Coffee may be America’s favorite morning pick-me-up, but it’s not the only energy-boosting brew in town. Yerba Mate, a traditional South American beverage, is a naturally energizing alternative with several health benefits — and more and more people are making the switch. But when it comes to yerba mate vs coffee, is there a “right pick”?
Both beverages offer similar benefits, but there are a few key differences to keep in mind. In today’s article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about these two popular brews. From caffeine content to common effects and even health implications, we’ll cover the a to z’s of the most common and effective ways to get a bit of a get-up-and-go.
What is Yerba Mate, and What Does it Taste Like?
Yerba mate is an herbal tea traditionally used throughout South America. It’s brewed from the leaves and twigs of the Ilex paraguariensis plant, a relative of holly. Although it was traditionally brewed over a fire and drunk from a gourd, it’s now widely available in traditional tea bags, loose-leaf tea, and a number of potent energy drinks and other convenient forms.
Yerba mate has what most users would call an “acquired taste.” Its distinctive flavor is rich and earthy, owing to the unique blend of natural chemical compounds it contains. It is also rich in tannins, giving yerba mate tea a distinctly bitter undertaste — though not quite so bitter as rich black coffee.
Also, like coffee, many first time users find the taste somewhat unpleasant, but that almost always changes with further use. As you become better acquainted with yerba mate’s distinct flavor profile, you’ll begin to detect rich, subtle notes that make it a genuinely savory delight. Notes of honey, lemon, and chocolate are all common among the most popular yerba brews, and this vibrant bouquet makes yerba mate a pleasure to drink — at least for those who take the time to appreciate it.
Verdict on Flavor of Yerba Mate vs. Coffee: Draw
Both brews take a bit of time to get used to, and first-time users are often put off by the taste of both. But with repeat use, almost all users grow to appreciate the complex, subtle blend of complementary flavors in both yerba mate and coffee.
Battle of the Brew: Benefits of Yerba Mate vs. Coffee
Both yerba mate and coffee offer a number of health and lifestyle benefits for people from all walks of life. Both beverages share many of these benefits, such as a caffeinated energy boost. But others are unique to one brew or the other — and both bring a handful of downsides that may tip the scales and decide whether yerba mate vs coffee is right for you.
Benefit 1: Mood Benefits, Energy Boost, and Caffeine Content
Both coffee and yerba mate contain a substantial amount of caffeine, which is the main reason they provide an energizing kick that gets users through their day. Although caffeine content varies between strains, both brews contain comparable amounts. But the energizing boost you get from the two drinks isn’t identical and may cut in yerba mate’s favor.
While too much coffee commonly delivers the “coffee jitters” (an anxious, restless, twitchy feeling often accompanied by stomach upset), yerba mate users do not typically experience these effects.
By contrast, yerba mate seems to calm and soothe even while it energizes, and it does not typically cause stomach upset, even after several doses. Many believe that this is due to yerba mate’s theophylline and theobromine content, both of which boast a number of health benefits.
Note that some users claim that yerba mate does not contain caffeine, but rather ‘mateine’. However, there is doubt about whether mateine is actually a different compound. More likely, mateine is another name for caffeine, and users who insist on a difference base their opinion on the effects of yerba mate’s other compounds.
Verdict on Energy Boost of Yerba Mate vs. Coffee: Yerba Mate Wins
While both deliver a powerful boost to energy and mood, coffee’s caffeine content tends to have adverse side effects at high doses. By contrast, yerba mate both energizes and soothes, keeping the mind calm and focused and the body comfortable, even at high doses.
Benefit 2: Effects on Metabolism and Weight Loss
Many users look to energy-boosting beverages as part of their workout routine. Energy drinks and coffee are common among both professional athletes and workout enthusiasts, as a boost to energy and mood can keep you motivated throughout your exercise.
But research shows that yerba mate may be especially useful for weight management. According to a study published in Nutrition and Metabolism, yerba mate improved fat metabolism when taken before light or medium intensity exercise.
Notably, caffeine has a similar effect, and moderate amounts of coffee are known to boost metabolism. But in the above study, the amount of caffeine taken was very low, and researchers suggested that the metabolic benefits were the result of other yerba mate compounds.
Verdict on Metabolism Effects of Yerba Mate vs. Coffee: Yerba Mate Wins
While any caffeinated beverage or supplement will have a mild beneficial effect on metabolism, research shows that yerba mate’s other natural compounds can kick this effect into overdrive. Combined with yerba mate’s natural caffeine content, this makes yerba mate a great tool for those looking to manage their figure and shed a few pounds.
Benefit 3: Rich Source of Antioxidants and Disease Prevention
Both coffee and yerba mate are known to be rich sources of antioxidants. Antioxidants are important because they eliminate free radicals in the body. Free radicals are a cellular waste product that the body has trouble disposing of; left unchecked, they can lead to a number of devastating health problems, including cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and Parkinson’s Disease.
Coffee is a rich source of antioxidants, and many experts argue that regular moderate use is a powerful benefit to the body’s long-term health. Regular coffee use is linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and more. Few comprehensive studies have been done to assess these claims, but observational evidence suggests that coffee offers a wide range of long-term health benefits.
Yerba mate is an even richer source of antioxidants, but its supposed health benefits are more limited (and less understood) than coffee’s. In fact, yerba mate is an even richer source of antioxidants than green tea, which is often lauded as the most antioxidant-rich supplement in town! Regular yerba mate use is linked to a reduced risk of infection, heart disease, high cholesterol, and immune system disorders. As with coffee, these claims are poorly researched, but the available evidence suggests that yerba mate can be a powerful wellness-boosting tool.
HOWEVER: there is one major thing to consider about yerba mate. Studies show that excessive use of yerba mate is linked to a higher risk of several types of cancer. These include lung, mouth, stomach, and throat cancers. Most research suggests that the increased risk is mild, and only of meaningful concern when yerba mate is consumed regularly for long periods and at very hot temperatures. Nonetheless, due to the seriousness of these concerns, users should be sure to do appropriate research if they’re thinking of making yerba mate a regular part of their lifestyle.
Verdict on Antioxidant and Disease Prevention Effects of Yerba Mate vs. Coffee: Coffee Wins
Both coffee and yerba mate offer a host of wellness benefits and are rich sources of antioxidants. However, coffee wins this category for several reasons. First, available research suggests that coffee has a beneficial effect on many serious health disorders, while yerba mate generally benefits less severe problems. Second, excessive long-term yerba mate use may increase the risk of certain forms of cancer (though this phenomenon is poorly understood and disputed by some sources).
The Bottom Line on Yerba Mate vs. Coffee
Should you make the switch from coffee to yerba mate? It’s hard to say. Both beverages offer a host of benefits, and the answer depends on which best fits your lifestyle and wellness needs.
Both yerba mate and coffee are powerful energy boosters, but yerba mate wins out when it comes to weight loss and metabolic benefits.
Both can benefit mood and focus, but coffee can produce anxiety and jitters at high doses. Meanwhile, yerba mate provides a calm, mellow focus even at high doses.
Both can benefit a number of serious long-term medical conditions, but coffee may reduce the risk of more life-threatening disorders. While it’s disputed in the medical community, yerba mate may also be linked to a higher risk of certain types of cancer, so users should be aware of the potential risk.
Ultimately, both energy-boosting beverages are delicious, effective tools for regulating your mood, energy, and overall health. But should you switch to yerba mate? We certainly won’t be breaking-off our love affair with kratom’s cousin, coffee — but for those looking for a healthy and delicious alternative, yerba mate’s benefits are clear.