Mate, The Perfect Programmer's Drink

For a very long time, I used to drink tea while coding. I do happen to like tea, and drank (and still drink) copious amounts of it while not coding, but what I needed was something to drink while programming because I found it kept me more focused. Prior to tea, I would drink Seven Up. That did not go well.

Tea is great, but it was a little too high-maintenance for programming. For instance, I would often toss fresh leaves in the strainer and forget about them for twenty minutes, leaving me with a drink as bitter as Satan's butt. Too much tea gives you a hopelessly murky liquid, too little gives you hot water with a little taste. Resteeping works pretty well, but you need to be careful with timing. I am careful with timing when I drink Pu-Erh, and I enjoy giving it the attention that it requires. But when I write code, my attention is needed someplace else.

So I switched to mate which has none of these inconveniences, is easy to mix with other things to keep the experience fresh, and keeps me awake. It is basically tea for the lazy.

What is it?

Mate is a drink made from the steeped leaves of Ilex Paraguariensis — known by normal people as "yerba mate". It is not "technically" tea because it is not made from the leaves of Camellia Sinensis. The leaves are dried (and sometimes smoked), cut into small pieces for ease of storage, and shipped all over the world, mostly from Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

This drink is very popular in South America, in areas of Syria and Lebannon, and sort of popular in Germany, where it is being adopted by people who like Mate Club but think that maybe a hundred grams of sugar a day is an uhealthy dose.

Mate is typically drank from a gourd (confusingly also called mate), through a metal straw with a filter (which is called bombilla). The filter is there because mate is pretty much always loose leaf. There is no strainer and no matebag. Without the bombilla, you would be sipping leaves.

The bombilla is pretty much the only piece of equipment that you really, truly, absolutely need. You can use a plain cup instead of a gourd, but the gourd really is sexier and — my favourite part — it retains some flavour and changes color as you use it, much like a tobacoo pipe. The gourds look fragile, but they are pretty sturdy; as long as you are careful to wash them (and let them dry properly) so that your good friend Mold does not move in, a gourd will last you a good couple of years. If you want one that you will have forever, they make ceramic mates that are very beautiful and will last until you break them.

What is it good for?

I will leave the organic mumbo-jumbo bullshit aside and get to the point: it keeps you awake.

It keeps you awake because it has caffeine, which is exactly the same as "mateine". If you find a shop that claims mateine is a milder form of caffeine that does not cause dependence, they're full of it. About 1% of its dry weight is caffeine, which is sensibly less than coffee, guarana or, for that matter, most types of tea.

It contains a bunch of other vitamins and minerals, which is to say that drinking it is probably better than drinking Coke, but it is not magical health dust. Various crackpo^H^H^H^H^H^H^H folks (and their shops...) insist it will help lose weight, treat depression and cure cancer. If it does, it probably offers only marginal improvement over eating right and exercising.

In fact, since the leaves are sometime smoked and the beverage has a high temperature, any cancer-prevention qualities are probably offset by the cancer-causing compounds and high temperatures.

In short, if you want to make sure you die as late as possible, you should probably drink water.

How do you make it?

There are various ways to make mate, many of them quite ellaborate (see, for instance, this guide). Just as with tea, there is a fancy way to do it, and a normal way to do it.

The fancy way to do it is to fill about one fourth to three fourths of the mate with leaves, add any sweeteners (I would suggest none, but it is an acquired taste — not as acquired as Pu-Erh, fortunately), shake vigorously, pour any additional herbs, put in the bombilla while covering its open end with your finger (this stops the finer particles from clogging the filter), then pour hot (but not boiling) water. The mixture can be re-steeped about ten times before it becomes too tasteless to enjoy anymore.

The normal way to do it is to toss in about as many leaves as you know you like, pour hot water over them and go about your business. When you finish your drink, you pour water again. When it no longer has any taste, you toss in a few more leaves, and empty the whole thing at the end of the day before you go home.

You can mix it with whatever you like. I regularly toss dried fruits, coconut flakes, chunks of chocolate, pepper, orange and lemon peel and/or and various plants in my gourd. Mate is a very hackable drink.

Chug, chug, chug!

February 21st, 2017