In the Kitchen with James: Trying out Mate Tea

In this week's column, James Fox tried out some mate tea, a drink currently popular with many of the England football squad. His thoughts were fairly mixed, to say the least.

Photo: James Fox

I’d never heard of mate (pronounced ma-teh) until recently when a number of articles reported that Eric Dier and some of the other Tottenham and England footballers were hooked on this infused drink from South America. It’s not dissimilar to loose tea in that it takes the form of dried leaves which are left to brew in hot water.

I was excited to try it because it seemed to possess all the things I like about tea – the ability to simultaneously relax, hydrate, energise and focus – but to an even greater extent. It’s fairly high in caffeine and contains many nutrients with health-giving properties.

The way it’s consumed also appeared interesting. The dried leaves, yerba mate, are placed in a calabash gourd – essentially a dry, hollowed-out vegetable. You add water that is hot but not boiling so as to preserve the nutrients and let it brew for a while before drinking through a bombilla – a metal straw with a filter on the bottom so you only get the liquid, no leaf.

This all sounded great so I went online an ordered a gourd, bombilla and bag of yerba mate and got brewing.

Photo: James Fox

In all honesty, my first impression was not great. The first brew, which you’re not supposed to enjoy, was exceptionally bitter and rather unpleasant. After successive rounds of drinking and topping it up the flavour became more approachable but still it was nothing compared to a nice cup of English Breakfast. One thing which separates mate from loose tea is that you can continually add more water to the leaves for a whole day without losing much flavour. As the day went on and the drink became slightly less intense, I could appreciate the flavour more. It’s not dissimilar to green tea but it’s certainly more bitter and has a smoky quality. This was my first foray into mate drinking and though I wasn’t totally convinced about the flavour, I did feel invigorated. I intend to stick with it and look forward to the time when I can fully appreciate both its taste and beneficial properties.


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