Yerba Mate: Stimulating a Healthy Drink Trend

Stefan Schachter has been there as the centuries-old yerba mate has ridden the natural foods industry wave of recent decades. He founded Ecotea in 2000 to bring the South American herb to United States in organic loose leaf and “unsmoked” form.

What makes this herb so special?

“I think the benefit that draws people to this herb more than anything else is it’s a really amazing energy herb,” Schacter said. “It has a very pleasant stimulating effect on the body and mind. It improves mental clarity and focus.”

Yerba mate contains a cocktail of stimulants: caffeine, theobromine and theophylline, which are also found in tea and chocolate. “It produces a sustained long-lasting energy rather than the peak and valley of an energy drink. The curve upward is more gradual,” said Schachter. Yerba mate also contains twice the immune-supporting antioxidant power of green tea, he said.

In the United States, yerba mate has been appearing in a variety of formats, including in energy drinks, as a ready-to-drink beverage, as instant tea, in smoothies and as a baking ingredient. It can be brewed in a French press or a coffee maker.

Yerba mate originates from the southern region of South America and is widely consumed in Argentina, Southern Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile. South Americans drink it from a gourd made of a plant shell through a metal straw called a bombilla. In Argentina, yerba mate is consumed almost as much as water as it accounts for 30 percent of the estimated average daily intake of liquid. Tap water accounts for 31 percent and the remaining 39 percent of liquid intake consists of tea, wine, juice, soda and coffee.

“When you’re there you see people carrying these huge gourds,” said Schachter. “Everywhere you go, on park benches, on a bus, it’s more popular than coffee. It has some really beneficial health effects, as well as experiential effects that are becoming more popular as yerba mate is spreading throughout the world.”

The Native South American Guarani tribe of Parana in Southern Brazil discovered yerba mate, which is made from the leaves of Ilex paraguariensis, a holly tree of the South American rainforests. Spanish settlers began consuming it in the late 16th century and it was then exported outside of South America.

Erva-mate “yerba mate” cultivation in southern Brazil. Picture taken in São Mateus do Sul , Paraná State , the capital of erva-mate “yerba mate”.

Schachter obtains 80 percent the yerba mate for his in-house brand from a farm in the state of Misiones, Argentina. The other 20 percent of Ecotea’s yerba mate—primarily sold on the wholesale side of the business—is sourced from a farm in Brazil. Schachter said his unique processing of the plant is what sets his yerba mate apart from the rest. Traditionally, yerba mate leaves were dried from the heat of a fire in a smoking hut, resulting in a smoked flavor in the leaves. Drying system technology has advanced so now the leaves are no longer exposed to smoke. Schachter coined the term “unsmoked” to describe the yerba mate he sells.

“We were the first one to focus on loose yerba mate—the traditional format that people consume yerba mate in South America,” said Schachter.

Shachter, who will speak at World Tea Expo, said he wants to “introduce people to yerba mate, provide a good introduction to this amazing plant. I’d like to go deeper to help people who are a little bit familiar help deepen their knowledge. Inspire people to try this stuff.” He added that he wants to “Connect people with the trade—people who want to incorporate yerba mate into what they’re doing … to be that bridge.”

Stefan Schacter, president of Mate Revolution, will explore this ever-popular botanical brew in its prime, native growing regions of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.

Session: An Exploration of Yerba Mate: South America’s Energizing Botanical Wonder

When: 10:15-11:15 a.m. Thursday, June 15

Where: N238