News / Health

Americans Try a New Kind of Brew

Forget coffee or tea, have a latte made from a South American shrub

Nate Winkler adds some spices to a mate blend at Oregon Yerba Mate in Redmond, Oregon
Nate Winkler adds some spices to a mate blend at Oregon Yerba Mate in Redmond, Oregon

Multimedia

Audio
Chris Lehman

It's not quite tea. And it's definitely not coffee.

The traditional South American beverage called yerba mate is still relatively unknown in the U.S. But it's becoming more and more prevalent in natural food stores and cafes.

Next big thing?

The Top Leaf Mate Bar in downtown Bend, regon looks a lot like your average coffee shop. But there's no coffee on the menu here.

The baristas are exclusively serving products made with yerba mate. That's a large shrub grown in countries like Argentina and Paraguay. The leaves are dried and steeped in either hot or cold water to make a beverage that's kind of like tea.

Santiago Casanueva owns Top Leaf Mate Bar in Bend, Oregon.
Santiago Casanueva owns Top Leaf Mate Bar in Bend, Oregon.

But Top Leaf customer Len Meserve is nursing a mug holding something that looks more like a fancy frothy coffee. It's called a mocha mate.

"It's mate and chocolate and it's very good," says Meserve.

Another popular drink is the mate latte. Customer Alex Monshaw made the switch from coffee to mate several months ago. He used to drink up to four cups of coffee a day. Not anymore.

"The cool thing about it is, it's not like if I miss a day of mate I'm pissed off all day, like coffee was, you know," says Monshaw. "When you miss your coffee, it's really unpleasant but mate isn't something I need to wake up. It's just something that makes me feel really good."

Feeling good

Top Leaf owner Santiago Casanueva is practically evangelistic in his support of mate. He wants to turn the mate bar concept into a franchised chain. But he doesn't expect to displace Americans' coffee anytime soon:

"Coffee's had a strong run for 20 years. It's going to keep being here," says Casanueva. "I educate my customers in a way that allows them to realize they're making, not only a choice that's giving them the same buzz if not better, but they're getting all these nutritional benefits."

Mate is traditionally served in a gourd, but the North American version often comes in a glass jar.
Mate is traditionally served in a gourd, but the North American version often comes in a glass jar.

Those nutritional benefits vary, depending on who you ask. Jennifer Nelson is director of clinical nutrition at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. She says mate does have disease-fighting antioxidants along with nutrients like calcium, iron and Vitamin C.

"However, the total amount of those nutrients and the total amount of these antioxidants are relatively small in comparison to other foods," she says. "And so you need to kind of put it in perspective."

According to Nelson, mate does contain a small amount of caffeine, but much of its boost comes from other natural stimulants. She says mate, like other caffeinated beverages, is best consumed in moderation.

Going big

Moderation is the furthest thing from Oregon entrepreneur Nate Winkler's mind.

Winkler runs Oregon Yerba Mate. He does sell mate by the cup in a small café, but it's around back in his warehouse where the real action is.

Winkler imports mate from Argentina and adds herbs and spices in a customized blending machine that looks kind of like a cement mixer. Winkler says even his most creative concoctions are still about 95 percent mate.

But he says the flavored blends are a way to make it appeal to a wider audience. "Mate has a pretty bitter taste, especially drinking it traditional style. So for the American palate, it's really hard to handle that way."

Mixing in other flavors isn't the only concession to North American preferences that Winkler and other mate purveyors have made.

Shared experience

In South America, mate is a shared experience, almost a ritual. You drink it out of a gourd through a metal straw called a bombilla. A server pours water over the mate leaves, enough for a single serving. You drink it, and pass it back to the server, who does the same thing for the person next to you. The gourd goes around the circle, everyone drinking out of the same straw.

Winkler says he drank mate that way when he was in South America with the Peace Corps. But he's not sure most of his customers are ready for that.

"If people were more receptive to that kind of thing, I would obviously be way bigger on it," says Winkler. "But we're in America and it's fast-paced, you know, get your drink and go. It's going to be hard to get a bunch of people to come into my café and sit around and share a gourd."

Back at the Top Leaf Mate Bar in Bend, Santiago Casanueva says about 10 percent of his customers choose to share a gourd. Len Meserve is not one of them. He knows about the traditional way of drinking mate, but says while the shared experience has its attraction, he'd rather just go it alone:

"It's just more convenient to have your own," says Meserve. "You get to control it. We seem to like that aspect."

In addition to the convenience of drinking mate out of a cup, there's also the "yuck" factor. In a germ-phobic society, sharing a straw doesn't have much appeal.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs