Coffee and Yerba Mate: Some Initial Thoughts

Yerba Mate or Coffee Break
Yerba Mate or Coffee Break
Yerba Mate or Coffee Break?


When I first got into drinking yerba mate I wasn’t much of a coffee drinker. Before mate, tea was my thing, and it was a keen interest in the traditional tea ceremonies of the East which led me to become fascinated with the rituals of mate drinking.

Tea is by nature slow: the careful measuring of the leaves, the warming of the cups and pot, the boiling of the water, all take time and require patience. The role of the cebador (server) in the mate circle draws many parallels to the tea ceremony host. The pouring of the yerba into the mate; the heating of the water to just the right temperature; the careful construction of the yerba mountain; and the placing of the bombilla, all require a high level of concentration. Simply taking part in a mate circle also encourages us to suspend our busy lives, if only momentarily, to be there in that moment, with or without the company of others.

The fact that most coffee based beverages originate with something called an espresso – literally “express” – is not a coincidence; coffee is not slow. As such it suits modern life perfectly; we can drink it on the move and there is now a multitude of places to purchase it almost everywhere we go. It provides us with an instant boost of energy, a quick pick-me-up, one that is more pronounced than the traditional English cuppa.

I started drinking more coffee after the birth of my first child. A year or so later I discovered yerba mate, and this certainly helped me to limit my coffee consumption . At times, however, I’ve found myself getting bogged down in coffee, and often find it difficult to resist starting each day with a cup, usually followed by another later in the morning. In recent weeks I have made a new effort to once again cut down my consumption, and with mate as my ally, I am confident it is a dependency I can overcome.

Coffee vs Mate:

Coffee’s principle stimulant is caffeine, something which for some make it quite an addictive drink. Caffeinated drinks are known to cause peaks and troughs in energy levels, meaning that a drinker may feel compelled to drink more and more coffee in order to maintain a high level of energy. Yerba mate also contains caffeine, yet on this point hardly ever gets discussed in the same light as coffee. Enter “yerba mate and coffee” into Google, and a whole host of results will appear suggesting that mate in fact makes a great replacement for coffee, providing a more sustainable kind of energy. Some mate companies have even made this an explicit part of their marketing. Guayaki for instance have included a “coffee alternative” testimonial page on their website.

Speaking in a personal capacity, and without getting too bogged down in the science, I find mate to be much more suitable for drinking regularly throughout the day. In terms of overcoming a morning coffee addiction, those substituting coffee for mate may at first find that it does not provide that same immediate hit of caffeine. By contrast I find mate to have a more delayed effect. I will not feel groggy and tired hours later, and this is when drinking it earlier in the day really pays off.  It might also explain why many believe mate to be an ideal drink to consume before exercise, as the delayed energy can really help the body to recover after a workout.

Of course, how much of an initial hit mate gives you may depend on how you choose to make it, and what sort of yerba you select. In a follow up article next month I will discuss a number of different home brewing methods with which I am currently experimenting, as well as the best brands of yerba to pair with them.


glass cuia yerba mate
Bold and smokey in the morning

My current favourite brewing method – even first thing in the morning – is still the traditional one, using a gourd and a bombilla. For me this delivers the most satisfying strength and flavour from the yerba, a must when my children have woken me up at 5.30am!

Right now I am particularly favouring my glass cuia. For starters if I choose not to clean it out before I go to work I don’t need to worry about it during the day. If I do decide to only wash the yerba with a couple of cycles, I simply pack the cuia and thermos into my matera and continue my session at work.

Personally I prefer a bold and smokey yerba in the morning, such as Rosamonte Especialor Pipore Despalada. In the afternoon I tend to plump for something smoother and lighter, such as Barao, or Guayaki San Mateo.

Barao Yerba mate
Something lighter in the afternoon. Barao Premium.

For future articles on ways to brew yerba mate at home, make sure to follow the UruShop blog over the coming weeks. 




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