.[2][4] Although some epidemiological studies have found substantial increases in cancer risk associated with heavy (1 liter daily) yerba maté consumption, it is not clear whether this is due to the maté, to contaminants present in the maté, or is attributable to the maté increasing absorption of harmful chemicals in tobacco or other drugs; tobacco and alcohol use were high in the groups which showed increased cancer risk.[2] Contrasting with these studies, Yerba maté has also shown strong anti-cancer activity in a number of in vitro studies.[2]

Based on this research, it makes sense to be cautious about drinking mate from a straw, being careful to sip it slowly to avoid burning the mouth and throat, to obtain yerba mate from a source known to be free of contaminants, and to avoid heavy tobacco and alcohol use if you also consume large amounts of mate. There is no evidence that moderate mate use can cause any negative health effects other than by these three mechanisms, and other research points to potential health benefits and nutritional value for this drink, possibly involving anti-cancer potential.


1. Rosana Filip et. al, Antioxidant activity of Ilex paraguariensis and related species, Nutrition Research, Vol. 20, No. 10, pp. 1437-1446, Oct. 2000.

2.. C.I. Heck, E.G. De Mejia, Yerba Mate Tea (Ilex paraguariensis): A Comprehensive Review on Chemistry, Health Implications, and Technological Considerations, Journal of Food Science, Vol. 72, No. 9, Nov/Dec 2007.

3. J McGee et al.A case of veno-occlusive disease of the liver in Britain associated with herbal tea consumption., Journal of Clinical Pathology Vol. 29, pp. 788-794, 1976.

4. International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) - Summaries & Evaluations, Vol. 51, p. 273, 1991.

Best Yerba Maté

The notion of the "best" Yerba Maté is subjective, because different people have different tastes. We present the most often-rated and highest-rated teas in this category, and allow you to draw your own conclusions.

Most Often-Rated Teas

Picture of San Mateo Air Dried Loose Yerba Mate

San Mateo Air Dried Loose Yerba Mate

2 Ratings
Picture of Loose Dark Roast Organic Yerba Mate

Loose Dark Roast Organic Yerba Mate

Brand:Mate Factor
2 Ratings
Picture of BH20: Green Yerba Maté

BH20: Green Yerba Maté

Brand:Upton Tea Imports
1 Rating
Picture of BH22: Roasted Yerba Maté

BH22: Roasted Yerba Maté

Brand:Upton Tea Imports
1 Rating
Picture of Traditional Yerba Mate Tea Bags

Traditional Yerba Mate Tea Bags

1 Rating

Top-Rated Teas

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