Pomona Adds Yerba Mate to Dining Halls

Students returning from studying abroad in Argentina can now find a reminder of South American culture in Pomona College dining halls: yerba mate.

Pomona’s dining halls started serving yerba mate, a popular drink in Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, and southern Brazil, with tastings Feb. 26 at Frank Dining Hall and Feb. 27 at Frary Dining Hall, said Assistant Director of Campus Services Margie McKenna.

McKenna said that yerba mate was sold at the Coop Store as a cold drink and received positive student response. Currently, the three dining halls buy yerba mate from United Natural Foods, Inc. and serve it as a hot drink. 

“It’s been available [at Pomona] for two years. We had the representative come to Frank and Frary to do a presentation on the hot drink. It is a good addition to the new tea. Also, the Food Committees really liked it,” McKenna said. 

Yerba mate leaves are naturally caffeinated and come from the South American rainforest holly tree. Similar to coffee and cocoa, yerba mate flavor and style differ depending on the region in which it is cultivated. 

According to Grant Walker, sales representative for Guayaki Yerba Mate for Southern California, yerba mate, like tea, contains antioxidants, as well as many other important nutrients such as vitamins A, C, E, B complex (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, biotin, choline, etc.), minerals (calcium, manganese, potassium, iron, etc.), and 15 types of amino acids.  

“Mate is organic, and it does not make you jittery or give you a fast heartbeat like coffee,” Walker said. “It has more antioxidants than tea, and indigenous people often use it as an energy booster. Mate has adaptogenic properties; it does not push your body over the limit but strengthens your current state.”

Some students who have spent time in South America, however, have a more critical view of serving yerba mate in the dining halls.

“Mate in Argentina is very different from the one in dining halls because there is much more meaning attached to it,” said Ryan Wheeler PO ’13, who studied abroad in Argentina last year. “It was unique, and that is why I found it so appealing. The mate comes in a tea leaf form, and you drink it from a metal straw out of a gourd.”

People in Latin America often share yerba mate from the traditional gourd. Sharing mate is a centuries-old tradition and a symbol of hospitality. 

“Mate was one my favorite things abroad. It is a good excuse to get together with friends and chat,” Wheeler said.

“My uncle introduced me to the drink when I was seven, so I have very positive memories of it. I drink it in looseleaf from a gourd, and it’s something you share with friends,” Vian Zada PO ’16 said.

Despite some student apprehensions about incorporating mate in the dining halls, Walker stressed yerba mate is also a sustainable addition to dining hall drink offerings. He said that yerba mate is environmentally-friendly because it grows under the rainforest canopy, and, instead of cutting down trees from the rainforest, indigenous people depend on the yerba mate holly tree as the “living wage.”

“Our mission is to steward and restore 200,000 acres of South American Atlantic rainforest and create over 1,000 living wage jobs by 2020 by leveraging our Market-Driven Restoration business model,” Walker said.

Some students disagree with the branded message behind the mate. 

“The dining halls’ advertisement is a little problematic. It was a little strange that the ad was there, and it says the more mate you drink, the more rainforest you save. It is promoting more consumerism than saving the rainforest,” Wheeler said. 

General Manager of Pomona Dining Services Glenn Graziano said that the choice to serve yerba mate is based more on student preferences.

“I have no reason not to believe what the company is saying … [The dining hall] is not particularly encouraging mate consumption. It’s just another preference choice provided to the students,” Graziano said. “We put up the ads the company provides. It’s like [how] we just got the new coffee machine and the ICEE machine.”

McKenna said that there will be another tasting March 14 in Oldenborg Dining Hall.

“The representatives will come in and put on a presentation to show the step-by-step process of mate cultivation and making. They will also be available to answer questions,” she said.

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