Yerba Mate tastes like a tea and hits you like a coffee — and yet, it’s technically neither. If you’re looking for a boost of energy that doesn’t come from an espresso bean, look no further than this South American super-beverage made of the steeped leaves and twigs of an indigenous plant, which has been providing locals with a natural pick-me-up for centuries.
The drink itself dates back to the pre-Columbian era, when the local Guaraní people in Paraguay discovered and started to aggressively cultivate the Ilex paraguariensis plant (a member of the holly family), dry the leaves and twigs, and drink them in hot water — mainly as a wellness beverage. Once the Spanish colonized Paraguay in the seventeenth century, they too began drinking it, and it became the country’s chief export. Other South American countries like Brazil, Argentina, and Chile grew the crop as well, and even after the arrival of coffee and other kinds of tea in South America, Yerba Mate remained one of the most popular drinks in the area.
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Strong, bitter, and vegetal, Yerba Mate has a very distinctive taste that, like coffee, can require adjusting to. “It’s very expressive, like this euphoric experience,” says Ashleigh Parsons, of the Los Angeles hotspot Alma at The Standard, who used to live in Argentina. Depending on how much you consume, she says, “It can feel very trippy. The caffeine in it can really give you this high.”