Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Yerba Mate - Does it Belong on a Tea Website?

I recently reviewed a loose dark roast Yerba Mate from Mate Factor, which I enjoyed greatly, and which is pictured here:

When I created RateTea, I needed to make some difficult decisions about what to include and what not to include on the site. From the beginning, coffee was out, and herbal teas were in. Yes, herbal teas are not technically tea, as they are not made from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, but I am comfortable referring to them as herbal "tea", for reasons I explain in my post Is "herbal tea" tea?. My rationale for these cutoffs was that both the procedures and equipment used to brew coffee are quite different from those used to brew tea, whereas the process and equipment used for tea and herbal tea are more or less the same.

Furthermore, due to this similarity of steeping and preparation, most tea companies sell herbal teas as well, and in fact, it's an almost ubiquitous cultural phenomenon that teas are blended or scented with other ingredients, from the jasmine, osmanthus, and rose teas of China, to the genmaicha and shiso sencha of Japan, to Moroccan mint tea (blending gunpowder green tea with mint), to the familiar fruit teas and Earl grey tea of the British tea culture. Tea and herbal teas go hand-in hand.

A few interesting products got cut out by this method. For example, I excluded Red espresso because it is prepared like espresso and not like tea. I also excluded all bottled teas, as they are not steeped or prepared by those drinking them, and in my opinion, they seem to go against the spirit of true tea drinking.

How to handle Yerba Mate?

Yerba mate, on the other hand, is a little bit more difficult. It can be prepared like tea, or like coffee. The Yerba mate above, from Mate Factor, had a label which gave brewing instructions both for tea-style steeping and coffee-style brewing. The instructions outlined how to prepare the Yerba mate using a basic coffee maker, a French press, or a tea pot or tea ball. Since I don't even own any coffee paraphernalia, I obviously opted for the tea-style brewing.

Even though Yerba mate can be prepared like coffee, because it can be prepared like tea, I decided early on to include Yerba mate on RateTea as well, where it is given its own page: Yerba mate, together with a separate category for flavored Yerba mate. I opted not to include these under the more general herbal tea category because people are so used to the idea that herbal teas contain caffeine. This is not technically true--we even have an article on herbal teas containing caffeine -- but it makes things simpler and more intuitive for most users. It's an arbitrary cutoff, but it's one I am happy with. So, like it or not, you may see a post or two about Yerba mate on this blog in the future, especially as I become more familiar with this other caffeinated drink.


  1. I am ready to have my first ever yerba mate :-D

    This post also reminds me of an herbal drink that I had in the summer. It's caffeine free, but has some tea polyphenols. The definition of tea can be very flexible.

  2. Yerba mate deserves a spot next to tea. It is definitely my morning drink of choice, and in my opinion it is closer to tea than coffee, seeing as it is made from dried and roasted leaves!

  3. I am not questioning your decision, as currently Yerba Mate is not well known outside certain areas of the world, and recently there was a post on Tea Trekkers blog about how they get "bad reviews" because they decide to stick to actual tea, as many people would rather have them explore tisanes.

    But I will point out that while coffee has almost been mechanized to such a point that it seems drastically different than tea, in the end coffee can also be categorized as close to the same as tea, simply because it is water infused with "treated" plant matter. Though the bi difference seems to be the fact that Coffee and tea are widely recognized as different, whereas far fewer people seem to recognize the difference between tisanes and tea, and Yerba Mate and tea.

  4. I think that's sad that anyone would ever review a company negatively because they chose to focus on pure teas (or any area of focus, finer, broader, or different).

    And is true that coffee could be categorized in with herbal teas containing caffeine (I actually wrote that page after writing this post), and I wanted to at least state that somewhere official on my site!