A few months ago, I switched my morning cup to one of yerba maté. It’s good to shake up your routine every once in a while, right? Though its unique, grassy flavor took a little getting used to at first, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it gave me an energy boost without any of the jittery feelings that can come from a cup of coffee. It offered a gradual feeling of alertness while still being a comforting cup of hot herbal tea in the chilly morning.
This ‘caffeine without all the side effects of caffeine’ has led some to believe that the stimulant in yerba maté is not, in fact, caffeine, but a similar chemical called ‘matiene.’ And its varying effects would suggest that there is a slightly different chemical process occurring when one consumes yerba maté versus an average cup of drip coffee. Some of the arguments for matiene’s unique chemical structure include that it stimulates the central nervous system but is not habituating or addictive, and that it induces better, rather than worse, sleep.
Upon further inspection however, it seems that matiene may just be caffeine by another name and that the unique buzz from maté can be explained by taking a closer look at the plant’s chemistry. On average, a yerba maté leaf contains 0.7%-2% caffeine, versus up to 3% for ground coffee. The absence of the jitters can also be explained by the accompanying minerals or related alkaloids present in the herb that interact with caffeine during digestion.
Yerba maté contains three chemical stimulants, called xanthines: caffeine (shown left), theobromine, and theophylline. Dr. Leslie Taylor, a certified naturopath with an expertise in rainforest plants explains, “xanthines are bound to sugars in living plants, and are set free or unbound during the roasting or fermenting processes used to process yerba maté leaves, coffee beans, and even cacao beans,” explaining the presence of caffeine in many of our favorite foods. The “matiene chemical ‘discovered’ is probably just caffeine bound to a tannin or phenol in the raw leaf,” giving it its particular characteristic.
No matter what you call its energizing ingredient though, the brewing and sharing of Yerba Maté is a deep-rooted practice in many South American cultures, not to mention its worldwide popularity. It has been used in Europe and South America historically for many ailments such as headaches, fatigue, stress, and allergies. Be it matiene or caffeine inside a cup, this unique herb offers a satisfying flavor and energy to its drinker. Our new Yerba Maté Mint, blended with spearmint, peppermint, and lemongrass, offers a new spin on this classic tea, and is just the thing to perk me up on those especially grey Seattle mornings.
Are you a maté fan? Do you notice a difference when you drink coffee, yerba maté, or traditional tea?