Matévana herbal tea

MatevanaThere’s been a lot of talk about Teavana over the past year as they became part of Starbucks and then opened the first Teavana tea bar in New York. I’ve never tasted any  tea from this brand so I was delighted when my husband picked some up on a stateside visit.

There were definite grumblings when I saw that Matévana was a flavoured blend and I very nearly gave up altogether when I saw it had artificial flavouring. Look at this for a list of ingredients: Mate, cocoa kernels, red rooibos, chocolate chips (sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa powder), artificial flavouring, almond pieces, marigold petals. There is no real tea in the mix but part of me still wants to complain about the contamination of maté and rooibos, their intermingling, the use of artificial flavouring and the addition of sugar and cocoa mass.

Truth be told though, I surprised myself by liking this tea. The taste of cocoa matches the maté well. I don’t agree that it is dark, rich or robust as its description claims but it does have a smooth sweetness and a gentle flavour of roasted nuts.

Preparation: I used 3g with 200ml of water just below boiling and left it for several minutes. This tea was $6 for a 2oz pack but it looks it’s on sale at the moment on the Teavana site for $1.50 (for 2oz).

Yerba Mate

gourd bombilla and mateWhen my sister told me she was going to South America, I had two words for her: “yerba mate”. Not only did she bring back a big bag of yerba mate but she also brought back the gourd (vessel) and bombilla (filter tipped metal straw). Happiness :-)

Yerba mate or maté comes from a species of holly called lIex paraguariensis and so it’s a herbal infusion rather than tea. The plant is native to the subtropical regions of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina and is sometimes called “Jesuits’ tea” or “Paraguay tea”. Harvesting of cultivated plants starts at about 5 years and takes place after winter every 2-4 years. Harvesting looks a lot like tree-pruning but only the smaller branches and leaves are kept. After harvesting, the leaves and small stems are heated, dehydrated, cut, sifted and finally packaged.

brewed mate in gourdYerba mate is unusual in that it is a herbal drink but it has the same stimulating effect as tea and coffee due to the presence of mateine (i.e. caffeine). Historically in Europe it was considered a poor substitute for other caffeinated luxury goods such as tea, coffee and chocolate. It is only since the twentieth century that it has been recognised as a unique beverage and marketed as having “the strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the euphoria of chocolate”. For more historical and cultural information, see this paper: “Stimulating Consumption: Yerba Mate Myths, Markets, and Meanings from Conquest to Present“.

As with tea, the flavour of yerba mate is influenced by the soil in which the plant grows but in general, it is light in colour and the taste is a distinctive combination of tree-bark and tobacco. Mate has a high tannin content but it has a lasting flavour that is very pleasant.

To prepare, the gourd is filled with yerba mate until it is three quarters full. After shaking (to ensure the smaller pieces are at the top), the gourd is tilted to one side and the bombilla placed inside. A small amount of warm water is added that is just enough to wet the leaves. The gourd is then filled with hot, not boiling water. The leaves are re-soaked several times by refilling the gourd with water.