Friday, October 25, 2013

What is Yerba Mate and How Do I Make and Drink It?

A formal mate gourd and the loose leaf brand my friend prefers

I am very happy to co-author this blog post with my good friend, AM.  I recently had the wonderful opportunity to learn about and drink yerba mate with her family and some other tea friends.  Yerba mate is the plant from which the beverage "mate" is made.  While this is indeed an herbal (it's not from the camellia sinensis tea plant), it's a bit of an anomaly in the herbal world.  It contains caffeine - or to be technical, a chemical compound that some believe is caffeine and others believe is close but not the same.  Either way, it contains a stimulant and should be sipped with that in mind.  I find the beverage to be savory and filling.  It's flavor is a complex blend (to me, anyway) of vegetal, herbal and a tiny pinch of mint.

I am happy to share the rest of this blog post with you, written by AM who is from Argentina, one of the South American countries where yerba mate is part of many people's life.  Enjoy!

Mate is an infusion made with yerba mate and drunk all over southern South America (Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and southern Brazil mainly). Yerba mate is a large bush with bright green leaves that grows in warm, humid climates. You may have seen it here in the US in the form of tea bags or as iced tea. In Argentina, the traditional way is to drink it communally out of a hollowed out and dried gourd, with a metal straw.
A less formal gourd, beautiful in its simplicity

The way it works is this: the host or the person who decides to make mate (in my parents' house, it's almost always my dad) fills the mate (the hollowed out gourd is called the mate) with yerba mate (about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way up usually) and then, before pouring the hot water in the mate for the first time, you need to add a splash of cold water (a teaspoon or so), to settle the leaves and prevent them from burning. Then you fill the gourd with hot water on the verge of boiling. The host drinks the mate with the straw until there's no liquid left. This is done rapidly, usually within a minute or two. The host pours water in the mate again and sometimes drinks the second one as well. The reason for this is that the first pour (and even the second) tends to be very strong. The host pours the next mate and hands it to a guest, who drinks it rapidly (within three minutes usually) and returns it to the host. The host refills the mate and hands it to the next guest. The order is determined depending on where people are sitting. (It proceeds in order, in any direction, from the place where the host sits. Mate can move clockwise or counterclockwise. The host decides). The mate then moves around the table until it's the host's turn to drink again. The host is the only person to pour water into the mate.

The mate drinking circle continues until people don't want to drink anymore. At any time, you can say "thank you" and drop out of the mate drinking. The host continues serving until people no longer want to drink. If the infusion gets too weak, the host may decide to change the yerba mate and start anew with fresh yerba mate.

Don't move the straw!  That stirs up the leaf and you want it to stick in place

Yerba mate is green and is a mix of dry, often powdered, leaves and twigs. The flavor is intense, herbal and somewhat bitter. For most people, it's an acquired taste. Like tea and coffee, it has a stimulant effect.

The usual times to drink mate is in the morning, with breakfast, or as an afternoon break with pastries or cookies to go along with it. Some people drink it in parks, beaches and during road trips. In Argentina, you can easily get hot water for your mate-making needs in gas stations. 

Have you enjoyed mate?  How about in the traditional way?


Rosemary said...

Interesting post. I enjoyed reading the information shared by your Argentinian friend. Love the variety and contrasting designs of the gourds.

Marilyn said...

I have not tasted yerba mate. Thanks for the very informative post on it, as I have been curious. Not sure it would be my "cup of tea", but enjoy having a better understanding.

Teafan said...

I've had mate but not out of a beautiful gourd. So pretty!

Mate Dudes said...

Nice article. Mate definitely doesn't have mateine, but does contain chemicals found in coffee, chocolate, and tea that stimulate you without any jitters. For more information about yerba mate, visit where we speak about a wide variety of topics on yerba mate.

Rosemary said...

Here's a link to my 2008 post about mate with pictures of my gourd and straw collection.

Angela McRae said...

I have greatly enjoyed yerba mate, drinking it both in the gourd and in the non-traditional (teabag) style as well. And I love that the new Pope is sometimes photographed sipping his yerba mate!

Happy Good News said...

Great post. I know about the passion for tea. I just discovered this great tea from Hopefully you will enjoy it as much as I have.

Anonymous said...

The fresh mate picked from wild trees was in a sack on the table. I was encouraged to try it. I politely declined the offer. As the amigos passed the gourd they became more animated. Their conversation increased in tempo. I tasted the tea and enjoyed their company.