Yerba Mate for Focus and Creativity – Review

By on July 21, 2014

Yerba Mate is a green tea, and like many other green teas it is high in a number of different vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Specifically, it’s high in B vitamins, vitamin C, manganese, potassium, zinc and polyphenols. But that’s all pretty boring…

What I’m interested in, is the potential use of Yerba Mate as a concentration/creativity aid. It has many advocates in this regard including the likes of Tim Ferriss who credits it with giving him the focus to write The 4 Hour Workweek and Charles Darwin who called it the ‘perfect stimulant’.

“I reached the place of our vibouac by sunset and drinking much mate, soon made up my bed for the night. The wind was very strong and cold, but I never slept more comfortably.” – Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

The idea is that it can give you a long and noticeable sharpness without some of the side effects associated with black tea of coffee such as jitters or difficulty sleeping. People are also using for fat burning, for studying, as a pre-workout…

A while back I tested Modafinil and found it powerful but worrying due to a number of side effects and its potential for abuse. I don’t feel comfortable using Modafinil on a regular basis, but I do want something like it that feels a little safer and more natural… is Yerba Mate it?

How it Works

Yerba mate is made by steeping leaves and twigs from the mate plant (a type of Holly from South America) and is traditionally enjoyed from a gourd with friends. I think this is a big part of what people like about it, but sadly I don’t have a gourd… It’s very popular in Uruguay, Southern Brazil and Argentina.

Apparently Yerba Mate gets its magic from a unique combination of three separate xanthines (stimulants): caffeine, theobromine and theophylline. Theobromine is 10x weaker than caffeine and is also found in chocolate (particularly dark chocolate). It is different from caffeine in that it is a vasodilator – meaning it widens the blood vessels, whereas caffeine is a vasoconstrictor meaning it constricts the blood vessels. This makes it good for blood pressure and for circulation and may help to combat some of the palpitations and anxiousness we get from other caffeinated drinks like coffee. Theobromine works on the vagus nerve that delivers oxygen to the brain.

Theophylline likewise aids smooth muscle relaxation but also provides stimulant effects and may help to slow down the effects of the other ingredients. Combined, these three xanthines may be more effective than any one of them on their own resulting in a ‘perfect storm’ for increased alertness and creative flow.

My Yerba Mate Review

So that’s the idea, how does the reality stack up?

Alright, I guess?

Firstly for those who have ever used Modafinil… this is nothing like that (but then why would it be? It is a tea after all). The Limitless pill this ain’t.

That should be pretty obvious really, but unfortunately the sheer amount of hyperbole surrounding Yerba Mate had led me to some pretty high expectations.

What it felt like was a ‘gently persistent’ focus, a bit like drinking half a coffee very slowly… And it’s true that this stuff doesn’t keep you up, because I was feeling sleepy as normal (I have been sleeping very well though, which is said to be one of the benefits despite the caffeine content…).  Most people want to be given extra wakefulness with their caffeinated drinks though, so to me this is actually a minus. In terms of the effect the closest thing I can compare it to is guarana, though guarana is slightly more effective (for me anyway).

Could Yerba Mate help me bang out more words in a typical working day? Not really… My productivity has seemed distinctly average on the times I’ve tried it. It’s certainly less effective than my current favourite ‘work’ beverage: coffee with coconut milk. And overall I’d much prefer a ‘regular’ strong coffee for productivity too. I wouldn’t say I had any particular creative insights either.

Ah well.

Taste and Conclusions

As for the taste… that wasn’t great either. It’s best described as quite a strong green tea with the usual ‘grassy’ flavour, plus a slightly bitter taste. My box came with a picture of a milk carton, but adding milk made it a really weird colour and it didn’t taste like I was meant to do that… I like my caffeine drinks to be frothy and creamy, a little sweet with a slight bitterness. This is just bitter grass water. If you like green tea though, then you’ll probably be fine with it.

On the plus side it is cheap, and I think part of the reason many people find it useful for writing/working/composing is that they enjoy the small ritual of making the tea (in their gourd with metal straw) before settling down to work. I can get that. And if you’re someone who finds coffee a bit too intense, then yeah Yerba Mate might be a good alternative. It could also be a good alternative to tea once you’re starting to get ready for bed – I could see myself using it that way.

Overall though? Don’t expect this to change your life or turn you into a super genius. If you’re working long evenings at the computer then Yerba Mate might be a nice accompaniment that won’t keep you up and that has a nice bit of history to it. If you buy a proper gourd then you can enjoy pretending to be cultured. For real work though? There’s a reason the majority of us drink coffee!


About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.


  1. Adam Black says:

    Herba Mate is bad news!

    It can cause psychosis. Its associated with a bunch of negative mental effects. It makes you feel more altert, but spaces you out.

    I backed into a lightpost in a parkinglot once, the week I was on it
    ( Yet I always turn around, and dont rely on mirrors ) .

    Guarana is better. Its not as strong as coffee, but the effects last 2-3 times as long. No hills-Valleys. Just smooth awakeness .

    • thebioneer says:

      Glad it’s not just me then! 🙂 And yeah I’ve used guarana a bit – I too am a fan! Do you know if there is any way to drink it as a tea?

      • Adam Black says:

        Sure, You can add some Guarana leaves, or open some capsules in a tea holder.

        Guarana is widely sold as a cold drink is South-America!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected !!