Thursday, 18 June 2009

Sustainable Caffinated Drinks: Mate and Tea

by Melinda Briana Epler, One Green Generation

If you are trying to eat (and drink) locally and sustainably, you may have come across an issue: caffeine. To drink it or not to drink it. It is certainly not within a 100 mile diet for me!

However, I love sipping my cup of joe in the morning as I read comments, emails, and news. It is a highlight of my day. So I haven't given up coffee completely - we buy locally-roasted, fair trade, shade grown, organic coffee, which is about as good as you can get without growing your own.

I have also researched how to grow coffee, and will share my research in another post. But today I'd like to share what I've learned about two other forms of caffeine. I trade off drinking these as my afternoon pick-me-up...


I traveled throughout Argentina back in 2001-2 - it happened to be just when the Argentinian economy collapsed. The trip certainly changed my world view, as I saw a country break down economically and politically overnight. But one thing that I noticed is that despite the difficult times, Argentines still came together over coffee and maté. In fact, it became very important for people to come together and help one another during that time. I hope we will do the same in our culture when times are rough.

According to the Yerba Maté Association of the Americas (I love the internet), maté tea contains antioxidants, sustains energy, improves mental clarity, boosts the immune system, may help induce weight loss, inhibits diabetes, and reduces cholesterol. There’s a study for everything, so who knows how much of that is true, but it does seem to help me feel better when I'm sick!

If maté is a bit bitter to you, try adding some ginger, dried raspberries, or some other tasty complementary flavor.

Pic: Traditionally mate is served in a hollowed gourd, and drunk through a silver straw which has a filter on the bottom. (Photo courtesy of Jorge Alfonso Hernandez, on Wikipedia.)


Our good friend Wikipedia has an entire entry devoted to the Benefits of Tea. It includes anti-cancer properties, increasing metabolism, boosting immune system and mental alertness, lowering chances of cognitive impairment, lowering stress, reducing bad breath, and several other benefits.

According to the BBC, drinking tea is healthier than water. Of course there is a study for everything, but I do believe it increases my mental alertness and lowers my stress level. The latter benefit could have a lot to do with just taking the time for myself to drink tea!

Importation of Tea

Matt and I try to buy tea that is fair trade and organically grown. However, tea tends to come from far away places, requiring a lot of fossil fuels to get them into our cupboard. China and India together produce 50% of the world’s tea, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.

Growing Tea

So, I looked up how to grow tea. Turns out that it is fairly easy to grow. The same plant produces black, green, or oolong tea - the difference is in the preparation of the leaves. Even better, tea comes from a Camellia bush that has beautiful white flowers. So guess what we put in the ground this spring!

The shrub is hardy to zone 8, but in cooler areas it can be grown indoors, in a greenhouse, or in a pot that comes inside during the cold winter days. According to the above article, you can’t harvest the leaves until the plant is three years old, so you may want to purchase a mature plant rather than starting from seed.

I've written an entire article about growing tea if you would like to learn more. It's really not difficult.

Pic: Camellia sinensis. (Photo is in Public Domain, originally appearing in Kohler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen, by Franz Eugen Kohler, in 1887.)

Growing Maté

Maté is a little more difficult to grow. It is an understory evergreen holly tree that grows to 20-30 feet when fully mature. Germination apparently takes several months, as it does for many trees. Also, you must grow it in zone 9 or above, though growing indoors or in a greenhouse may be an option.

Here is where I’ve found Ilex paraguariensis seeds:

There is not a whole lot of information out there about how to grow maté - it could be that most of it is in Spanish! If you know more about how to grow it, please leave a comment.


Pic: Ilex paraguariensis. (Photo is in Public Domain, originally appearing in Kohler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen, by Franz Eugen Kohler, in 1887.)