Tea for Your Brain: Mate vs. Matcha vs. Maca

In today’s hip coffee-driven world, tea can almost seem like a drink for grannies. However, tea has been drunk for centuries and remains the most popular drink in the world. There are thousands of kinds of tea, and each has its own properties and uses. Three teas in particular are quite popular in the nootropic world, yet their names sound so similar and it’s easy to get them confused. Mate, matcha, and maca are distinctly different teas yet are each beneficial to your mind in different ways. We decided to clear up the confusion and describe each tea in detail, that way you can decide which of the infamous teas is perfect for you!

1. Mate (pronounced MAH-tay and sometimes incorrectly spelled maté in English) is also known as yerba mate, chimarrão or cimarrón. It is a traditional tea drunk throughout South America and according to its fans, mate has the strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the euphoria of chocolate, all steeped in one amazing tea. Mate is brewed from the dried leaves of an evergreen holly known as Ilex paragruariensis and was first drink by the Guaraní and Tupí peoples of southern Brazil. However, mate is now drunk across the world and can be found in several popular energy drinks. Mate leaves contain 24 vitamins and minerals, 15 amino acids, and massive amounts of antioxidants. Mate also is a natural source of caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine, all of which are commonly consumed stimulants. When these three are combined, they provide a uniquely balanced yet intense buzz. Yet mate is low in tannin, so it’s not as bitter as coffee, but mate is also not acid forming, so it won’t upset a sensitive stomach.

2. Matcha is a unique kind of tea that comes in powder form. It is drunk throughout East Asia, but in particular in Japan. What’s unique about matcha, is that it comes from a specially grown and processed green tea. Several weeks before the green tea leaves are ready for harvest, the bushes are covered from direct sunlight. The lack of direct sunlight not only slows down growth, but it increases the levels of chlorophyll and certain amino acids, in particular theanine. The leaves are then laid out flat to dry and then the stems and veins are taken out and the rest is finely ground to a powder. The reason why matcha is of such interest to nootropic geeks like us is that matcha contains high levels of antioxidants and theanine. These two ingredients have been shown to raise levels of dopamine and serotonin, both of which are neurotransmitters in the brain, and also GABA, which oddly enough is a sort of anti-neurotransmitter. Yet when the three are combined, they have been shown to provide a serene focus and fans have claimed drinking matcha gave them sharper working memories and reaction times.

3. Last but not least we have maca (pronounced mah-kah), which can be drunk as a tea or taken as a supplement. It is an herb of the mustard or cabbage family of plants that is native to the Andes of Peru and has been grown for its roots and thick stems for over 3,000 years. It looks like a radish or turnip, but is infinitely more fascinating. The roots and stems are ground up and then brewed into a tea that has been known for centuries to boost stamina, enhance focus, sharpen clarity and increase one’s sexual health. Believe it or not, maca manages to do all this without a bit of caffeine! Legend has it that maca was eaten by Inca imperial warriors before battle and also before attempting to woo women. If you decide to consume maca instead of drinking it as a tea, make sure it has been gelatinized, for consumed maca directly can cause a bit of an upset stomach.

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