By Chris Strait
It’s common practice today to associate all plant-based infusions with the word “tea,” leaving clarification to come from context. It is especially important, however, to delineate between the varieties of tea when speaking of kombucha brewing.
Historically, the most common (and original) practice has been to use the evergreen Camellia sinensis (which is comprised of 3 main varieties I won’t explore now) in kombucha production. It’s responsible for the classics - teas like English breakfast, Earl Grey, Darjeeling, and Gunpowder green come immediately to mind. That is not to say, however, that the incredibly adaptable SCOBY is unable to grow from feeding upon certain herbal teas, some with homeopathic resonance, some with cultural lineage, some with both.
Today I’d like to briefly explore yerba mate. A Holly-related tree grown predominantly in South American nations (Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil...), it was under cultivation prior to European contact and has maintained status as a daily staple for millions. In recent years, the popularity of mate has been spreading north, and it’s easy to understand why.
The leaves of the yerba mate tree possess numerous benefits in health and practicality. It is, I’ll posit, a “comprehensive” stimulant; while providing modest amounts of caffeine, it also contains the stimulant alkaloids theobromine and theophylline, most commonly associated with cacao and coffee, respectively. What’s the result? Consistent stimulation without the jitters. This herb is downright powerful, without the almost requisite crash that comes from a coffee binge. It’s is a tea you can drink all day long - to no ill physical effect - while promoting clarity and balanced energy.
Yerba mate’s health benefits are even more astounding. It’s useful to compare mate with green tea, its healthful counterpart among infused beverages. Mate is a great source for antioxidants like polyphenols, which are indicated to have immune-boosting and cell-strengthening properties. Paramount are the incredible number of minerals provided by the plant - potassium, calcium, manganese, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, zinc - check out your daily multivitamin, do any of these ring a bell? Let’s not forget the ever-touted importance of naturally occurring sources of vitamins - mate contains A, B1, B2, B3, B5, C, and E, to name a few. In addition, yerba mate is a fantastic source of amino acids, flavanols, chlorophyll and fatty acids.
That’s enough to have me interested. But there’s even more to consider. While it’s not hard to find yerba mate in tea bags, doling out 3-5 grams per cup, traditional measurement and consumption is something much less quantifiable. Enter the gourd, a hollowed-out calabash, that is methodically filled and shared communally. The gourd, or guampa, or mate, is filled 2/3 full, which amounts easily to 20+ grams of material (in my fire gourd). After tempering the herb with cool water, the gourd is continually refilled with hot (not boiling) water, and consumed until the tea is too weak to continue. This method allows for much more of the nutrients to be passed on into the infusion, and allows you to control your nutrient/stimulant intake. Ahh, the freedom of loose-leaf. Combine loose-leaf mate with your stuffy old French press and you’ve got an incredibly simple, quick source of vitality and stimulation.
That’s a basic introduction to the world of the yerba mate. One more thing. You can steep it with room-temperature water. In under 10 minutes. What are you waiting for?