The Book of Yerba Mate: A Stimulating History

The untold story of South America’s most interesting beverage


Published (US):
Sep 10, 2024
Published (UK):
Nov 5, 2024
5.5 x 8.5 in.
30 b/w illus. 3 maps.
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Brewed from the dried leaves and tender shoots of an evergreen tree native to South America, yerba mate gives its drinkers the jolt of liquid effervescence many of us get from coffee or tea. In Argentina, southern “gaúcho” Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, mate is the stimulating brew of choice, famously quaffed by the Argentine national football team en route to its 2022 FIFA World Cup victory. In The Book of Yerba Mate, Christine Folch offers a wide-ranging exploration of the world’s third-most popular naturally stimulating beverage. Folch discusses who drinks mate, and why, and whether this earthier caffeinated drink with its promise of a different buzz and a more authentic, spiritual connection to place can find a market niche beyond South America.

Folch traces yerba mate’s odysseys across the globe, from South America to the Middle East and North America. She discovers that mate inspired the world’s first written tango, powered early Jesuit and German nationalist utopias, ignited one of modern history’s most devastating wars, and fueled Catholic conspiracies. And, Folch reports, mate is currently starring in puppet shows put on by Syrian dissidents.

By tracing yerba mate production and consumption as they change over time and place, from precolonial Indigenous beginnings to the present, Folch unravels the processes of commodification and their countervailing forces to show how accidents of botany intersect with political economic systems and personal taste. The stories behind the caffeinated infusions we prefer, she finds, are nothing less than the story of how the modern world is put together.