Sunday, October 26, 2008
Yerba Mate: for that all-day happy feeling!
I want to plug a very good drug, my favorite for writing marathons. As it happens it’s also perfectly legal, though by the difficulty of finding it in parts of the U.S. you’d think it was on a USDA blacklist. I’m talking about the national drink of Argentina, that blessed, innocuous, life-giving member of the holly family, yerba mate (pronounced YAYR-buh MAH-tay).
Right, you say, the Starbucks stuff.
Uh, no. The Starbucks yerba experience can be more cheaply had by taking a cigarette butt from the pavement and asking for a cup of hot water to soak it in. A good mate is something else altogether.
I realize that for many, this just ain’t news. Yerba’s gone mainstream, in the sixteen years since I had my first trago (in the headquarters of the Argentinian National Parks Administration). But there’s so much disinformation out there that I just want to set a few things straight.
1. You don’t get it in tea bags. The good stuff comes loose, by the kilo, at your neighborhood Latin grocery store, or your buddy from Buenos Aires down the street, or an online store like ma-tea.com. Good brands include Rosamonte, Taraguí and Cruz de Malta.
2. You don’t boil it. The moment boiling water touches mate leaf, you’ve got the cigarette-drink all over again. You bring the water about 80% of the way to a boil (known to science as the bubbles-in-the-bottom-of-the-pot stage), pour it into a thermos (or somehow hold it at just that temperature), and pour an ounce or two at a time into the cup with your mate leaf. Of course this necessitates having a bombilla, or metal filter-straw, to drink through. Get that where you got the yerba. And usually it also involves spitting out the first, dusty mouthful.
3. You don’t have to drink it out of a gourd with a little sunset-on-the-pampas scene painted on the side. I shared many a round with Argentinos who preferred a simple, hard-to-tip over ceramic cup.
4. Yes, it has caffeine, but it won’t pull the same nasty tricks on your body and brain that coffee does. Yerba isn’t acidic like coffee; it doesn’t spike and then vanish from your system, leaving you feeling like roadkill with half the day still in front of you. It won’t give you the crazy shakes. What it can do is make you feel ready to spend the day marching through a subtropical forest (as I did after my second mate, in Parque Nacional Iguazú, Argentina) without getting tired or even particularly hungry. I assume this explains the arrival of the Yerba Mate diet.
That said—please use common sense. It’s a stimulant--and it lasts a LONG time. It will leave you blinking, bouncing, baby-fresh, brightly awake at three a.m. if you’re not careful.
But if you’re going to trade sleep for productivity, why not do it with style?