1902 Encyclopedia > Mate (Paraguay Tea)

Mate (Paraguay Tea)

MATE, or PARAGUAY TEA, consists of the dried leaves of Ilex paraguayends, St Hil., an evergreen shrub or small tree belonging to the same natural order as the common holly, a plant to which it bears some resemblance in size and habit. The leaves are from 6 to 8 inches long, shortly-stalked, oblong wedge-shaped, rounded at the upper end, and finely toothed at the margin. The small white flowers

Maté (Ilex paraguayensis). Portion of plant, half natural size. Flower drupe and nuts, twice natural size. Part of underside of leaf showing minute glands, natural size.

grow in forked clusters in the axils of the leaves ; the sepals, petals, and stamens are four in number; and the berry is 4-seeded. The plant grows abundantly in Paraguay, Corrientes, Chaco, and the south of Brazil, forming woods called yerbales. One of the principal centres of the maté industry is the Villa Real, a small town above Asuncion on the Paraguay river; another is the Villa de San Xavier, in the district between the rivers Uruguay and Parana.
Although maté appears to have been used from time im-memorial by the Indians, the Jesuits were the first to attempt its cultivation. This was commenced at their branch missions in Paraguay and the province of Rio Grande de San Pedro, where some plantations still exist, and furnish the best tea that is made. From this circumstance the names Jesuits' tea, tea of the Missions, St Bartholomew's tea, <fcc, are sometimes applied to maté. Under cultivation the quality of the tea improves, but the plant remains a small shrub with numerous stems, instead of forming, as in the wild state, a tree with a rounded head. From cultivated plants the leaves are gathered every two or three years, that interval being necessary for restoration to vigorous growth. The collection of maté is, however, chiefly effected by Indians employed for that purpose by merchants, who pay a money consideration to Government for the privilege.
ui these species, are in general use for preparing maté.
When a yerbal or maté wood is found, the Indians, who usually travel in companies of about twenty-five in number, build wigwams and settle down to the work for about six months. Their first operation is to prepare an open space, called a tatacua, about 6 feet square, in which the surface of the soil is beaten hard and smooth with mallets. The leafy branches of the maté are then cut down and placed on the tatacua, where they undergo a preliminary roasting from a fire kindled around it. An arch of poles, or of hurdles, is then erected above it, on which the maté is placed, a fire being lighted underneath. This part of the process demands some care, since by it the leaves have to be rendered brittle enough to be easily pulverized, and the aroma has to be developed, the necessary amount of heat being only learned by experience. After drying, the leaves are reduced to coarse powder in mortars formed of pits in the earth well rammed. Maté so prepared is called caa c/azu or yerva do polos, and is chiefly used in Brazil. In Paraguay and the province of Parana in the Argentine Republic, the leaves are deprived of the midrib before roasting; this is called caa-mtri. A very superior quality, or caa-cuys, is also prepared in Paraguay from the scarcely expanded buds. More recently a different method of dry-ing maté has been adopted, the leaves being heated in large cast iron pans set in brick work, in the same way that tea is dried in China; it is afterwards powdered by machinery.
The different methods of preparation influence to a certain extent the value of the product, the maté prepared in Paraguay being con-sidered the best, that of Oran and Paranagua very inferior. The leaves when dried are packed tightly in serous or oblong packages made of raw hides, which are then carefully sewed up. These shrink by exposure to the sun, and in a couple of days form compact parcels each containing about 200 lb of tea ; in this form it keeps well. The tea is generally prepared for use in a small silver-mounted calabash, made of the fruit of Crescentia Cajete (Cuca) or of Cucúrbita lagenaria (Cabaco), usually about the size of a large orange, the tapering end of the latter serving for a handle. In the top of the calabash, or maté,' a circular hole about the size of a florin is made, and through this opening the tea is sucked by means of a bom-billa. This instrument consists of a small tube 6 or 7 inches long, formed either of metal or a reed, which has at one end a bulb made either of extremely fine basket-work or of metal perforated with minute holes, so as to prevent the particles of the tea leaves from being drawn up into the mouth. Some sugar and a little hot water are first placed in the gourd, the yerva is then added, and finally the vessel is filled to the brim with boiling water, or milk previously heated by a spirit lamp. A little burnt sugar or lemon juice is sometimes added instead of milk. The beverage is then handed round to the company, each person being furnished with a bombilla. The leaves will bear steeping about three times. The infusion, if not drunk soon after it is made, rapidly turns black. Persons who are fond of maté drink it before every meal, and consume about 1 oz. of the leaves per day. In the neighbourhood of Parana it is prepared and drunk like Chinese tea. Maté is generally considered disagree-able by those unaccustomed to it, having a somewhat bitter taste ; moreover, it is the custom to drink it so hot as to be unpleasant. But in the south-eastern republics it is a much-prized article of luxury, and is the first thing offered to visitors. The gaucho of the plains will travel on horseback for weeks asking no better fare than dried beef washed down with copious draughts of maté, and for it he will forego any other luxury, such as sugar, rice, or biscuit. Maté acts as a restorative after great fatigue in the same manner as tea. Since it does not lose its flavour so quickly as tea by exposure to the air and damp, it is more valuable to travellers.
Some writers attribute deleterious effects to its use, while others praise it to an almost incredible degree. Its physiological action does not appear to have been carefully worked out, but its extensive use in countries where tea and coffee are known seems to indicate that it may possess virtues peculiar to itself.
Its properties appear to be chiefly due to theine or caffeine Analysed by Dr H. Byasson, 100 grains were found to yield
Grains. '
Caffeine 1-S50
Glutinous substance or peculiar fatty matter and colouring matter 3"870
Complex glucoside 2*380
Resin 0-630
Inorganic salts, including iron 3'920
Malic acid not estimated.

According to analyses made by Alonzo Bobbins it also contains about 1-5 of a peculiar tannin which does not precipitate potassio-tartrate of antimony, nor tan leather. The glutinous substance resembles in consistence common birdlime, and is considered by Byasson to be a compound ether, the alcohol of which would be near cholesterin. Since the beginning of the 17th century maté has been drunk by all classes in Paraguay, and it is now used through-out Brazil and the neighbouring countries. In 1855 the amount of maté annually consumed in South America was estimated by Von Bibra at 15,000,000 lb, and the consumption is now probably three or four times as great; in Brazil it brings in a revenue of about £110,000. In the Argentine Republic alone the consumption is not -3ss than 27,000,000 ft) per annum, or about 13 lb per head, while the proportion of tea and coffee consumed is only about 2 lb of the former and J lb of the latter per head. The export of maté from Brazil to foreign countries has also increased from 2,720,475 kilos in 1840 to 5,206,485 kilos in 1850, 6,808,056 kilos in 1860, 9,507,086 kilos in 1870, and 14,063,731 kilos in 1879-80.
See Scully, Brazil, London, 1866 ; Mansfield, Brazil, &c, London, 1856 ; Pilar-maceutical Journal (3), -vol. vii. p. 4; (3), vol. viii. p. 615, 1627; Christy, New Commercial Plants, No. 3, London, 1880 ; Mulhall, Progress of the World, 1880, p. 488 ; Zeitschrift Oesterreichischer Apothekerverein, 1882, pp. 273, 285, 310.


Mr J. Miers has proved that J. curitibensis, J. gigantea, 1. ovali-folia, I. Ilumboldtiana, and /. nigropunctata, besides several varieties
The word caa signified the plant in the native Indian language. The Spaniards gave it a similar name, yerba. Maté comes from the language of the Incas, and originally means a calabash. The Para-guay tea was called at first yerva do maté, and then, the yerva being dropped, the name maté came to signify the same thing.

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