This Strong South American Brew Can Take A Bit Of Getting Used To

But it's totally worth it...

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You can't get much more Irish than a grand cup of tea. But what do you do when you're not in the mood for regular tea? With so many different types of herbal tea out there how do you decide what to pick? We've decided to do the hard work for you and explore Dublin, one cup of exotic tea at a time...

What am I drinking?

Mate (pronounced like but never spelled as “maté”) Orange

Where am I drinking it?

Brick Alley Café, formerly Joy of Coffee, and a close relative of the nearby Joy of Cha. As the name might suggest, both are fantastic spots for tea. Surprisingly quiet – though you might have to put up with an occasional busker covering Wonderwall outside – Brick Alley has a comfortable and comforting ambience with low lighting that makes it a lovely cafe to curl up with some tea and a book late in the evening.

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What does it taste like?

This is a very strong-flavoured infusion, with a grassy tang. The orange intensifies rather than tempers this, tasting more like peel than juice. It grows bitter quickly when left to steep for longer than two or three minutes (known as ‘long mate’), though it’s usual in South America to add other herbs, sugar or even milk. Adding a little bit of honey balances it out nicely, making it into a fairly intense but flavoursome brew.

What does it look like?

The traditional way of serving mate is in a gourd with a special silver straw called a bombilla, with a traditional ritual of preparation and drinking: probably a little impractical for a small cafe in the city centre. In keeping with Brick Alley’s simple and rustic feel, the tea is served in a glass mug with a metal filter. This has the advantage of allowing you to see the many-layered colour, as well as the beautiful leaves and herbs that make up the tea itself.

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Where does it come from?

Mate (derived from the yerba mate plant) is a predominantly South American drink, though it’s also very popular in Syria. It is even considered the ‘national infusion’ of Argentina, and its preparation ritual is almost as important to society there as green tea in Japan. Brick Alley Café import their teas from German company, Dethlefsen & Balk, who specialise in unusual infusions such as this one with the addition of orange.

What effect does it have?

This tea has significantly more caffeine content than green teas, so be prepared to have a long night if you drink it too late. This high caffeine content plus its strong flavour makes it a great morning drink though, especially if paired with a fruity or sweet breakfast.

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Where can I get it?

In Dublin only Brick Alley and Joy of Cha to the best ofmy knowledge, and since the former’s focus has shifted to food and beer, the latter might be your best bet. Unfortunately Dethlefsen & Balk only supply wholesale so you can’t pick it up directly online.

Is it worth the try?

Yes, it’s a delicious, high-quality loose tea at a pretty standard cafe price. Mate’s strong flavour can make it something of an acquired taste though.

If you like this, also try…

Bad Weather Tea with Honey: another strongly-flavoured blend, but this time a herbal variety so lacking in caffeine. Particularly sweet and comforting when it’s miserable out.

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