Q. How does maté compare with coffee?

A. A traditional hot beverage in South America, maté is made from dried or roasted leaves of the yerba maté plant. Maté does contain a bit of caffeine to help kick-start your morning or boost energy levels anytime. But compared with the average cup of coffee's 100 mg of caffeine, a cup of maté has only about 10 mg. If you'd like to cut back on caffeine, drinking maté can help with the transition.

Another distinction between the two drinks is that the caffeine in maté seems to be gentler on the system. Although maté doesn't contain the laxative compounds found in coffee, it also can increase elimination, according to some sources.

Scientists are just beginning to study maté's possible health benefits, but initial research indicates that maté blocks the formation of a class of toxins called advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs). AGEs have been linked to inflammation, diabetes, and kidney disease.

To make maté, pour hot (not boiling) water over half a teaspoonful of crushed maté, steep for about five minutes, and then strain. (Longer steeping times will increase the caffeine content but produce a less desirable taste.)

This Q&A was written by Victoria Dolby Toews, MPH, author of the The Soy Sensation (McGraw-Hill, 2002) and The Green Tea Book (Avery, 1998).