Guide to preparing Yerba Mate
Yerba Mate Tea is a herbal tea made from the dried leaves and stems of the mate plant. Traditionally prepared by steeping the tea leaves in very hot water in a cup made from a dried gourd casing or wood. It is filled nearly to the top with tea leaves, and topped with water, the drinker then sips the infusion through a metal straw called a bombilla. The cup is then topped up with more water.
Drinking yerba mate is an important social practice in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, eastern Chile, southern Bolivia, and Brazil. Drinkers in these countries usually share the mate among friends, each taking turns to drink.
Every culture has a different way of preparing it and sometimes they use different types of yerba. In Uruguay, mate is enjoyed hot, with no additions to the pure yerba. In Argentina, they also enjoy hot mate, but often add orange or lemon, and sugar or honey. In Paraguay, yerba is enjoyed in the form of tereré – a cold brew filled with fruit, herbs, and ice.
Yerba Mate contains many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It is also said to aid digestion, weight loss, help boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, help memory and concentration. Yerba mate is caffeine free but contains matteina which can be a stimulant like caffeine.
What do you need, and how do you prepare Mate?
Firstly, let’s choose our Mate. We have two types of Mate.
With Stems - Con Palos
A milder yerba mate containing small, chopped up stems, so the infusion isn’t as strong or bitter. The stems serve to ‘dilute’ the yerba. This blend is more popular in Paraguay and Argentina. This Mate is suitable to be made with hot or cold water, or with juice for a tereré. A good choice for your first introduction to mate.
Without Stems - Sin Palos
This will brew a stronger tea because it is more concentrated and has a more intense flavour. This type of mate is more popular in Uruguay. If prefer a more bitter taste or need a stronger pick-me-up, you would be best to choose this type of yerba mate.
See our range of Mate here.
Now you have your mate, you need you mate gourd. What is a Yerba Mate Gourd?
It is formed by drying out a gourd, which is the fruit of the Calabash plant or tree, much like a butternut squash, and hollowing it out. Being a natural product no two gourds are the same!
Before you brew your mate, you need to cure your gourd. Curing, if done properly, should prevent the gourd from splitting. The gourd itself adds to the flavour of your brew, and the curing process improves the flavour and lengthens the flavourful life of the gourd. How do I cure my yerba mate gourd?
We recommend the following procedure to cure a gourd:
Remove any debris. With a natural yerba mate gourd it is perfectly normal for there to be some paper like debris inside, and possibly some seeds - much like a pumpkin seeds. The inside may also be slightly black. Begin by washing out the gourd with warm water – no soap – and scrape the debris out with a spoon. If the gourd is a pear shaped one, do not remove the ‘bud’ – this will cause leakage.
To disinfect (optional) Pass salt around the inside. The salt acts as a disinfectant. This step is also helpful for later on – if your gourd develops a mould you can remove and disinfect for peace of mind.
Next, fill the yerba mate gourd with old, used yerba tea leaves and leave for a few hours. If you don’t have any used yerba, you can use some fresh yerba in water and use that. It is important that the yerba is just wet, DO NOT FILL THE GOURD AND LEAVE SOAKING IN WATER, this will often lead to the gourd splitting.
Ready for use! Over time the yerba mate gourd will absorb more and more flavour of your yerba.
Ongoing care of your yerba mate gourd - It is important that after use you remove used yerba and keep your gourd dry, otherwise mould is likely to form. Never leave your gourd soaking in water, this will cause it to split.
How to Prepare Yerba Mate?
Fill your gourd 3/4 full of yerba mate. Cover the top with your hand and shake up and down to bring the fine ‘tea dust’ to the top and help prevent blockage of the bombilla. Shake and stop with the gourd in a tilted position.
Next, pour in a little cool water (room temperature is ideal) and allow the water to soak into the yerba. This causes the yerba leaves to swell and prevents blockage of the bombilla.
Now you can pour a little hot, but not boiling, water on the lower half of yerba and leave to soak in for a couple of minutes.
Then use the bombilla to make a ‘bridge’ or wall between the dry top half of the mate and wet bottom half by digging the bombilla into the mate and pulling the bombilla towards the middle of the cup.
Now you may pour hot water into the serving side and sip!
A good sign of the perfect mate is the presence of ‘foam’.
The traditional way to drink yerba mate is with a group of friends/family each taking turns to drink, but with one person serving. As you have just prepared the mate, you are the server (cebador).
The first mate will be the most bitter, and probably quite cold so it is good manners to drink the first one yourself! Finish it all, then pour and serve to the next person. They will finish it all and return it to you. Do the same, and as you go round and round the group, you should try and keep the round in the same order.