We are continuing our discussion of how to compare brands of yerba mate. Last time we considered the composition of the yerba and the color of the brewed mate. This time we will focus on the attributes of the resulting yerba mate infusion.
Aroma — Good yerba has a distinctive, pungent aroma. It is unique and does not smell at all like coffee, tea or any other beverage. You will soon recognize the aroma of a good mate and will thereby also recognize an inferior one. Properly seasoned yerba has a rich, satisfying aroma and does not smell “grassy” or damp. I have even heard people describe a good mate as smelling “sweet.” (Hmm? Well, maybe.)
FlavorÂ – The formula for flavor is: “Flavor = Taste + Aroma.” In many ways, flavor is a personal preference.Â See my prior post on “Aquiring a taste for yerba mate” as a background for deciding whatÂ flavor is right forÂ you.
Froth — A key indicator in evaluating the quality of yerba is the froth that appears on the top of the hot liquid poured into your gourd, French press or coffee maker. You can also see the froth in the air pockets or around the edges of a tea bag or around the rim of a poured cup. This froth lets you know that there are active nutrients in the yerba. If you sip your mate from a gourd or re-use your tea bags, the froth will diminish with each succeeding pour. This means that each new pour is providing less flavor, nutrition and benefit.
Freshness — Yerba will still be good, and provide some nutrition for as long as five years, but the potency diminishes after two or three years. For this reason, you should buy your yerba from a source that sells a lot of yerba mate. Big turnover means fresher yerba. Look for a “sell by” date on the package as an indicator of the freshness. Some yerbas sold in South America do not have a sell by date. In Argentina, yerba mate must be sold within two years.
Results –Â A goodÂ test is how you feel 20 minutes after you drink your mate. Consider the caffeine effect as a good indicator. Are you feeling more awake? Do you feel energized? Is your fatigue dissipating? You should start feeling these effects within 15 to 20 minutes. These are noticeable indicators that your mate is delivering the promised results. If you have been gulping coffee or colas for years, you will notice that yerba mate’s “wake up” stimulus is a little more subtle, but the energyÂ you feelÂ is more tangible and does not give you the jitters.
Some brands will have more “caffeine kick” than others. This doesn’t mean that the milder yerba is any less potent in other areas however. Instead,Â thisÂ could be part of the brand’s identity. The producer might have perfected the brand’s identity afterÂ years of experimenting with the location and elevationÂ of the trees, the season of the harvest, howÂ the yerbaÂ is cured, how long it is aged and many other variables.
It may take more experience to recognize the followingÂ signs, but they are equally valid indicators that your mate is working. Can you feel your sinus membranes shrinking? Are you feeling a sense of peace orÂ calmness? Is your head clearingÂ of distractions and leaving you with a mental clarity andÂ focus?Â After a week or so, haveÂ you noticedÂ that your stool is looserÂ and your bowel movements areÂ more regular? After several weeks, can you feel that your skin is softer and more elastic?
Fresh yerba mateÂ from the gourd isÂ moreÂ effective than drinking brewedÂ mate from a cup; it is more concentrated and thus much stronger than other preparation methods. Still, all methods of preparation will produce the desired results if taken often enough. Three times a day is an ideal minimum for good health — regardless of the brand you choose.
I recommend thatÂ youÂ stick with major brands until your sensitivities are grounded. The brand you buyÂ from a neighborhood market or health food storeÂ is oftenÂ the only brand they carry –Â but, you canÂ order most U.S. and South American brands on the Internet. Each new brand that youÂ try can be compared to the one you just finished. After using one brand for a week or more, you willÂ soon recognize the differences when you begin using a new brand.
Learn to be a connoisseur! SamplingÂ different brands of yerba mate can be as much fun as sampling any food or beverage. You will soon have favorites.Â Even the most expensive yerba mates are reasonably priced when compared to wine, beer or even coffee and tea. Yerba mate is truly an affordable indulgence!
(There will be more.)