Down Argentine Way, the drink of choice isn't coffee or tea - it's yerba mate.
Made from steeping dried leaves of the yerba mate plant, it's extremely popular in South America and looks to be gaining ground in the U.S. - popping up in lots of mainstream publications, including USA Today and Epicurean. In fact, Bombilla & Gourd's Yerba Mate Tea just won the 2007 Best Non-Carbonated Beverage award over at BevNet.com, the beverage industry's trade publication website.
As the national drink of Argentina and Uruguay, mate is brewed much stronger and drunk much more often during the day than in other parts of the world. It's also accompanied by a social component: from Brazil to Argentina to Lebanon and Syria, the drink is served as loose leaves in hot water, in a special gourd-shaped container (shown above) and drank through a metal straw ("bombilla") whose tip includes a strainer. Yes, people share the same metal straw, passing the container from person to person in Latin America's answer to the coffee break.
There's a worldwide fanbase for yerba mate. Folk herald yerba mate as a superior caffiene source than coffee (there's not a gnarly effect on the stomach) as well as aiding in weight loss and helping with all sorts of health maladies.
Weight loss catch your eye? Check out this article in Women's World where a woman claimed to have lost 100 pounds just by incorporating mate into her daily life.
Yerba mate is a distinctly different plant, and it's been studied for its medicinal properties. Studies have found it to be filled with good things like B vitamins, antioxidants (more than red wine or green tea), and a mood enhancer similar to that found in chocolate. Some are saying it's a possible cancer-fighter.
However, other studies have warned that it may have a cancerous effect among heavy drinkers - those drinking significants amount of the drink over long periods of time.
Me? I got a box of Yerba Mate tea bags for Christmas. Taste was just fine (I sweetened it with Stevia) and I had a cup each morning for a week. I liked it, I had lots of energy and no yucky-stomach feeling. Better than coffee, for sure.
I'll keep it in stock, but I'll still have my tea as well. Tea is just too fun to abandon: choosing between the pretty packages, deciding between milk or lemon, picking the mug. Maybe it's a girl thing.