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Caffeine Content of Yerba Mate
a brief summary of the research
by Erowid
v 1.0 Jan 2005
Original reference:   Erowid. "Caffeine Content of Yerba Mate: a brief summary of the research" Erowid. Jan 2005; plants/yerba_mate/yerba_mate_chemistry2.shtml.
The question of how much caffeine is in yerba mate tea has been slightly confused by some vendors' claims that maté does not contain caffeine at all (see Does Yerba Mate Contain Caffeine?). But over a dozen papers have been published which examine the caffeine content of yerba maté, many of them published in Spanish or Portugese because a large portion of yerba maté use takes place in South America and Brazil. Some maté tea vendors now provide actual caffeine contents for their products, but others still hold to the spurious and confused view that there is little to no caffeine in the leaves.

Based on the published research, the general rule is that dried yerba mate tea contains around 1% available caffeine (ranging from 0.5-2%) when made into a tea with warm to hot water.

Hot water appears to provide very good solubility for the caffeine and theobromine, although ethanol (alcohol) and super critical carbon dioxide have been investigated for commercial production of extracts. Boiling water reportedly extracts slightly (5-10%) more caffeine than cold or hot water steeping. It is said that boiled maté tea is less pleasant tasting which may be the result of additional materials such as tannins and oils being extracted from the leaves in addition to caffeine. Temperature variations between warm and hot may not affect extraction much as research by Pomilio found that both 30C and 75C water resulted in similar amounts of caffeine.

A research paper in 2002 by Pamilio et al. tested 14 different brands of commercially available maté tea and performed single five minute, stirred, warm (30C) and hot (70C) water steep on each. They found that extractable caffeine levels varied between 0.30% and 1.72% of dried material using this method, with the lowest values in the tea-bag varietes they chose. Theobromine values were between 0.11% to 0.66%. This corresponds to 3 to 17 mg of caffeine and 1 to 7 mg of theobromine per gram of dried mate single-steeped in hot water, with the median amount around 10 mg of caffeine per gram of dried mate (1.03%).

We only reviewed the findings from papers accessible through PubMed that were published after 1996, although many of the original papers on the subject were published in the 1980s. Results appeared consist among the reviewed papers with natural variation accounting for the differences. A paper by Esmerlindro et al from 2004 tries to look at some of the factors that may influence caffeine content by testing leaves grown under partial shade and testing the leaves at 6, 12, 18, and 24 months of growth from the same set of plants. Their findings did not provide any clarity to what accounts for the variation in caffeine content.

AuthorsYearExtraction Method% Caffeine% Theobromine
Filip, Lopez, et al1998Water, Boiled 20 minutes1.90.48
Pomilio, Trajtemberg, et al2002Water, warm & hot, steep 5 minutes0.3-1.80.08-0.66
Saldana MD, Zetzl C, et al2002Liquid Carbon Dioxide and Ethanol0.3-0.6---
Esmelindro AA, Girardi Jdos S, et al2004Liquid Carbon Dioxide0.1-0.20.07-0.15

Percentages of Caffeine and Theobromine
from 14 commercial yerba mate products using water extraction.
From Pomilio, Trajtemberg, Vitale 2002
Sample Type Caffeine (%) Theobromine (%)Relative Standard Deviation (RSD %)
Yerba Mate Tagagui Milled 1.07 0.390.9
Yerba Mate RosamonteMilled 0.78 0.31 1.2
Yerba Mate Barbara Milled0.97 0.38 1.7
Yerba Mate (bulk) Milled 1.35 0.50 2.1
Yerba Mate (CBSe) Milled 1.01 0.66 0.8
Yerba Cruz de Malta Milled 0.99 0.66 1.8
Yerba Nobleza Gaucha Milled 1.07 0.2 1.7
Yerba Tranquera Milled 1.05 0.57 1.6
Yerba Sol de Acuario Organic 1.08 0.4 2.4
Yerba Esq de las Flroes Organic 1.72 0.17 2.1
Yerba Cruz de Malta Bags 0.36 0.16 1.6
Yerba Tranquera Bags 0.30 0.18 2.2
Yerba Bell's Bags 0.8 0.08 1.1
Yerba Norta Milled 1.07 0.11 1.3

References #
  1. Pomilio AB, Trajtemberg S, Vitale AA. High-performance capillary electrophoresis analysis of mate infusions prepared from stems and leaves of Ilex paraguariensis using automated micellar electrokinetic capillary chromatography. Phytochem Anal, 2002; 13(4):235-41 [Abstract]
  2. Alikaridis F. Natural constituents of Ilex species. J. Ethnopharmacol. 1987, 20, 121-144. [Pub Med]
  3. Saldana MDA, Mazzafera P, Mohamed RS. Extraction of purine alkaloids from mate (Ilex paraguariensis) using supercritical CO2. J. Agric. Food Chem. 1999, 47 (9), 3804-3808. [Abstract]
  4. Filip R, de Iglesias D, Rondina RVD, Coussio JD. Analisis de las hojas y tallos de Ilex argentina Lillo. Acta Farm. Bonaer. 2, 87-90. 1983. No Abstract Found
  5. Bertoni MH, Prat Kricun SD, Kanzig RG, Cattaneo P. Hojas frescas de Ilex paraguariensis St Hil Ill-Influencia de las distintas etapas del proceso tradicional de elaboracion. An Asoc Quim Argent 81:1-7. No Abstract Found
  6. Alikaridis K. Natural constituents of Ilex species. J Ethnopharmacol. 1987 Jul;20(2):121-44. [Minimal Abstract]
  7. Filip R, Lopez P, Coussio J, Ferraro G. Mate substitutes or adulterants: study of xanthine content. Phytotherapy Research, 1998; 12(2):129-131. [Abstract]
  8. Esmelindro AA, Girardi Jdos S, Mossi A, Jacques RA, Dariva C. Influence of agronomic variables on the composition of mate tea leaves (Ilex paraguariensis) extracts obtained from CO2 extraction at 30 degrees C and 175 bar. J Agric Food Chem, 2004; 52(7):1990-5. [Abstract]