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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

America's Most Exotic Presidential Pets

From alligators to bears, the White House has been home to some unusual presidential pets over the 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.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs