Posted in Kafevend Blog

If you read our blog about Japanese coffee culture a few weeks back, you may have been surprised to hear that it was Japanese immigrants to Brazil who played a large part in the growth of the South American nation's coffee farming success. A further look at the subject reveals that they played an even more significant role in Brazil's tea trade.

Tea and coffee were both introduced to Brazil during its colonial era and, no different to much of the colonial world at the time, their cultivation was heavily reliant on slave labour. When slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888 the tea trade collapsed and it wasn't until the 1920s that it underwent something of a renaissance, thanks to the arrival of Japanese immigrants. They brought with them, not only knowledge of tea farming, but also camellia sinensis seeds from India and Sri Lanka; up until then tea grown in Brazil had all been Chinese in origin.

The tea growing relationship between the two nations is still apparent to this day. There are highland areas in central Brazil which bear a striking similarity to tea growing districts in Japan. After deciding to bring the taste of fresh green tea to a wider audience in the 1970s, the entrepreneur Kahei Yamamoto tested out a Japanese tea plant called Yabukita in a variety of sites around the world, but settled on the aforementioned area of Brazil as the best match for its optimum growing conditions. He now has three tea plantations supplying a wide range of green tea products to the American market.

As well as providing tea and coffee for elsewhere in the Americas, Brazil exports a hefty amount to Europe, Australia, and of course, Japan! But is much tea consumed in Brazil itself? Black tea, green tea and coffee are all enjoyed there, but the most popular drink, particularly in the south of the country, is a herbal tea named mate. While the word mate may look familiar, it's pronounced ma-tay in this instance. It's a drink that's enjoyed in other parts of South America too, Argentina to give one example. It's made from the leaves of the yerba mate tree, part of the holly family, which is native to the rainforests of South America. Mate has been on the menu for centuries past, brewed up by the indigenous cultures of the Amazon. The leaves contain caffeine, as well as a variety of vitamins and minerals. Shade grown mate is of higher quality, delivering a better flavour and more nutritional benefit than sun farmed varieties.

Apart from its taste, the other thing that makes mate stand in contrast to tea and coffee is the way it's drunk. Forget cups or mugs! To drink mate the traditional way you'll need a calabash gourd and a bombilla, which is a metal straw with a strainer at one end. As mate is infused in the gourd, the strainer is an important feature of the bombilla; you wouldn't want a mouthful of yerba mate leaves!

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