Monday, May 2, 2011

Yerba Mate... the new Red Bull?

**First posted November 6, 2010, on The Art (and Business) of Blogging, , Edited April 4, 2011 **

First time I tried an energy drink was at this year's Nuit Blanche. They were giving the stuff away for free! It was AMP energy drink, not the famous Red Bull, you know the one that "gives you wings" .

As I walked along Queen Street West late that night, I gave it a try. One sip of this sugary, medicinal tasting, lemony brew and I was already starting to feel the brain fog lift... wow...

Next sip I start to feel my body start to shake, umm, wait a minute ... is it supposed to do this ... this fast?

My symptoms included heart palpitations, quicken breath and a bad case of the jitters. It felt a little scary, I had to stop. What am I doing to my body I thought. Aren't there healthier ways to get a boost of energy and stay awake?

Just as I was about to cross Dovercourt Road, the answer came in the form of a little cafe called El Almacen. Oh, it's that yerba mate cafe that had opened earlier this year.

I remembered reading about this place in a blogto review . I had meant to go check it out...

As a Certified Tea Sommelier, it is not just "Tea" (camellia sinensis) that we studied, but all infusions including tisanes or herbals too. We had learned about this South American herb, yerba mate, only briefly.

It would be a few weeks later that I got the chance to actually visit the cafe. I went with another certified tea sommelier, we both had yerba mate in form of lattes. It was very refreshing (not the strong earthy, astringent and pungent taste I knew from class) and yes, it did give me a boost. But without the jitters.

This is a very interesting product, I must come back and try it again I thought.  A few weeks later, I finally made it back to the cafe.  When I arrived at the cafe today, there were quite a few tables filled with people. Nice to see for a new cafe, good sign.

I examined their menu and decided to have the yerba mate served in the traditional gourd.

A thermos of hot water comes with your order. It comes with the gourd, a silver straw and little jars of sugar and yerba mate leaves. This allows you to adjust the strength of the mate yourself.

The empanada ... you have to order it separately.

Sugar and yerba mate leaves.

Add 4-5 teaspoons of leaves into the gourd, I was told by the co-owner, Elsa.

If you like sweet, this is the time to add some sugar. Add hot water till it almost reaches the top, gently add the straw, sip and enjoy...

Drink to the bottom. Add more water. Do not stir the straw or even the filter at the bottom of that silver straw will not be able to help you - from having to spit out leaves for a long time to come...

It was very strong tasting. Roasted and herb like flavours. Abit of astringent and bitter - this first steeping. But I was starting to feel a buzz... but this buzz was a calm kind of buzz. I felt alert but not jittery.

I kept refilling with more water... with each refill, it tasted better, more mellow. It's a bit of an acquired taste.

It give a nice boost of energy without the shakes (like you may get with energy drinks or coffee). Plus it's supposed to have some minerals and antioxidants too, I heard.

I felt alert and calm at the same time. And drinking it from the gourd was fun!

If you're looking for a fun way to give yourself a bit of a boost, maybe give yerba mate a try?

Not sure if it will give you wings though...

(All photos taken by Rita Fong)

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