Woman wearing orange drinking tea from an orange mug.

Yerba Mate vs Matcha: Which is Best?

Caffeine consumption around the world is widespread, especially in the form of coffee, tea and energy drinks.  But what if your cuppa Joe gives you the jitters or keeps you up at night?  Yerba mate and matcha green tea to the rescue!

Benefits of Caffeine

Caffeine increases alertness and mental clarity, while reducing feelings of fatigue, sleepiness,and drowsiness.  It can help improve athletic performance, elevate mood, and reduce the risk of depression.  Some scientific studies have shown caffeine may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline and other age-related brain conditions.  

The ideal amount of caffeine for you depends on your current caffeine tolerance and whether you are generally susceptible to anxiety (some people can become more anxious after consuming caffeine).  For this reason, it is best to start low and increase intake slowly and it is always best to avoid caffeine 10-12 hours before bedtime.

Caffeine is a more potent stimulant when taken on an empty stomach, so depending on your goal and tolerance, you may choose to consume caffeine before a meal to heighten the effects, or with a meal to slow the intensity of the energy spike (and subsequent caffeine crash).  

The source of caffeine matters also- certain teas provide a more even, mellow form of energy- minus the jitters- with a whole host of health benefits.  Enter yerba mate and matcha green tea…

Yerba Mate vs Matcha: Caffeine Content

The actual amount of caffeine in a cup of tea can vary depending on how the tea plant was grown and processed, as well as the tea preparation process.  Teas that steep in hotter water for longer tend to have more caffeine. 

However, one comparison shows that green tea, from which matcha is made, contains slightly more caffeine than yerba mate in general (1).  Both yerba mate and matcha contain a moderate amount of caffeine, but less caffeine than coffee, and both offer a more mellow buzz thanks to their health-boosting compounds (more on that later).  Fans of both matcha and yerba mate praise the teas for their providing a more joyful alertness minus the jitters and anxiety that some people get from drinking coffee and other caffeinated beverages.

What is Yerba Mate?

picture of yerba mate in a gourd

Yerba mate is an herbal tea made from the leaves and twigs of the yerba mate plant (ilex paraguariensis), a species of the holly plant native to South America.  Yerba mate is sometimes referred to as Paraguay tea, Brazilian tea, mate or maté.  This last version (maté) is actually an incorrect spelling originally used to distinguish it from the English word mate, meaning friend or companion. 

Praised for its medicinal properties, yerba mate is greenish in color, has an earthy flavor, and a slightly bitter taste that is less astringent than black tea. It is most often consumed plain but may have sugar, milk, lemon juice or coffee grounds added.  

Traditionally yerba mate was brewed by placing the dried leaves in a hollow gourd, covering them with hot (but not boiling) water, and steeping for a minute or two.  The warm beverage is then sipped through a metal straw called a bombilla or bomba. Because the gourds hold only a small amount of water they are typically refilled multiple times, and may be passed from person to person and shared communally.

How to Select Yerba Mate

First and foremost, select a loose leaf yerba mate that is NOT smoked, since smoking the tea infuses it with harmful cancer-causing carcinogens (2).  Look for air dried, organic versions free from dust and stems, like this one (https://amzn.to/3Sm0EYD).

How to Prepare Yerba Mate

  1. If you’re interested in a traditional yerba mate, you will want to brew it in a gourd (also called a mate) and use a bombilla straw. (like this one: https://amzn.to/3XNnMQR
  2. Fill the gourd ⅓ to ½ full with tea leaves
  3. Tilt the gourd so all of the leaves are against one side of the gourd wall
  4. Fill the empty space with cold water
  5. Once the leaves absorb the cool water, fill the gourd with near-simmering water, about 165° to 175°.  
  6. Steep for 3-5 minutes
  7. Sip through the bombilla

If convenience and speed are your jam, yerba mate can be made using coffee or tea equipment you already have at home.  You may use a French press with less-than-simmering water and steep for 3-5 minutes.  Alternatively, you can use a teapot that has a strainer and first pour cool water over the leaves before filling with warmer (165-175°) water and steep for 3-5 minutes.  

Or opt for a cold-water infusion, an excellent choice for warmer months!  Simply put yerba mate tea leaves in a glass container, cover with cold water, and shake for about 20 seconds.  Strain and pour over ice.  So refreshing!  

What is Matcha Green Tea?

picture of matcha powder, a bamboo whisk, and a cup of matcha

Matcha is a finely-ground powdered green tea that originated in Japan. It is harvested from the Camellia sinensis plant grown only in the shade, which increases the chlorophyll content and creates its bright green color.  

The bud and first three layers of the plant are harvested, steamed, then deveined and ground in stone mills.  This strict and difficult production process makes matcha one of the most expensive teas on the market.

Matcha has a grassy flavor with bitter overtones that can be an acquired taste for some.  In Japan, the color and flavor of matcha Is carefully evaluated, but there is no standardized grading system.  Outside of Japan, many countries categorize matcha into ceremonial grade or culinary grade.  Theoretically, ceremonial grade matcha is smoother and can be consumed without additional sweeteners or milks.  Culinary grade matcha is more bitter and is often added to milk and sweetened to make a latte. 

Originally grown for ceremonial purposes, the powder is added to near-boiling water in a ceramic or glass matcha tea bowl and whisked with a bamboo brush.  Rather than straining out the leaves, the finely-ground leaves are consumed along with the tea.

How to Select Matcha Green Tea

The growing demand for matcha tea has led some producers to stray from the traditionally strict guidelines for processing to accelerate the speed to market and reduce the cost of production.  The unfortunate result is sometimes inferior products- grown in the wrong place, under suboptimal conditions, or processed in such a way that the taste and health benefits are impacted.

There is no government organization or regulating committee determining the different grades of matcha. Thus, it is up to the manufacturers to determine what they want to call the matcha, and since many know that ceremonial grade will justify a higher cost, and therefore higher profits, it is not uncommon for suboptimal matcha to be labeled as ceremonial.

Fortunately, there are some simple ways to evaluate matcha. 

Qualities of a Good Ceremonial Matcha:

  • Produced in Japan
  • Grown in shade
  • Should be first harvest
  • Bright green powder with a fine (not grainy) texture
  • Organic

This is the one I use and love: https://amzn.to/3Z6DcAE

How to Prepare Matcha

For the best matcha you will need either a bamboo whisk or an electric milk frother, like this (https://amzn.to/3KqBSod) or this (https://amzn.to/3XYbEMF).   

  1. Put matcha powder in a mug or bowl.  Sifting the matcha will help prevent clumping.
  2. Add a small amount of hot water that is not quite boiling (ideal water temperature is 176°)
  3. Whisk using a brisk side to side (not circular) motion for the best froth.  A milk frother will work also.
  4. Top with more water, or the milk of your choice if making a latte.
  5. Whisk again until bright and foamy.
  6. Enjoy!

You may want to make this section into bullet points or numbered steps

Yerba Mate vs Matcha: Health Benefits 

Though yerba mate and matcha do not look or taste the same, both can be a great addition to your health regimen, and they offer many similar benefits.  Both drinks are rich in antioxidants and provide a smooth, mellow energy boost.  

Yerba Mate Health Benefits

  • Aids in weight loss, most likely by increasing metabolism and reducing blood sugar levels (3)
  • Help reduce blood sugar levels and prevent diabetes (3).
  • High antioxidant content helps protect against cell damage from free radicals (4, 5). 
  • Lowers cholesterol and protects against heart disease (6).
  • Protects liver cells and promotes healthy liver function (5). 
  • May help promote healthy bacteria in the gut (microbiome) and regulate the immune system (7). 

Matcha Health Benefits

  • Lowers the risk of cancers, including colorectal, gastrointestinal, and gallbladder cancers (8
  • Protects cells against oxidative stress by quenching free radicals (8)
  • Boosts the immune system and may help fight viruses (8)
  • Improves cognitive function and reduces the risk of age-related cognitive diseases (8, 9, 10
  • Reduces risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome (11)
  • Helps you burn more fat when walking or exercising, thus aiding in weight management (12
  • Evokes feelings of relaxation and may improve mood (13

The Verdict

In the battle between yerba mate vs matcha, it’s impossible to name a clear winner. Both matcha and yerba mate improve energy levels while simultaneously inducing feelings of calm and relaxation.  Both are rich in antioxidants and have powerful healing properties.  Ultimately, the best tea for you is the one you will be more likely to drink consistently!  

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