The world is currently celebrating the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and we're wondering how to stay awake through an exhausting 16 days, 42 sports, 316 events and over 6,000 hours of televised content taking place halfway across the world.
At Jenier World of Teas we’re going to take inspiration from the Brazilians themselves and the fascinating tea culture developed by the Samba nation.
Brazil and Camellia Sinensis
Brazil’s climate makes it an ideal place to grow most crops and it’s the largest sugar and coffee producer in the world. However, the generally low lands on which tea is grown in Brazil leads to the plant growing quickly. This contrasts with the high mountain Chinese, Taiwanese and Sri Lankan teas which are grown slowly at low temperatures - allowing more concentrated flavours and textures to develop. Tea grown in Brazil is therefore more suited to blending and around 70% is exported to the USA, often to be used in pre-prepared iced teas. Consumption of tea in Brazil is among the world’s lowest, at 0.018kg per person per year, 418 times less than Turkey (the world’s highest tea consumer per capita) where 7.54Kg is consumed per person per year.
Brazil and Mate
Yerba Mate, a herbal tea made from the leaves of Ilex paraguariensis (Argentinian Holly) is the national infusion of Brazil and will definitely help keep you awake. Mate is a grown naturally in Brazil and Argentina and while not “tea” in the traditional sense, Mate has been shown to contain tannins and has a caffeine content similar to black tea. The three most Southern states of Brazil top 110,000 tons of consumption per year.
An ancient drink first cultivated by the Guarani people, one of the indigenous peoples of South America, Mate has retained its popularity on the continent with the modern population.
Caffeine and tannins aren’t the only things Mate has in common with tea. The way that Mate is processed and the diversity in colour and flavour that different processing methods cause creates a direct parallel with green tea.
In the southern parts of Brazil, Mate is most often consumed as the traditionally prepared chimarrao (also known as Mate Amargo, or bitter Mate). To make chimarrao the leaves of the plant are dried (withered under the sun) and steamed to preserve the greenness of the leaf. The more popular variation of the drink, Cha Mate, is made when the leaves are toasted instead of steamed. The distinction between the steaming and toasting of leaves is common internationally in tea culture and is the main distinction between steamed Japanese Green Teas and pan fried Chinese Green Teas.
Cha Mate (which translates as “tea Mate”) is prepared similarly to how we drink other teas - in tea bags or infused. Owing to the temperature in Brazil, Cha Mate is often drunk as an iced tea and is often pre-prepared. With high levels of sweetener often added to mass produced iced Mate and with its natural caffeine levels, Mate consumption is generally comparable to that of soft drinks rather than hot infusions.
The Mate ceremony
Chimarrao is prepared and presented traditionally using a bomba (straw) and a gourd (cup). The ceremony centres around a single gourd of mate and involves the gourd being passed around a group of people, establishing or strengthening the bonds of friendship. Traditionally consumed Mate is popular in Southern Brazil as well as Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.
The gourd: A unique cup associated with mate drinking, the Mate Gourd is traditionally made from a calabash gourd (a large squash like fruit) which is hollowed, then cured and decorated. Wooden and ceramic alternatives to the gourd exist, allowing for the traditional shape with additional durability and hygiene benefits.
An elaborate steel straw with a filter on the end a bomba/bombilla allows for traditional chimarrao mate to be drunk with the leaves freely infusing.
Traditional Mate Preparation
*Always boil your water before infusing any tea or infusion: using hot, unboiled water poses a health risk*
1) Half fill the gourd with mate.
2) Gently shake the gourd so that the yerba mate is on one side, leaving an open area on the other side and hold at 45 degrees.
3) Insert the filtered end of the bombilla into the bottom of the gourd.
4) Gently pour a little cold water into the open area to moisten the yerba mate. Leave the mate gourd tilted until the yerba mate has absorbed the water. This helps the packed mate maintain its shape.
5) Add hot (between 70°C and 80°C) water until it reaches just below the top of the yerba mate. Water which is too hot will make the Mate bitter. Sip from the bombilla until all the liquid is gone.
6) A half full gourd can be reinfused with hot water upwards of a dozen times. Traditionally once someone is finished with their gourd they pass it on to their friend who then reinfuses it with the hot water. Since boiling water is not used at any point there are potential hygiene risks associated with the practice of gourd sharing.
If you’re sharing a gourd with a friend, make sure they use their own bombilla.
Outwith Brazil’s southern states the Cha Mate variety is a much more popular infusion. Mate benefits from a longer infusion time than traditional tea but can otherwise be prepared in a similar fashion (using teapots, infusers, teabags or french presses). Therefore anyone who has made iced tea before has a good idea of how to make iced Mate.
- Use around 36g of Yerba Mate for 1.5L of iced tea
- Infuse, through the method of your choice, for between 5 and 10 minutes.
- Pour the Mate over ice and sweeten according. Mate is naturally very bitter and is often sweetened with honey, sugar or agave in South America.
Mate and Health
As far as a health drink, science continues to assess yerba mate's health benefits but to date its benefits have been reported to aid weight loss, digestion, immune system, anxiety and provide an energy boost. Mate, like other hot drinks, has been linked to oesophageal cancer when drunk at high temperatures. It is the temperature (thermal injury), and not the drinks themselves that are thought to be the cause of this. People who drink hot drinks should be conscious of this and allow their drinks to cool once infused.
Brazilian Mint Tea
Traditional healers in Brazil have long used the herb Hyptis crenata (Brazilian Mint) to treat a range of health problems, including headaches, stomach pain, fever and flu. A 2009 study by researchers at Newcastle University showed that Brazilian Mint was as effective as several synthetic painkillers in alleviating pain in mice. Brazilian mint, sadly, is not a well capitalized crop and is difficult to source internationally. However, since more than half of prescription drugs are derived plant extracts the lead researcher on the project Graciela Rocha hopes that more will be done to identify new medicines from previously unresearched plants.
It would be difficult to discuss Brazilian (and South American) tea culture without mentioning Ayahuasca, a herbal infusion made from several Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) containing plants and drunk for the purpose of religious ceremonies. DMT is a psychedelic substance and those who participate in ayahuasca ceremonies often report spiritual experiences (some good, some bad) often accompanied by vomiting. While ayahuasca is legal in Brazil for the purposes of these ceremonies, it is a Schedule I drug under the Convention of Psychotropic substances. Ayahuasca tourism is increasing in popularity among westerners wishing to participate in this distinctly South American ceremony.
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