Coffee or Yerba Mate? The benefits of drinking Yerba Mate to keep us awake

How many coffees do you drink during the day?

We normally drink lots of coffees to keep ourselves awake and focused in what we are doing. But, can we replace coffee with something healthier, or perhaps, stronger? Yes, we can! And South Americans have been drinking this miraculous hot beverage for centuries.

Sub-tropical regions of South America: south of Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia and north of Argentina (Image credit: The Journey 1972 via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0])
Yerba mate – also known as the “South American´s green tea” – is an infusion made of the leaves of a plant that thrives in the sub-tropical regions of South America.

Indigenous Guaraní people have recognized the invigorating properties of this herbal infusion for hundreds of years, and today, Yerba Mate – or simply Mate – is consumed worldwide.

The energizing effect of coffee comes from caffeine. In humans, caffeine stimulates the brain reducing drowsiness, making us more alert.

Health studies indicate that caffeine can reduce diabetes and cancer. But also, drinking too much caffeine with our coffees can have negative effects such as increased anxiety, jitters and irritation of the stomach.

One cup of coffee has on average 85 mg of caffeine, the same amount of caffeine present in most energy drinks. A cup of Mate has 78 mg of caffeine – very similar to coffee and energy drinks – but prepared in the traditional method, by topping-up with hot water the Mate pot that contains the herbs, a person can easily consume half a litre, which means 260 mg of caffeine.

Drinking half a litre of Mate is very, very easy. Mate tastes a bit bitter, but it’s similar to any other herbal tea, and it will never feel as heavy and tiring as drinking the same amount of coffee.

Forgetting about how tiring (and expensive!) it could be to drink half a litre of coffee every day to get the same amount of caffeine we get with Mate…

Mate is perfect for studying!
Image credit: Jayeb333 via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Why is it that Yerba Mate is healthier than coffee? 

First of all, Mate not only contains caffeine, but it also contains theobromine. Theobromine is the predominant substance found in cocoa, so yes, it’s also present in chocolate, and especially dark chocolate! Theobromine has stimulant properties, but also lowers blood pressure, decreasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Caffeine, on the other hand, increases blood pressure, but the ratio of caffeine and theobromine present in Mate overrides this negative effect.

Anxiety and jitters are not observed with Mate as they are with coffee, and this is attributed to the combination of caffeine and theobromine present in the South American infusion.

Yerba mate is also rich in minerals, vitamins, and its antioxidant properties are stronger than green tea!

The Mate gourd is a pot made of wood or pumpkin used to drink Yerba Mate the traditional way (Image credit: Mike Boruta via Flickr [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0])
So, if you’re still not convinced of the all benefits of Yerba mate, here is one more that will totally seduce you. Recent studies have demonstrated that Mate facilitates weight loss due to its capacity to increase satiety, and to chemically reduce body fat by increasing lipolysis (the breakdown of fat in our bodies).

Let’s not forget too that a normal latte has as much fat as a doughnut, so let’s stay awake by drinking this ancient infusion more often!

Mate can become part of our lives. Argentinean people never leave the house without their Mate, gourd and thermo – the Mate pack (Image credit: Mike Boruta via Flickr [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0])

24 Responses to “Coffee or Yerba Mate? The benefits of drinking Yerba Mate to keep us awake”

  1. samsing says:

    Hi mlakidang! A kg of mate here in Australia is about 14 dollars, but that will last for 1 month having a pot of mate a day (toping it up with warm water). Coffee beans are about the same, but you can’t ‘top up’, you need to change the coffee each time you have a new cup. Back in South America though, mate is REALLY cheap, and it’s definitely cheaper than having coffee 😉 It’s very popular for the same reason.

  2. mlakidang says:

    Interesting! I hope I could try one day. How is the cost benefit compare to coffee or tea?

  3. samsing says:

    Hi Tonih, I agree. If it becomes as popular as quinoa it might become a problem for local producers. It is still not as available here as it is in other parts of the world.

  4. tonih says:

    Cool info, how accessible is Yerba Mate though? Perhaps if it gets trendy enough it’ll become as available as kale and quinoa in our supermarkets. If supply went world wide, the knock-on effects to farmers and producers could be interesting.

  5. antonz says:

    Im pretty sure you wouldn’t get that much caffeine from mate. You’d use about 3 times the amount of mate by weight and you could refill it as many times as you wanted to, but even if you get all the caffeine out, mate only has about 1.2% by weight of caffeine while coffee has about 3% by weight so at best you’d get about 1.2 times as much caffeine (not 260mg vs 85mg). Mate is less caffeine dense than coffee, and in Australia mate is about $13/kg (92 mg caffeine/dollar)while coffee is about $30/kg (100 mg caffeine/dollar) for roasted beans (although this varies a lot). In the end, you get the about the same caffeine per dollar for both. I got carried away there. Is my thinking right? In any case, i’ve been drinking mate since i was a toddler, and i love it. Its great. Mate all round.

  6. shyslop says:

    This is interesting but there are other issues to consider when taking food products from developing countries, it can result in the locals no longer being able to consume the food themselves in order to meet the demands of the super-food obsessed first world. This happened in Bolivia when quinoa became hugely popular and is now too expensive for the native Bolivians to eat even though it has been a staple food there for centuries. Yerba mate doesn’t appear to be a staple food like quinoa so it probably wouldn’t have the same effect but it’s still worth considering.

  7. Nicole Elliott says:

    Wow! As an avid coffee drinker who just doesn’t feel “switched on” until my morning coffee, Mate just might be something I need to try. I also found it very interesting that Theobromine is a muscle relaxant and reduces blood pressure, as where I am a coffee addict my partner is much more of a tea drinker who naturally bounces of the walls! I guess sometimes your body just knows what you need!

  8. samsing says:

    Yes it is!! I’ve had Tereré in Uruguay which is the cold version of Maté as well! I love it 😉

  9. samsing says:

    I personally feel that Mate gives me a higher energy kick than coffee. I normally avoid drinking it after 5pm, otherwise I have a bit of trouble sleeping. I don’t have that problem with coffee. Is great for studying though!!

  10. samsing says:

    Hi Jbeasley,

    Thanks for your comment. I do know those studies, and it is also mentioned in the study I posted. However, there are a few things that we need to have in mind before attributing carcinogenic properties to a substance. Quoting the father of toxicology – Paracelsus – “Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.” Even water may be toxic at high doses!

    The correlation between Mate and cancer is related to: 1) the hot temperature that some people mistakenly drink the beverage. Mate is not meant to be drank with boiling water, actually water has to be at around 78°C, otherwise you burn the herbs, and 2) the correlation with cancer has been associated to “those drinking more than 1 liter/day of maté at a very hot temperature had a 3-fold increase in risk (OR, 2.95; 95% CI, 1.30-6.74) compared with those drinking less than 0.5 liter/day of maté at a warm to hot temperature”.

    Moreover, Mate has shown a protective effect against Cancer according to in vitro and animal experiments.

  11. jcoletto says:

    Mate is also very popular at the south of Brazil, but not so much at the north as it’s too hot to drink this hot beverage. There are some variations where you mix it with sugar, lemon juice and ice cold water, whenever you have the chance you should try!

  12. jbeasley says:

    Hi all,

    A quick search, and indeed within the introduction of the article linked by the author, has revealed that there is another side to the story of Mate consumption. Excessive intake has shown to be positively correlated with an incidence of cancer of the upper digestive tract. See here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12808663 and here:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12814995
    Furthermore, consultation with your medical practitioner should be recommended before consumption, this is especially the case for anyone regularly taking medication.
    As scientists, and especially as communication students, we have a responsibility to investigate the entire body of research and present this objectively to the broader public. Instead of misleading the audience, both sides of the story should always be presented when recommending products, especially ‘healthy alternatives’, so that an informed choice can be made.

  13. gcao says:

    hi samsing, you mention that the Mate tea has very similar caffeine content as coffee, but this can vary depending on the concentration and amount used. Since you own a pack of Mate tea, do you get the same energetic kick as coffee from an average serving size of Mate? Thanks.

  14. samsing says:

    Black tea and Mate have some similarities. They both have Theobromine, which is both stimulant and myorelaxnt (relaxes your muscles) . Theobromine, as I mentioned in the blog, also reduces blood pressure, and these properties make Mate and Black Tea better for those who are more prone to anxiety. However, Mate has more caffeine, hence is better to increase alertness, and it also has stronger antioxidant properties than green tea and black tea.

  15. samsing says:

    I think is a matter of getting use to the taste. Is like many other things that take a while to start liking. Olives, wine, some strong types of cheese, green tea, etc. In my personal experience, a close friend of mine studying for his final law degree exam said coffee wasn’t really doing anything for him. I suggested he could try mate. He tried it with me and he hated it at the start! “too bitter!”, he said. But after a few days he became a big fan, and now he is a lawyer working at a prestigious firm, and he always has his little gourd and thermo on his desk.

  16. samsing says:

    Hi P. mulcahy, That’s a very interesting way of seeing it. I hadn’t really thought about it that way. I don’t think it would change the flavour, but I think it would be hard to purify the theobromine molecule, and then incorporate that into coffee. Maybe, a tiny square of dark chocolate (i.e. rich in theobromine) together with our coffee could help.

  17. samsing says:

    Hi H.aamer, I totally agree with you. The flavour of a delicious creamy cappuccino is hard to replace. I normally have my morning flat white, and then I try to drink mate or tea. I can feel that too much coffee makes me a bit anxious. But you’re right, sometimes taste buds just NEED coffee 🙂

  18. vchhen says:

    I was wondering, how would Yerba Mate compare to black tea? Both have similar benefits yet different properties from each other? What would be your opinion? I simply ask because I tend to drink a lot of black tea…

  19. atrama says:

    This is interesting, as I’ve been trying to find an alternative to coffee for a while now.

    The problem is, I’m so used to the taste of coffee, and I can’t find an alternative that tastes like coffee. Does it takes quite different to coffee, or is a pretty similar?

  20. pmulcahy says:

    Couldn’t theobromine jus be added to coffee to make it healthier? Or would it change the taste?

  21. haamer says:

    Hey. I like all the health benefits this Yerba mate has to offer. But for me, personally, it’s all about the taste!
    It is said that Yerba has a bitter taste. Am usually a tea drinker but there are days when you want coffee! It’s the taste of that creamy , calorie enriched Cappucino that you can’t resist at certain times. I had to have a coffee when I was deciding which project will be my first preference from the Science Communication Projects list. It kinda helped. Tea couldn’t have helped then.
    So yeah I guess there are days when your taste buds want coffee, days when you can just do with tea and days when you are thinking healthy, you can do Yerba!

  22. Ashton Dickerson says:

    Thank you Francisca! I’ll definitely go pick some up.

  23. samsing says:

    Hi Ashton! I was hoping/expecting someone was going to ask that. There is a very nice Latin/Spanish store in Johnston Street, Fitzroy (http://casaibericadeli.com.au/) that sells Yerba Mate, and there is a store in Smith Street that sells the whole “Mate pack” (ie. gourd and Mate; http://happyherbcompany.com/fitzroy). Good luck! I have all my pack at uni 🙂

  24. Ashton Dickerson says:

    Interesting! I can never decide between coffee or tea so maybe this could be the perfect alternative for me. I wonder if this is available at an every day supermarket or if I would have to go to a specialist store to find some? If anyone knows post a comment to let us know!