Ever since I spent a summer in South America, I’ve had a special place in my heart for mate—yes, it rhymes with “latte”—the spicy, earthy tea that Argentines guzzle like we North Americans do coffee. Walking down the streets of Buenos Aires, it’s not uncommon to see busy professionals with a silver mate gourd in one hand and a thermos of hot water in the other.
The yerba mate plant has high levels of “mateine," a stimulant that, despite its name, is chemically identical to caffeine. Yet many people, for reasons not quite understood, find mateine easier to take. It’s a great boost of energy without the jitters, shakes, and stomachaches that a strong cup of joe can bring.
Recently, mate has made the migration up north. Tea bags are now available in most grocery stores, and some coffee shops (usually those with tattooed baristas and vegan-heavy menus) have introduced mate lattes. I’m a huge fan—and not just because it rhymes. The smoky, autumn-tasting tea goes perfectly with milk and a little sugar: like chai, but more exciting. Yet there’s still a purist inside me, her heart in the Southern Hemisphere, who doesn't want to condone this traditional drink’s transformation into just another trend on the Starbucks horizon.
What do you think? Should tradition be left alone? Or is our impulse to innovate, adapt, and American-ify okay, when it tastes this good?