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
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid