Maté is made by steeping dry leaves and twigs of yerba maté, a species of holly, in hot water. The traditional way to drink maté is out of a hollow gourd with a metal straw, which acts as a sieve, allowing the liquid but not the leaves through the straw. Sharing maté is a common social practice in South America, similar to Americans meeting for coffee.
Finding the gourd and straw was not an easy task. We went to multiple specialty grocery stores before finding it at Fiesta, where we also we found a much cheaper bag of yerba maté from Argentina. Unfortunately, we had already bought the overpriced Guayaki yerba mate from Whole Foods. We have learned our lesson: Not all "specialty" items have to be expensive. Fiesta, we'll be back.
If celebrities are drinking it and Whole Foods is carrying it, maté has to be fabulous, right? Not exactly. Grass. Yes, that's the first thought that comes to your mind when you sip maté. You might as well be sucking on a piece of grass. Put nicely, maté tastes like green tea on steroids - bitter and earthy. Some people put honey and sugar in it, and now we know why. In Washington, D.C., it's not unheard of to add bourbon to maté to make a yerba maté old fashioned.
Guayakí, which dominates the US maté market, sells yerba maté in many forms in addition to the traditional loose-leaf - there's java mate, yerba mate lattés, and even mate energy shots. For those who can't handle the stewed hay flavor, Guayakí even has ready-to-drink bottled maté with fruit juice.
It's not the taste but the health benefits that make this drink so popular. Yerba maté is said to reduce fatigue, promote weight loss, ease depression and help with alertness. It does contain caffeine, but it also contains a stimulant found in tea and a mood elevator found in chocolate.
Yerba maté will probably never replace our sacred morning coffee, but maybe it will become our afternoon pick-me-up.