Have a Maté, Mate

I discovered yerba mate (yer-bah mah-tay) a little over a year ago when I was looking for a coffee alternative. I wanted something that was a little bit easier on the stomach and preferably somewhat nutritious. I also wanted it to have a decent “kick” to it to help me get out the door for big workouts and for the added focus that caffeine can provide for challenging workouts. Mate conveniently has a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, along with around 60mg of caffeine per 6g of brewed loose-leaf. While mate is not technically a tea, it is brewed from leaves just like tea is, and has a very earthy taste to it. Most would say this is an acquired taste, but there are a variety of ways to make it without it tasting like freshly cut grass…It is traditionally sipped from a mate gourd (which I’ve never actually done) and is harvested from South American rainforests. A popular American brand that I came across is Guayaki (gwy-uh-KEE), which has many flavors of pre-made bottles and cans, and they also sell loose-leaf yerba mate. I love their stuff, and an added bonus is that a portion of their profits go to South American rainforest restoration.

I actually decided to write Guayaki a letter to see if they’d be willing to sponsor me during my prep for Kona. I did hear back from them (more specifically, Michael Newton aka don Miguel) and they indicated that I was close to the top of the list of potential ambassadors, but I didn’t make the cut (better luck next time!). While buying their products has the admirable side effect of contributing to rainforest restoration, cost is an issue for me when considering just how much of this stuff I may consume during heavy training periods…So I looked around and found the Eco Teas brand to be consistently cheaper, with the only downside being that they only sell loose-leaf mate with no pre-made bottles or cans offered.

I also recently made a stop by Flagstaff’s new Natural Grocers store and I was pleased to see the prices (well, yerba mate prices, at least) were quite a bit lower than New Frontiers.

Natural Grocers:

  • Guayaki 16oz bottles: $2.15
  • Guayaki 16oz cans: $1.75
  • Guayaki loose-leaf, 1lb: $11.49
  • Eco Teas loose-leaf, 1lb: $7.49

New Frontiers:

  • Guayaki 16oz bottles: $2.69
  • Guayaki 16oz cans: $2.29
  • Guayaki loose-leaf, 1lb: $15.19
  • Eco Teas loose-leaf, 1lb: $11.19

Considering how much a bottle of pre-made mate is ($2.15 minimum) I decided to buy a 1lb bag of Eco Teas loose-leaf to attempt to make my own to see just how cheap it could be. I used a 32oz Bodum french press for brewing and used six scoops (aka tablespoons) of dry mate per 32oz brewed. The recommended amount of mate to use is actually 1 tbsp for every 8oz, but I’m hardcore so I added two more scoops. I brewed for 6 minutes and poured it into used Guayaki bottles*, added one packet of Stevia for each bottle, and then refrigerated. While it would have been cool to add my own fruit juice from our juicer, that’s only practical if you’re going to drink it very soon because it will go bad. I wanted to be able to make several bottles to have throughout the week, so I just bought a half gallon of orange/strawberry/banana juice, which lasts longer because it’s pasteurized. I added 3-4oz of the juice to each bottle of mate and I have to say, it’s good stuff! I kept track of how many bottles I got out of the 1lb bag (keep in mind, I also used more dry mate per bottle than recommended) and it turns out that this method is significantly cheaper than buying pre-made bottles.

  • 1lb bag of Eco Teas yerba mate = $7.49
  • 1lb bag brewed, 6tbsp brewed per 32oz = 464oz = 29 bottles
  • $7.49 divided by 29 bottles = 26 cents per bottle (as opposed to $2.15!)
  • 29 bottles, if purchased = $62.35
  • Total savings = $54.86
  • If juice cost is added in (approx $3.50) = 12 cents per bottle = 38 cents total cost per home-brewed bottle

Needless to say, I’ll be sticking with this method! If you’re someone that’s looking for an alternative to coffee and/or something more nutritious, I highly recommend giving yerba mate a try. It’s as versatile as coffee and can be served hot or cold (you can even make “mate lattes”), plus it’s nearly as strong as coffee. The version that I make is nice and refreshing too, and I’ll sometimes even have some cold mate mixed with Gatorade in my first bottle on my long ride days.

*As a side note, I’ve found that constantly reusing the Guayaki-style bottle caps causes them to wear out, so I’ve begun seeking out more trustworthy screw-on caps.

(Images 1 and 2 are from http://www.guayaki.com and image 3 is from http://www.yerbamate.com)

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