Back in 2012, I drank a lot of Yerba Mate, but then I forgot about it. I enjoyed the taste. I enjoyed how it made me feel. For some reason, I migrated back to my coffee habit.
Perhaps it’s because I lived in Seattle for so long. Coffee is life in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle is the birthplace of Starbucks after all.
The past few weeks have been different. I made the switch from drinking coffee to drinking Yerba Mate. This doesn’t mean I’ve sworn off coffee. I still plan to drink it on occasion.
However, I’m glad I rediscovered Yerba Mate. I hope you give it a try as well.
Why I Switched From Coffee To Yerba Mate
I’ve been working with my coach on business-building strategies. Two weeks ago our conversation drifted to a different topic, health. I’ve been feeling good, but not great. The difference between good and great is HUGE. It made me want to feel great again.
When I feel great, I do better work, am happier and am much more pleasant to be around. Why don’t I feel great?
After some discussion with my coach, I realized that were a few things that might be holding me back when it comes to health. These were hypotheses, and the only way to know if they were true would be to test them.
One of the hypotheses was that coffee was draining my energy. It was causing a cascade of small yet negative decisions when it comes to my health. I’ll save the other hypotheses for a different blog post.
Since the end of my epic travel adventure a few months ago, I’ve settled back into my habit of daily cups of coffee in the morning and an occasional afternoon cup as a pick-me-up. In the morning I’ll drink 2–3 8oz cups, and in the afternoon I’ll have 1 x 8oz cup. It is all typically home-brewed coffee (using Starbucks or Seattle’s Best beans).
If I visit a Starbucks retail shop, I’ll just get 1 x Grande size (16 oz) coffee in the morning and be good with that as their coffee is stronger than what I typically make.
While I love coffee, I have suspected a few problems with my coffee habit:
- Appetite suppression.
- Headaches when I don’t drink it.
- I feel nauseous when I drink it on an empty stomach.
For the sake of experimentation, I agreed with my coach to give up coffee for just a week and see what happens.
The results were amazing.
Enter Yerba Mate.
Why I Drink Yerba Mate
There are many ways to change a habit, but there are 6 specific strategies when employed in unison, that make it impossible not to create the change you are after. In fact, if change doesn’t happen, chances are good that deep down you don’t really want the change to happen in the first place. You can read all about this in my Definitive Guide To Building Good Habits blog post.
I utilized all of these 6 habit-changing strategies in my week of giving up coffee. However, the main things I did were to make the habit change as small a change as possible and enlist my coach as an accountability partner.
I make the habit change small by not quitting coffee cold turkey.
Instead, I decided to maintain the hot beverage in the morning routine with a substitute. I enjoy the caffeine buzz from coffee, so I wanted a substitute that still had a stimulant effect. Yerba Mate was a great fit.
I can’t say Yerba Mate tastes better than coffee, it just tastes different. The low tannin level in Yerba Mate means that unlike coffee and black teas, it is not at all bitter. I can make a pot of Mate in the morning and drink it all day long and it still tastes great. I can’t say the same about coffee or a cup of black tea.
The stimulant impact of Mate is not stronger than coffee (not by a long shot) but in my opinion, it is far superior to coffee over the long term over the course of an entire day. Drinking Mate in the morning is like slowly rising up into the air in a helicopter, cruising around and slowly coming back to earth. Coffee is like getting shot into space in a rocket and falling back to earth slowed only by a parachute!
Lastly, Yerba Mate didn’t seem to make my stomach upset or give me jitters like coffee does and didn’t feel “sick” when I drank too much. This could be because coffee is oily and is more likely to irritate and stick to the stomach lining than Yerba Mate, which is not oily at all.
Turns out I am not alone, according to testimonials on Yerba Mate use:
“Users report increased mental energy, clarity and focus, but they also say that yerba mate doesn’t cause any of the uncomfortable side effects associated with drinking caffeinated beverages, such as headaches, stomachaches and jitters.”
“As soon as I started drinking it, I noticed a major increase in my focus. I now drink it just about every time I study.” –
What is Yerba Mate?
Yerba Mate is a very common drink throughout South America, where you can see people milling around carrying hollowed-out gourds with long metal straws filled with what looks like “mulch” steeping in hot water.
Yerba Mate is from a tree, and the drink is made from pulverized leaves and stems. The Mate is dried, often using a wood smoking process – though sometimes just air-dried (which is the primary type you should drink, read on to learn why).
It has been consumed for ages by large numbers of people. Surprisingly, it only became popular about 10 years ago, partly due to the efforts of Guayaki – a company that was instrumental in popularizing Yerba Mate use in the United States.
6 Amazing Ways Yerba Mate Benefits Your Health
If the great taste of Yerba Mate isn’t enough to convince you to drink it, I bet that these amazing health benefits will.
1.) Rich in Antioxidants
Yerba Mate is more nutritious than green tea, which is often deemed an anti-oxidant powerhouse. I do enjoy green tea every now and then, but Mate has it beat in terms of the raw quantity of antioxidants it contains.
2.) Full of Vitamins
Yerba Mate is rich in Vitamins A, C, E, B1, B2, Niacin, B3, B5, other B complex vitamins and various minerals, fatty acids and healthy compounds.
3.) Enhances Focus
Yerba Mate has a unique blend of stimulants. This composition is not found in other teas or coffee.
It delivers a huge dose of theobromine, the stimulant found in chocolate, and caffeine and theophylline. All three of these stimulants are part of a category of stimulants called Xanthines, and each stimulates in unique ways.
The caffeine content varies depending on the preparation but is typically 50-70% of the amount of caffeine found in the same serving size of brewed coffee.
In my experience, Yerba Mate provides a mellow stimulating effect that is long-lasting with no jitteriness as often happens with coffee consumption. Drinking Yerba Mate in the late afternoon doesn’t interfere with my sleep patterns, unlike coffee.
4.) Improves Physical Endurance
Yerba Mate is observed to enhance physical endurance. This is a result of its ability to help the body metabolize fatty acids and carbohydrates more efficiently. I cannot personally attest to any improvement in my own physical endurance, though I can run well after downing an entire french press of the stuff. If I tried running after drinking a big cup of coffee I’d be jittery, dehydrated and in search of a toilet halfway through a run!
5.) Helps With Weight Control
Researchers at the University of Surrey in Guildford, England confirmed what many users experience, a reduction in appetite when using Yerba Mate.
Dr. Oz recently noted that Yerba Mate’s weight loss (“fat busting”) qualities made it one of the best herbs you could add to your diet for weight loss, the only herb that burns fat all over the body, and has the best appetite suppressant qualities.
I personally find mild appetite suppression when consuming Yerba Mate, but it is not anywhere near as potent an appetite suppressant as coffee. I think this is a good thing. When I drink too much coffee in the morning, I don’t eat enough for breakfast and end up over-eating later in the day.
In addition, as with tea and coffee, there is a thermogenic effect from consuming Yerba Mate, with an estimated increase in calorie burn of roughly 100 calories per day for regular Yerba Mate drinkers.
6.) Anti-Cancer Properties
Green tea is well-known to have many anti-cancer properties. Yerba Mate is shown to have even greater levels of cancer-fighting antioxidants and other healthy compounds. Ma-Tea.com summarizes the following benefits of Yerba Mate:
- Has large amounts of cancer-fighting antioxidants & polyphenols.
- It appears to inhibit and destroy both tumors and different types of cancer.
- Mitigates inflammatory diseases.
- Appears to have anti-cancer effects from more than just the polyphenols.
Yerba Mate And Cancer Risk Overblown
It came to light a few years ago that a study of Yerba Mate drinkers in Uruguay were found to experience a 60% increased rate of esophageal and lung cancer compared to non-Yerba Mate drinkers.
With this research coming to light, mainly through a cautionary LA Times article, many people started to question the supposed health benefits of this drink.
Fortunately, with just an hour of online research, I found how inconclusive this study really was. The LA Times article left out several important points, and as one would expect, bloggers quickly fanned the flame without bothering to stop and think about how the research was done and what it really tells us.
It turns out that the risks with Yerba Mate are not with the Yerba Mate itself but with how it is prepared and consumed. The culprit seems to be the “smoking” method that much of the world’s mate is prepared with. Through drying and smoking the Mate, cancer-causing properties are increased.
Further, drinking scalding hot Mate (or any super hot liquid for that matter) is shown to damage the lining of the throat and increase cancer risk. It turns out that people in the region of South America where the research study was done often enjoy Yerba Mate absurdly hot.
Even the author of the cited study warned that it was probably not Yerba Mate that was at fault but the methods of preparing and drinking it.
It is important to note that the study cited for all these negative articles did not control for smoking, alcohol or diet. It was also skewed heavily towards low-income groups and only included people who were already visiting a doctor for treatment for a disease.
Did the people in the study get cancer from Mate or smoking, alcohol or other dietary or health-related risk factors?
Does Yerba Mate cause cancer?
A comprehensive review of Yerba Mate published in the Journal of Food Science gives an answer to this question:
“In regard to carcinogenesis, the most recent information suggests that the association between Mate consumption and the occurrence of cancer may not be due to raw Mate itself but to contaminants that may be present in processed Mate. The high temperature at which Mate tea is consumed may also play a role.
Therefore, post-harvest technologies need to be improved—especially the drying process needs to be optimized to completely eliminate contaminants. Additionally, good quality control, including throughout analytical testing, becomes imperative to ensure its safety.”
I will continue to enjoy my Yerba Mate without worry. I believe it is a very healthy drink and a great alternative to coffee or tea. I believe the cancer risk to be overblown.
To be safe, I will seek to drink Mate that is air-dried and organic (not smoke-dried) to limit any potential carcinogenic effect due to the processing. Several companies process their Yerba Mate using an air drying method, including the San Mateo variety from Guayaki. I also drink it warm to moderately hot, but not super hot, to keep my throat lining healthy.
I recommend you do the same.
Where To Get Yerba Mate
I recommend using the Guayaki brand Yerba Mate. This company popularized the drink in North America, and you can find it on Amazon.com or at your local grocery store.
I’ve tried their products and they taste good. They are an ethical company. They do independent testing to ensure the health and safety of their products (important when importing raw goods from foreign countries).
As mentioned earlier, their San Mateo Yerba Mate uses an air-drying method (not smoke drying) to limit potential carcinogens (so-called “PAH levels”). If this is a concern for you, try out that variety. Guayaki Traditional Organic Yerba Mate has a blend of air-dried and smoke-dried products but is tested to ensure PAH Levels are in control and reduced as much as possible.
It’s also important to note that PAH is found in many other things you probably consume. Water, tea, coffee, bottled drinks, meats, etc. They are virtually everywhere. Getting to zero intake of them isn’t realistic, but limiting exposure does seem to make sense. Buy air-dried Yerba Mate when you can.
Guayaki also has an absurdly high ethical standing for how they run their company and support farmers and protect the land on which the Yerba Mate is harvested. Their CEO also believes strongly in running a transparent company, as discussed in this video on Fast Company.
How To Brew Yerba Mate
I highly recommend you grab some Guayaki Yerba Mate! I prefer the loose-leaf variety and brew it in a french press. Just let the Yerba Mate steep for 5 minutes or so, and pour. It’s that simple!
TIP #1: Unlike coffee, you can brew your Yerba Mate leaves several times. In fact, I find that the taste improves after 2–3 brews. I typically use one set of Yerba Mate grounds for 3 brews.
TIP #2: Yerba Mate tastes great cool or even ice-cold. After you drink your warm beverage in the morning, brew another pot or french press of it and throw it in the fridge. It tastes great even after sitting all day long.
PRO TIP #3: I’ve never tried this myself, but I ran across a blogger who says he uses Yerba Mate like espresso grounds and packs his espresso machine with it in the morning to make Yerba Mate Lattes. If you enjoy lattes, try this method out.