Pull up a chair and grab a cuppa, it’s time for another teatime during National Pride Month’s Rainbow of Tea! Since last week we got to enjoy the amazing violet and blue two-in-one of the Butterfly Pea Flower tea (I think I’m going to try mixing it with either my Green Pomegranate or a Strawberry Sencha for a tasty iced brew this weekend!), I’m working through the good ol’ Roy G. Biv backwards, so this week we’ll be exploring a green tea… err… a green colored tea, not a green tea, anyway!
I have always been curious about yerba mate — one of the folks on a Twitch stream I frequent loves a chocolate one and got me intrigued. Whenever tea talk comes up, it immediately piques my interest! I knew little more than it was a very “stimulating” tea.
Yerba mate is made from the leaves of a South American rainforest holly tree, and is a popular drink across the continent. A volunteer in my department spent some time in Argentina, and she said that people there were drinking mate all day! She said that it was typical for them to only have one big meal at the end of the day, but to be drinking mate throughout the entire day. One of mate’s many health benefits is slowing gastric emptying and therefore causing one to stay feeling satieted, so I’m not surprised! Everywhere she went, people had mate in traditional drinking gourds filled with yerba mate leaf, which were filled with hot (not boiling water) and then sipped through special metal filtered straws called bombilla. To drink mate sans leaf was considered “fancy” and not really done!
Mate is such an integral part of their culture that it is a symbol of hospitality to form a circle and all drink from the same mate gourd. As the gourd is passed around and everyone takes a sip, everyone feels a sense of connection. I found this particular tea ceremony fascinating; like the Japanese, it is a way of welcoming someone, and there is certainly a structure to it, but it doesn’t feel so formal as the Japanese tea ceremony. I’ve always found the ways in which tea bring people together from culture to culture intriguing!
Yerba mate contains caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine, the well-known stimulants that are found in tea, coffee, and chocolate, so if you like your morning cup of coffee, this just might be the tea for you! The amount of caffeine in a particular mate blend can vary anywhere from being around green tea to just lower than a cup of coffee; I like to think of a good average as a typical dark cup of black tea. It isn’t acidic and very low in tannins, which also make it a good choice for coffee fans.
Tea drinkers that have a caffeine sensitivity will want to stay away, but since I determined caffeine is not a migraine trigger for myself, I was interested to try a mate out. When I was at Tea Chai Te on my trip to Portland last March, I decided to pick up the tastiest sounding of their mate blends, Vanilla Macadamia Nut Mate Tea.
They sell their tea by the ounce, and since I love sampling, I bought one ounce, so while it looks like a big bag, there isn’t much tea in there. If you just want a single ounce to sample this tea, it’s a whopping $2.99! They charge by the ounce, so if you wanted to buy a larger quantity, it is still very affordable! 2-4 ounces of tea tends to last me quite a long time!
Look at that tea! It’s really fine, and hard to believe it’s dried leaf! Just opening the bag, it smells wonderful! You really do get a nutty sort of aroma from the leaf! The organic mate leaf is blended with vanilla and macadamia nut oils.
Now, if I had the proper equipment, and could prepare this tea South American-style, this is how you would drink it…
Now that, my friends, is a very green tea! It seems strange, doesn’t it, to just leave the leaf in like that? My brain is screaming, “Aaaugh! It’ll oversteep!” but apparently because it is so low on tannins, it doesn’t really have that problem. They just add more hot water, and the straw acts as a filter for the tea leaf! I’m incredibly curious to get to try it some day. I’m such a “floaters in my tea” snob I’m not exactly sure I trust these bombilla straws, but at the same time, that just makes me more curious!
Now the volunteer in my department who lived in Argentina for a time loathed this stuff! She said no matter what she tried — sweeteners, mixing it with milks, juices (apparently that is a thing there too!) — it always tasted “like hay.” Hmm. I’m pretty sure my sweet-smelling vanilla macadamia nut mate can’t possibly taste like hay! (And I have a tea made out of alfalfa… now that tea tastes like hay, ptooey!)
Not having a gourd and bombilla, I have to prepare this the “fancy way.” I used water heated at 175 degrees F (the same setting I use for green tea, so it is hot but not boiling) and let two teaspoons (I used a bit extra leaf since it is really dense and doesn’t expand much) steep for five minutes (though going a little longer shouldn’t matter much… oversteeping with mate isn’t really a problem!)
I’ve had some variance with the steeping color results. Like green tea, sometimes you get a cup that looks very green, and sometimes you get a cup that looks quite golden. I think this cup knew I was doing a color-themed review and just to spite me decided it was going to be a “golden” steep day. Granted, usually I find that this particular leaf brings out more “greenish” hues than I tend to get from green teas!
In fact, one day at work my cup steeped nearly a slime green color! Alas, I did not have my camera that day (I am the last human alive without a cell phone, folks) so I don’t have the photo evidence. (You’ll just have to take my word for it!) I was a little worried to drink it, to be honest with you! But… it tasted great! I have no idea if it just varies from steep to steep, or perhaps the flourescent lighting in the Technical Services area of the library brings out the “green tones” from the steeped leaves! The water at the library that comes out of the drinking fountain is also filtered, and I don’t have a filter here at home, which may or may not play a factor. (Hmm…)
That day, it actually looked more like this…
Than this, which is the finished cuppa I got on this particular steeping. Alas. Disappointing, I know, but just remember…
…The proper way to drink this tea is with the green leaf still in the cup! (One day I’ll get my chance…) So you know what? I’m still saying it counts. (And I totally didn’t have anything else prepared. Wasn’t expecting the tea I normally steep at work to have such a different color when I steeped it at home! Who knew?)
So how was it? Did it taste like hay? Not at all! Actually, the drink really does remind me of coffee! I drink the tea with sweetener, but it still has this kind of coffee-esque bite to it that, as someone who drank coffee for years and still enjoys it, found very pleasant. And the nutty flavor is superb! It really comes out, and does taste like the sort of flavoring I’d expect in a coffee drink. I actually found it a little hard to believe, as I sipped my cup, that this was brewed from nothing but leaves and a few flavored oils. And it certainly doesn’t have that acidic nature you’d get from a cup of coffee, it’s a much cleaner and refreshing feeling. I definitely think mate — at least my experiences with a good flavored blend — are putting this drink at the top of my list even above black teas when I’m having one of those sleep-deprived mornings, want to go on a caffeine-fueled writing frenzy, or likewise have another “caffeine-emergency.”
I’m not putting it past my volunteer that plain mate might taste “hay-like”… but I am still curious to try it sometime! But I did make her a cup of this to see how it would go over. Even she was curious what a “flavored” mate could be like. Her impressions? She loved the smell, and said the taste was definitely a step up from what she drank in Argentina. She didn’t seem overly pleased with it, but she also said that because she’s pregnant, her taste buds have been a bit crazy, and she’d be willing to try it some other time.
And if you remember the Tea Party that myself and some library coworkers held, I had one coworker adventurous enough to try drinking a cuppa. He is normally a coffee drinker, and simply said, “I want to try the strongest thing you have.” I thought yerba mate would be a good fit for him, and made him a cup. He ended up loving it, and even resteeped his leaves! (It resteeps great, by the way). Later that day he had a faint rash though, and we aren’t certain if he may have had an allergy to the leaves. It cleared up the next day, and he was willing to try it again “to find out for certain.” So he must have really liked it! So I think that proves well enough that if you are a tea drinker that also enjoys coffee, give this tea a try! You might be pleasantly surprised!
And next week is the very versatile yellow. A variety of herbals, green teas, oolongs, and even misbehaving yerba mates steep this color! (I swear it steeped green at work! Bah! *drinks cup angrily and will forever regret not bringing her clunky old digital camera from the 2000s everywhere*) The tea next week could be just about anything! (But seriously, it won’t be yerba mate again. It’s tasty, but it’s made me angry now!)