Monday, January 12, 2009

Rethinking coffee...

I went years without coffee and fell into a somnambulant stupor. I began drinking coffee again when we were staying in a house that had a high end espresso maker. That stuff was like crack. Addiction ensued with all the jitters, sour bellies, and coffee breath one could possibly hope for. But the mornings were great. Nothing like that encroaching java alertness that arrives in the morning light.

If there's one thing that can be said about Pablo Gazpachot, it's that he's open to new things and that improving health is always a good thing. OK that's two things. Point being, this past Thanksgiving Sarah and I went up to Sebastopol, a truly progressive and beautiful little town North of San Francisco replete with wild turkeys and city maintained walking paths that stay away from the roads. Tom Waits lives there. They are trying to get their own currency. It's the California that Republicans have fever dreams about. Coffee is a big deal sure, but also big in town is Yerba Mate a tea derived from a cousin of the hollybush that is hugely popular in South America (and with hippies North of Santa Cruz).

Yerba Mate, or just Mate ("mah-tay") products are sometimes marketed as "caffeine-free" alternatives to coffee and tea, and said to have fewer negative effects. This is often based on a claim that the primary active xanthine in mate is "mateine," erroneously said to be a stereoisomer of caffeine. However, it is not chemically possible for caffeine to have a stereoisomer, and "mateine" is an official synonym of caffeine in the chemical databases.

Mate's physiological effects are similar to (yet distinct from) more widespread caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, or guarana drinks. Users report a mental state of wakefulness, focus and alertness reminiscent of most stimulants, but often remark on mate's unique lack of the negative effects typically created by other such compounds, such as anxiety, diarrhea, "jitteriness", and heart palpitations.

I concur. Mate is great stuff. It tastes a bit grassy, which will put off some, but I like the flavor, and drink it straight. Be careful not to boil the water, mate wants water that is around 170 degrees - more that that and you'll fry the good out. The one drawback I've discovered is that when you start drinking mate it makes you urinate like a pregnant race horse. That factor goes away after a few days, but look out!

Guayaki makes a good loose leaf mate. It's organic, fair trade, and bird friendly if any of that resonates for you. If coffee is becoming a grind and yet you need your boost - try the mate.

("Tea Fountain" by Sonja Vordermaier)


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