Name: Karla Johan
Profession: Sommelier of Mate & Author
Lives: Belgrano, Buenos Aires
Age: 45 and well-preserved, thanks to mate!
How and at what age did you start drinking mate? Did your parents serve you mate?
I remember my first mate. My mother served my brother and me a mate with a little grated coconut, and the thermos had hot milk sweetened with honey — the best mate!
• At what age is it normal to start drinking mate in your province of Misiones, known as Argentina’s ‘cradle of mate’?
In Misiones, mate is consumed from childhood. It is part of the culture, but it’s ideal is to give it to children starting at five-years-old, and with milk. It is a very nutritious breakfast.
• What made you decide to become a mate sommelier?
As a sommelier, I did not want to stick solely to the theme of wine. In general people think that, a sommelier is only dedicated to the subject of wine. A sommelier must first of all have the ability to taste any type of product in order to form an opinion. And yerba mate is where my profession, in its peak expression, is related to my origins in Missiones. That’s where I found the connection!
Since there was no specialized school for yerba mate tasting and training, I had to transform myself into a kind of investigative researcher.
To do so I visited yerba mate farms in (the provinces of) Misiones and Corrientes, and spoke with producers from Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. I felt the product! I also looked into the national and international research and writings on mate.
By doing this research, I was laying the foundations for my company and my products, which bear the ‘Sommelier de Mate’ brand. I also wrote, ‘The Book of Yerba Mate‘. (affiliate link)
• Where did the term ‘mate sommelier’ come from? I thought sommeliers were just for wine?
The term ‘mate sommelier’ is a creation of mine, a trademark of my company and my products.
• You lived in Vancouver, Canada. Did your friends there started drinking mate with you? What did they think?
I lived in Vancouver, Canada for a year. It was a wonderful experience, being away from my family, my affections and my country. That led me to prepare my first bitter mate alone. At that moment one becomes an adult.
I remember we only were able to get one brand of yerba mate back then. I had to take a bus and a train to go to the Latin Quarter, and in just one store, you could purchase yerba mate, dulce de leche, and other South America products.
My friends in Vancouver were mostly Latinos from Mexico, Chile and Central America, so it was a huge challenge to teach them to drink mate.
• When reviewing studies on the nutritional profile (many conducted abroad in recent years, as mate becomes more popular around the world) there are many discrepancies between studies. Could you speculate why?
Yerba mate is a 100% natural product, it has a lots of antioxidants, in higher concentrations than green tea and red wine, which helps prevent diseases such as cancer.
Yerba mate is a very natural infusion, rich in nutrients that aid in the growth and proper functioning of the body. The properties of yerba mate infusion are increasingly surprising and, as experts advance in their research, they continue to discover new benefits in yerba mate.
• Is there any recent study about Yerba mate that drew your attention?
The results of a scientific study carried out by a team of researchers from the Juan Agustín Maza University, in Mendoza, confirm that the consumption of yerba mate helps reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides.
Its active principles are very appropriate to combat one of the fastest growing pathologies in recent decades: excess weight and obesity.
Its calorie and fat burning properties have been scientifically proven. Researchers are attracted by the relationship between high consumption of yerba mate and low percentage of obesity among consumers; the lipogenic and thermogenic properties of mate provide surprising results. Yerba mate is an appetite suppressant and has a laxative and diuretic properties.
In the digestive tract, it activates the peristaltic movements (muscular contractions) of the intestine, promotes evacuation of the bowels and urination, and stimulants stomach contractions.
Among yerba mate’s components is chlorogenic acid, a substance that is also present in artichokes, and which has recognized hepatoprotective (liver-protecting) action.
There are even yerba mate creams and gels manufactured for anti-cellulite treatments, made with the fluid extract of yerba mate.
It is also marketed in the form of slimming capsules and is credited with reducing cholesterol levels, especially the so-called ‘bad cholesterol.’
• In one television interview you said that people should drink mate with water that is between 75-83 degrees Celsius (165-179 F) which is a bit cooler than most people drink it. Why is it better to drink mate with water this temperature?
Yes, that is the ideal temperature. Otherwise the herb can get burnt or separate. In reality, no tea should be drunken above that temperature for health reasons.
• As you know, families in yerba mate farming communities often take their children with them to help out when they go harvest the yerba. What are your thoughts on child labor in the production of mate and other teas?
My job as a professional is to communicate the benefits of this wonderful infusion. I do not have an opinion formed on this question.