Covering new ground for world's biggest tea drinkers
Published 26/08/2014 | 02:30
If you're looking for a herbal tea with an added boost of anti-ageing qualities, try yerba maté, writes Rozanne Stevens.
There is a well-known statistic bandied about that the Irish drink more tea per capita out of any nation in the world. Just from anecdotal evidence, I think Irish people all harbour a little Mrs Doyle in them. Irish hospitality wouldn't be complete without numerous offers of cups of tea. Along with the traditional tea-drinking culture, the coffee culture in Ireland is growing steadily by the minute with customers and vendors becoming more knowledgeable and discerning. So it's no wonder with our love of these hot beverages we have our own tea and coffee festival in September in the RDS. See www.dublincoffeefestival.com for details.
There is a great line up of familiar and exciting artisan brands exhibiting - and I'm happy to say that I know several of them personally and am very familiar with their products - both teas and coffees. So it was very difficult in deciding whether to cover teas or coffee for the column.
But luckily for me, the decision was made for me as I met the gorgeous and fascinating Karla Johan Lorenzo at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards who has written an award-winning book on yerba maté. Maté is a traditional herbal tea from South America with a long list of health benefits and strong cultural roots.
But let me back track a little to my first encounter with this wonderful tea. I first discovered yerba maté in the farmers' market held in the Peoples' Park in Dun Laoghaire about 10 years ago. I was introduced to this wonderful tea by Mico Hasset, founder and creator of Kingfisher teas. Mico imports and blends almost a hundred varieties of teas, dried herbs, flowers, roots and leaves to create really special teas. With the beautifully hand-painted kingfisher bird on the label, you can't miss it. She gave me a blend of maté, orange and liquorice root to try and I've been hooked ever since! Besides serving up delicious teas, Mico and her husband Colm are a fountain of knowledge on all things tea-related.
This is a little summary from Colm on yerba maté for those new to this wonderful herbal tea: "Maté is known as the national drink of Argentina and is sipped from a small calabash gourd through a metal straw called a bombilla. It is prepared with hot, not boiling water, between 70 and 80 degrees celsius. The taste is earthy, bitter and strong. If it is your first time trying it, it is lovely with lemon and a little honey. It has quite a high caffeine content and is also renowned for its health properties. High in antioxidants with anti-microbial, anti-fungal and cancer-fighting compounds. The tea is brewed from the leaves of the tree and then sipped from the gourd throughout the day."
For a more in-depth study on yerba maté, you can download Karla's book, Yerba Maté: The Book of Yerba Maté, from Amazon. A sommelier by trade, Karla writes and talks about the history, tradition and health benefits of yerba maté, but also the art of preparing and serving it. It really is a unique ritual and art form, just as tea ceremonies are in China and Japan.
If Karla is a walking advertisement for drinking yerba maté, then I'm all in! She has the clearest, most glowing skin, especially considering she comes from Argentina which has a very active lifestyle that can expose you to the elements and sun damage. Yerba maté has great anti-ageing properties, but it isn't just about superficial vanity, it has been used to treat diseases for over a thousand years, according to records.
Most of the active ingredients are found in the leaves, which are used to brew the tea. Several synergistic compounds work together to give you the health benefits, not just one isolated nutrient. Researchers are investigating one of the most interesting benefits of yerba maté which is the correlation between yerba maté consumption and reduced obesity rates. The herb shows both lipogenic and thermogenic properties, which helps reduce bad cholesterol and also boosts metabolism. The herb acts as an appetite suppressant and has a mild laxative and diuretic action. Rich in chlorogenic acid - also found in artichokes - which helps to improve liver function and protect it.
The scientific area of yerba maté most documented is its antioxidant profile. US studies show that polyphenols in yerba maté boost the immune system and help protect cells against damage. Yerba maté tea has been proven to be a more effective antioxidant than vitamin C. It also has anti-ageing properties for the whole body. As a cancer prevention, yerba maté helps prevent cancerous growths and protect against certain types of cancer.
But what I queried the most are the caffeine and stimulating properties in maté. Using myself as a test subject, I can definitely feel a boost when I drink yerba maté, but it is gentler and more sustained than if I drink coffee. I enjoy coffee and as long as I stop drinking it six hours before bedtime, it doesn't interfere with my sleep. But too much and I become jittery. So I found the difference with drinking maté really interesting and Karla explained the chemistry behind it.
Yerba maté contains xanthines which are the stimulants that give you the boost and increased energy. Caffeine and theobromine are both xanthines that stimulate the central nervous system. But where yerba maté is different is that it contains mateina which is similar in structure to caffeine but behaves differently in the body. Mateina doesn't affect sleep patterns and is also a soft diuretic so you wont be running to the loo. The unique composition of yerba maté increases energy and concentration levels, but without the jitters. The natural tannins in the leaves also slows down the release of the stimulant compounds so you get an even flow of energy.
Enjoying Yerba Maté
There are many varieties of yerba maté available, ranging from mild in flavour to very strong. You can enjoy maté hot or cold, sweetened or unsweetened. Maté is meant to be enjoyed with friends and there are very set rules and rituals governing this. You can read all about this in Karla's book, in the meantime, here are some tips:
Allow the kettle to come to the boil then cool slightly to about 70 to 80 degrees before pouring over the yerba maté leaves
You can use loose leaves which you then strain through a tea strainer, or I use a meshed ball that holds the tea leaves and can be emptied and reused. You find decorative versions of these that almost look like key chains
You can keep your tea warm throughout the day by keeping it in a thermos flask
If you prefer a sweeter tea, you can add regular sugar or traditionally stevia - also known as sweet yerba - to add sweetness
For natural sweetness you can also add orange or dried orange peel which I favour
Lemon and honey are also lovely, especially if you find the tea a little strong
Very milky yerba maté is popular and can be served as an ice tea chilled over ice blocks and sweetened with sugar and orange
Yerba maté makes a wonderful base for fruity iced teas and cocktails
For minty freshness, add fresh, dried or a mint tea bag when brewing your yerba maté
One of the most novel ways to serve yerba maté is in a hollowed-out grapefruit. Remove the top of the grapefruit and some of the pulp. Brew the tea in the grapefruit with hot water to offset the cold grapefruit. Sweeten to taste. I also add some fresh mint. A novel alternative to the hipster fondness for cocktails out of jam jars
What I find with teas and coffees that have any stimulant effect, is that you have to find your own happy medium. Some people are more sensitive than others and if you're pregnant, I'd avoid it. But for the rest of us that need a little pick me up, yerba maté will certainly give you a nice lift, plus it has a long list of healthy benefits.
Recipes taken from Delish and Relish cookbooks by Rozanne Stevens. For cookbooks and healthy cookery courses, log onto www.rozannestevens.com
Yerba Maté Watermelon Iced Tea
This is a wonderfully refreshing drink if you want something non alcoholic. It is also far healthier than sugary fizzy drinks or sugar free ones that aren't much better. With a base of super healthy yerba maté tea for added antioxidants and an energy boost. You can leave the tea to steep for longer if you prefer a stronger taste. You can also add peppermint tea or fresh mint leaves which will complement the orange and watermelon really well.
1/4 cup of dried yerba maté tea leaves
juice and zest of 2 oranges
1 litre just boiled water
1/2 cup honey
250g fresh watermelon
ice cubes, to serve
watermelon wedges, to serve
orange peel, to garnish
Pour the just boiled water over the yerba maté tea leaves and orange zest. Allow to steep for 10 minutes.
Strain the tea and stir in the honey to dissolve.
Allow to cool for an hour then transfer to the fridge to cool completely.
In a food processor, combine the watermelon, cold tea and orange juice. Blitz up until completely smooth.
Serve the iced tea over ice cubes and garnished with watermelon wedges and orange peel.
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