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Guayakí Yerba Mate - A Powerful Rainforest Experience

Buzz in the Press
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Buzz in the Press

Buzz in the Press

Forget the bubbly, try Argentine tea

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The best polo players in the world hail from Argentina. On large family-owned farms where thousands of horses are bred and raised, they learn to ride before they can walk, and soon thereafter they learn the game with all its passion and tradition.

Chances are if you play polo, your father also played, and his father, too.inspire her as food editor.

And chances are that morning, noon and night, before and after practices, before and after games, before and after dinner and before and after a tango, you will sit down with friends — and even a few on-field foes — for a round of yerba maté.

Maté (pronounced MAH-teh), is the beverage of choice, not only in Argentina, but also in Uruguay, Paraguay and southern Brazil, and also around the fields and barns in Wellington, Lake Worth and Boca Raton.

It is sold in loose packs, in tea bags and as soft drinks, straight and in blends with the likes of chai and other teas, at Hispanic mercados, gourmet shops and markets that offer organic foods.

Yerba is the Spanish word for herb. Maté, from the Quechua language of the Andes, refers to the gourd in which the drink is made and consumed. The drink, also called Maté — is brewed from the leaves and stems of a native tree (Ilex paraguarensis, a member of the holly family).

It can be a real gourd, hollowed wood or fancy silver often decorated with painted, carved or hammered geometric designs. About the size of a baseball, the gourd is filled about two-thirds to three-quarters with the mix and then filled with the hot water. After a brief time for steeping, the maté is passed quietly among the group. They sip it through a gold-tipped metal straw known as a bombilla, which has a strainer at the bottom so the drinker doesn't choke on the herb.

Forget Cokes or Arizona Ice Tea at La Martina, a polo equipment shop in Wellington — Irena and Nano Perez pass the day with maté and have enough gourds, some quite elaborate, to accommodate any customers, friends or passersby.

"You go to the stadium side at Field No. 1 and you see champagne," Irene said. "But go to the other side where the grooms are, and they're all drinking maté. It's two different worlds."

In Argentina, as children are weaned off mother's milk, they are introduced to maté.

"My niece is a year and a half and she drinks maté — and she's brilliant," Buenos Aires-born Gloria Giudici, a hostess at Amici restaurant in Palm Beach, says with a laugh that suggests she's serious. "It's for all the ages. The people who drink maté are very strong but calm; you can drink it for hours."

And many do. In fact, 92 percent of Argentines drink maté and many take a thermos of hot water to work and drink it continuously. Ten to 12 gourdfuls can be brewed from a single measure of the herb which yields a cornucopia of beneficial ingredients.

According to the Web site for Guayaki Yerba Maté, a brand sold at organic markets, yerba maté contains 196 active compounds, including 24 vitamins and minerals, 15 amino acids, and 11 polyphenols — powerful antioxidants. It is high in chlorophyll and has a higher antioxidant count than green or black teas. It boosts energy with a combination of xanthine alkaloids: caffeine, theophylline and theobromine.

Though many claims are unproven, advocates tout it as a diuretic, as a digestive aid and as a stimulant. The additional nutrients supposedly minimize the nervousness and jitters associated with other caffeinated drinks, i.e. coffee and colas. Other claims: memory aid, improved ability to focus on tasks, a pleasant (and legal) buzz.

In its raw form, it tastes bitter and earthy. Some drinkers add fruit flavorings, lemon juice, honey, even cayenne pepper. Giudici prefers a small spoon of sugar with hers.

"It's very good and very healthy," she said. "In Argentina, they drink it instead of water. Now in Buenos Aires, some restaurants serve maté from 3 to 5 in the afternoon, with biscottis. It's the new coffee break!

"But it's also drunk ceremonially, with friends. You share it with a lot of people. I think people in Argentina are living better than they do here. They enjoy life very much there."