There’s a Reason why they put it in a Gourd…

And we’ll get to that in a minute!

One of the “national” drinks of Argentina, and apparently the favorite beverage of Pope Francis is something called “Yerba Mate”. I’d never heard of it before seeing pictures of the Holy Father holding a funny little ball-shaped gourd with a straw in it.

According to the maker of Guayaki Yerba Mate:

Yerba Mate has the “strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the euphoria of chocolate” all in one beverage.

Yerba mate (yer-bah mah-tay) is made from the naturally caffeinated and nourishing leaves of the celebrated South American rainforest holly tree (Ilex paraguariensis). For centuries, South America’s Aché Guayakí tribe have sipped yerba mate from a traditional mate gourd for its rejuvenative effects. These rainforest people find tremendous invigoration, focus, and nourishment in yerba mate.

The leaves of the rainforest mate tree naturally contain 24 vitamins and minerals, 15 amino acids, abundant antioxidants. In fact, The Pasteur Institute and the Paris Scientific society in 1964 concluded “it is difficult to find a plant in any area of the world equal to mate in nutritional value” and that yerba mate contains “practically all of the vitamins necessary to sustain life.”

Since I didn’t have a gourd (really? A gourd? I hope they clean it out really well first because I doubt steeped gourd innards taste great) I heated water in my kettle (not to boiling, according to the instructions on the package), placed three teabags in my teapot and steeped for 6 minutes. I then added a tablespoon of sugar and some 2% milk. I drank the yerba mate in place of my regular morning coffee.
First, how did it taste? Kind of like tea. Reminded me of English Breakfast, with a bit more of a pronounced straw or dry grass flavor, and also with a slight toasted grain flavor. Not at all bad-tasting. The amount of sweetener and milk was correct for me. I could probably have steeped it for up to 10 minutes.

Second, how did I feel? Kind of like a drank a couple shots of espresso. Maybe not as tremorous as you sometimes get when you have too much coffee. I would say that the promises of the “euphoria of chocolate” are a bit hyperbolic. Perhaps I felt a bit more “balanced” than with the equivalent dose of caffeine from coffee. It is definitely a “stimulating” drink!

Finally, why the gourd? The gourd seems like it was a traditional or ceremonial thing; I don’t know if there is an intended practical purpose. But for me, the color of the yerba mate was slightly off-putting. Especially with the milk in it, the drink has a disturbing pea-soup-green color that isn’t very appetizing. The gourd and opaque drinking straw typically used with yerba mate means that you wouldn’t have to look at the color while you drink it.

Concluding thoughts: I felt a little closer to the Holy Father drinking his favorite drink, but I will likely keep my current beverage lineup of coffee, water and beer unchanged.