European settlers did not discover the invigorating powers of Yerba Mate until the 17th century. But for almost two centuries before, the indigenous tribes of South America had been harvesting the Ilex paraguarensis tree and steeping its leaves for the sense of community it promoted.
Last year this mystical drink arrived in Delray Beach at Project Mate Bar. While yerba mate is available at health markets and Whole Foods, this bar is the first of its type in the South Florida, and maybe even the state. They're celebrating their one year anniversary Sunday night.
Twirling her long dark hair, co-owner Daniele Flores puts down her gourd (a traditional cup that holds her concoction of Yerba Mate) and slurps through the long metal straw that filters the leaves from being ingested. She rests this odd contraption on the counter to explain the different flavored teas to an older woman, who after trying them all in the shop, wanted to take a box home to share with her family.
"It's social, and about sharing," Flores explains while sipping her brew. "It's a friendship conductor. In the ancient times mate was about listening and talking to each other. This space was created to be an extension of that."
Mate is harvested in the rainforests of Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, and Argentina. The branches of the tree are cut and roasted over an open fire to release natural enzymes (this process gives the tea its signature smoky flavor). Cultivators in this region belong to the indigenous tribes. The recent popularity of mate -- there are mate bars throughout Europe and a mate beer exists too -- has bolstered their economy.
The herbal tea is cultivated differently across South American cultures, and depending on the region, will vary in taste. In Argentina, the leaves are fermented longer, making their version of the drink more acidic. In Brazil, the leaves are packaged almost immediately after harvest, and has less of the woodsy flavor.