It’s 105 degrees (90 in the shade), and you’ve got no escape. You feel good, though. Why? Because you’re surrounded by a few good friends, good conversation, and ice-cold, minty goodness being passed around.This delicious beverage of summer is called “tereré” by the locals here in Paraguay. Tereré is what they call yerba mate when “taken” with cold water.
However, I realize many of you are in a place that is quite the opposite of summer, so let me paint a different picture.
It’s 40 degrees (42 inside), and you’ve got no escape. You feel good, though. Why? Because you’re surrounded by a few good friends, good conversation, and hot, steamy minty goodness being passed around. You take a bit of extra time with your turn, holding the guampa a little longer to warm your hands as you sip the tea through the bombilla before passing it back to the server.
*This* delicious beverage of winter is called “mate” (mah-tay) by the locals here in Paraguay. There’s nothing quite like a hot guampa of mate on a cold day to warm you up inside.
I first discovered it in 2005 when I took a mission trip to Brazil. My Brazilian friend was explaining to me in Portuguese (I spoke Spanish) that it’s an “herb” or “grass” that you drink that makes you silly. At least that’s the way I understood it. What he was trying to get across was that it has caffeine.
It looks like pot, but it’s good for you!
There’s a reason Tim Ferriss says it’s the best beverage in the world (although its reach is far, far beyond Buenos Aires). He even credits it for being able to finish his book.
Yerba mate has a lot of health benefits. It’s no wonder that all the health food stores are starting to carry it. According to the resources I’ve found, there have been studies to show that drinking yerba mate helps with:
- limiting fat gain or aiding weight loss
- immune system stimulation
- lowering your cholesterol
- fighting cancer
One thing that has impressed me about the various Paraguayans I’ve met, specifically the ones from the country, is that the old people are so fit and healthy for their age. Part of it is probably that they’re more active than us sedentary North Americans (you have to walk everywhere). But they will tell you part of the secret is the yerba mate they drink two to three times a day.
But what’s that weird thing you have a picture of?
I promise it’s not some kind of drug paraphernalia! It looks incriminating, I understand, but only to folks in the US! Down here it’s more common – literally – than coffee is in the US.
Yerba mate is traditionally drunk in a dried gourd or a wooden cup called a guampa. The lose tea leaves are placed into the guampa, and you drink it through a filtered straw called a bombilla (bom-bee-ya).
It’s an extremely social practice. Yerba mate is “taken” among friends and conversation. Each one drinks the water in the gourd and passes it back to the server for the next guy. It’s actually occasionally depressing for me when I drink it myself at home in the US, since none of my American friends like it.
Where can I find it?
I realize not everyone can take a trip to South America to stock up on this versatile, super-healthy beverage, but the good news is you *can* find it in the US. You can get it at some of the higher end grocery stores, like Whole Foods, but you’ll pay a premium. I found a site called ma-tea.com that sells the brands I recognize, and I’ll also give Aviva a try because their blends sound amazing. You might even find some in a local tea shop.
Your best bet *by far*, however, is going to be finding a Latin market in your town. I would look there first, and if you can’t find any I’d try ma-tea.com. Whole Foods and the like are your last resort.
One word of caution
Just because yerba mate is awesome and healthy doesn’t mean you should overdo it. Don’t make all your liquid intake in a day be from this tea. Just like you wouldn’t overdo it on coffee or diet soda if you were trying to be reasonable. Remember MED. More is not always better. It’ll affect your sleep for sure.
A specific word to women: if you’re pregnant or nursing, it’s probably better to stay away for now. I asked my Paraguayan wife about it, and she said it’s not good for babies.
I’m really excited to be able to share this drink I love with you all, and I hope you get as fond of it as I do. Maybe one day if we do a meet up we can sit around with my setup and drink some together!
Have you had any yerba mate yet? How did you like it? How did you drink it? Where do you buy your yerba? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!