The health beverage market is slowly growing to include more drinks than the typical ‘low cal’ or sugar-free offerings. Teas and infusions are becoming particularly popular among the health-conscious and those looking for a source of caffeine that doesn’t leave them feeling jittery.
Yerba mate and matcha have some of the best name recognition among these ‘new’ health drinks, but people often confuse the two. While both products offer caffeine and antioxidants, there are real, distinguishable differences between yerba mate vs. matcha.
Are you looking for a coffee alternative with a difference? We’re breaking down the difference between yerba mate and matcha for you right here.
Hint: only one is real tea.
Table of Contents
What is Yerba Mate?
Yerba mate is a product made from the dried leaves and twigs of a holly tree (Ilex paraguariensis). When steeped in water, it produces an earthy (think smoky and woody) taste that’s simultaneously refreshing. If you want to speak technically, yerba mate is an infusion rather than a tea.
Although it’s now popular all over the world in various forms, the drink finds its origins in South America. You’ll most commonly recognize it as a drink consumed from a dried gourd via a metal straw. But the history of yerba mate is so much more than that.
The tradition of yerba mate comes from the Guarani people, who use it for its medicinal properties and to restore vitality to life. According to oral tradition, yerba mate came to the Guarani in three different legends.
In the first legend, yerba mate preparation came to the Guarani people from the goddess of the moon (Yari). In the second, they received it from a god called Pa’ I Shume, a tall, bearded god who gifted an aging man with the plant and taught him to prepare it. When the man drank the tea, he grew stronger and went off to refind his kinsmen. The final legend refers to the legend fo the Tupi brothers, who fought and divided into new tribes: the Tupi and Guarani. The Guarani received yerba mate as a gift from the spirit of Tupa to reward them for their values.
After the arrival of the Spanish in Central and South America, yerba mate became a politicized drink. The colonial settlers learned that the Guarani enjoyed their health and vitality from drinking the leaves, and the beverage spread across the continent like wildfire. However, the Jesuit Mission and the Catholic Church believed the drink was “demonic,” and they tried to ban it. The Jesuits failed in their mission, and Jesuits would ultimately paly a huge role in the commercialization of yerba mate or “Jesuit tea.”
Today, yerba mate is grown on plantations to make it more abundantly available to those who delight in it. After all, it’s global popularity is only just beginning.
What Benefits Does Yerba Mate Offer?
For centuries, yerba mate was at the center of culture for the Guarani and the Tupi. They drank it at rituals and during worship, and they believed (as legend told them) that their infusion was a divine gift. South American peoples also drank it for its medicinal value, which included its role as a stimulant thanks to the caffeine. Its benefits were so obvious that yerba mate quickly attracted colonial settlers and influenced those who visited the continent.
But what are these health benefits exactly?
Yerba mate is rich in antioxidants that include:
- Caffeoyl derivatives
You’ll also find:
- Vitamin B
- Vitamin C
These are nutrients found in plants that offer several different benefits for the human body including:
- Decreased risk of many diseases
- Anti-inflammatory properties
- Cholesterol-lowing properties
Another benefit is the fact that yerba mate can offer seven of the nine essential amino acids. Though, you won’t find them in high concentrations.
However, it’s important to know that the nutrient content found in your yerba mate depends on what you buy. Some commercial blends claim to have 90% more antioxidants than green tea, but it also depends on the quality of your yerba mate compared to the quality of your green tea leaves.
Yerba mate is a natural source of caffeine and offers 80 mg per cup, which is twice the amount you’ll get in a typical cup of black tea but only half of what a cup of coffee provides.
People who drink yerba mate say that it gives you enough of a boost to feel more alert and improve your focus, but it doesn’t leave you with the crash. The same properties can also help you enjoy more benefits from your daily exercise. A cup before working out could improve your performance and stop you from becoming fatigued as quickly. It can even boost your metabolism to help you burn more fat.
How Do You Make Yerba Mate?
To make yerba mate, you steep your leaves in hot water in the traditional vessel. You then use the bombilla straw to drink it because straw filters out the solids and allows you to drink the steeped tea.
One of the joys of yerba mate is that it demands ceremony when you prepare it. Because it’s not a powder, it’s not fully absorbed into the liquid.
However, as we’ve found, it can be infused and filtered in other ways, like in yerba mate infused cocktails. You can make yerba mate into a syrup or infuse it into rumor vodka directly.
What is Matcha?
Matcha is a fine powder made from green tea leaves. The product is part of an ancient tradition of tea ceremonies in Asia. Although it’s most commonly associated with Japanese culture, matcha arrived in Japan from China in the 13th century. Buddhist monks were known to drink matcha tea before meditation to sharpen their mental focus.
Even though matcha also comes from the same Camellia sinensis plant that green tea does, it differs from traditional green tea in important ways. For example, tea farmers cover their plants destined for matcha processing in the month before harvest to keep them away from direct sunlight. As a result, the leaves produce more chlorophyll, which creates a darker green color associated with matcha compared to the light yellow found in green tea. The increase in chlorophyll production also boosts amino acid content.
Matcha’s flavor profile is also unique. High-quality matcha balances its vegetal notes with a smooth sweetness. It’s almost like a grassy sweetness, which you can tailor to your tastes by adding more or less sugar.
Matcha’s flavors are very different from the woody, earthy profile found in yerba mate. However, there are similarities between the two in that the quality of the product will impact the flavor pretty dramatically. Anyone who has ever had a poorly manufactured or constructed matcha can attest to this. A low-grade matcha tea powder can be very bitter – and it will lack many of the benefits offered by good quality matcha. The same is true of a badly sourced yerba mate.
What Benefits Does Matcha Offer?
Matcha, like green tea, comes with a lot of well-known health benefits, which is what made it popular with monks over a thousand years ago. Many of the benefits offered are similar to yerba mate, but they may come from different mechanisms.
Matcha is known for being rich in antioxidants, but it has a different antioxidant profile compared to yerba mate. Some of the most bountiful nutrients in matcha include:
- Catechins like ECGC (epigallocatechin gallate)
- Polyphenols (also found in yerba mate)
Thes antioxidants help prevent disease and reduce cellular damage, which helps slow the aging process. For example, ECGC can help lower cholesterol and prevent cancer.
Other benefits that you’ll find include high levels of L-theanine, an amino acid that helps reduce stress and anxiety
Matcha is made from green tea, which means it contains caffeine. The amount it contains varies dramatically depending on the type of matcha you have. However, many matcha teas will be on par with the caffeine found in yerba mate.
How Do You Make Matcha?
To make matcha, you whisk the powder into milk or hot water. Traditionally, you both prepare and consume the tea in a dedicated matcha bowl, but you can use any bowl or cup that allows you to whisk it appropriately. The origins of this method of preparation are ancient: in the 8th century, Chinese zen monks would break off pieces of their tea bricks and pulverize the piece into a powder. They would then put the powder in the bowl and whisk it. Over time, their method of preparation grew into elaborate ceremonies.
Because matcha is a fine powder, it can be used not only in traditional tea ceremonies but also in a variety other ways. The growth in matcha’s global cultural popularity means you can now find it in all kinds of products including in baked goods. It’s also possible to prepare matcha in coffee, smoothies, and other drinks, so you can get some of the benefits of the tea without sitting down to sip a bowl of matcha exclusively.
When Should You Choose Yerba Mate vs. Matcha?
So when do you choose yerba mate vs. matcha when you need a quick pick-me-up?
For many people, it’s a matter of taste. The flavor profiles offered by yerba mate and matcha are very different: both are earthy, but matcha can be sweetened and tends to be more mellow than the smoky, woody taste of yerba mate. Though, the flavors you get from both can often depend on the quality you get.
Usually though, if you want something quick and simple, yerba mate is a good choice. The lack of whisking and sweetening involved makes preparing a cup of yerba mate a more simple form of ceremony.
Ultimately, both yerba mate and matcha are incredible, natural drinks with equally valid and storied histories. Both deserve your time and attention. What you choose and when is highly personal.
Find Natural Goodness in Every Cup
Although yerba mate and match both occupy the popular imagination as simple ‘health’ drinks, these two brews are so much more than that. Both drinks are important parts of cultural traditions and continue to have important ritual meanings to those who first cultivated the use of these drinks.
So, what’s the difference between yerba mate vs. matcha? Yerba mate is an infusion of leaves and sticks from the holly tree, and matcha is a fine powder derived from the leaves of a tea plant. They offer different flavor profiles and nutritional make-ups, but both offer a healthy, down-to-earth experience in every cup.
What matcha and yerba mate do have in common though is an emphasis on quality. You can truly taste the difference between carefully cultivate products compared to cheap products off the shelf. That’s why Matero focuses so much on providing only the best quality yerba mate products available on the market, including ethically sourced and sustainable products.
Do you have questions about yerba mate? Ask away by getting in touch or check out the rest of our blog for more info.