Brewing yerba mate tea. A beginner's guide
Many of our customers ask us how to brew yerba mate? What is the best mate tea temperature? Especially at the beginning of the adventure with this South American drink, it can seem a bit complicated. Appearances are deceptive and, as it turns out, the art of brewing yerba mate is very simple and it quickly becomes an everyday routine.
- Yerba mate - how to brew? Traditions of the Guarani Indians
- What do you need to brew yerba mate?
- Brewing yerba mate tea step by step
- Brewing yerba mate is so simple!
Yerba mate - how to brew? Traditions of the Guarani Indians
Yerba mate seems to be very similar to tea. But don't let appearances fool you. Tea is an infusion made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, a plant originated from Asia. Yerba mate is an infusion made from the Ilex paraguariensis plant that grows in the borderlands of four South American countries: Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Although yerba mate and tea are not the same thing, they have quite a lot in common - both drinks are infusions of dried and crushed plant leaves and are usually drunk warm. Preparing tea is simple. You need two things - a cup and a kettle. Just put the teabag into the cup, pour it over with boiling water and wait a few minutes to infuse. You can also use a tea infuser if you drink loose leaf tea, although this is not necessary if you don't mind the leaves getting into your mouth. With yerba mate, it is a bit more complicated, but many things can be simplified. The complication stems from a ritual, originating from the traditions of the Guarani Indians. They are the first discoverers of the properties of Ilex paraguariensis and hundreds of years ago they drank an infusion of its dried leaves. What is important in drinking yerba mate is what tools you use to prepare it and how you prepare the dried leaves before brewing. The temperature of the water is also important in the preparation of yerba mate. All this creates an aura of mystery around the culture of drinking and brewing mate, adding a pinch of magic. So if you want to stick to the traditional method of brewing yerba mate, there are a few rules to follow.
What do you need to brew yerba mate?
Encouraged by your friends' stories and numerous articles about yerba mate, you are wondering - how to brew it? Before you prepare your first mate tea, you need to get some essential tools:
Mate gourd - it is a profiled cup in which you can prepare and drink yerba mate. The Guarani Indians drank an infusion in vessels made from the wooden, dried and hollowed fruit of the calabash. You can still buy such gourds today. You can also get mate gourds made of wood - palo santo or algarrobo. Natural vessels made of calabash or wood have many advantages. They are handmade and unique, ecological, and they also affect the taste and aroma of the infusion by adding very interesting, unique notes. On the other hand, gourds made of organic material are less durable and need to be properly cared for. Currently, ceramic mate gourds and calabashes are the most popular and easily accessible.
Bombilla is a metal straw ended with a filter which separates the brew from the grounds. Dried yerba mate is much finer than classic tea, which makes drinking mate without a bombilla unpleasant - the tiny pieces of leaves and twigs remain on the teeth and irritate the throat. It was the reason why the Guarani Indians began drinking their infusion through a bamboo or reed straw, which was replaced later by a metal bombilla. Today, it is possible to purchase bombillas made of bamboo, wood and various types of metal - stainless steel, nickel, alpaca or silver. Today's bombillas are also equipped with different filters - depending on the type of yerba mate, the method of brewing it and the needs of the drinkers.
A bombilla, just like a mate gourd, needs proper care in order to last as long as possible. To wash it thoroughly, it may be useful to use a special cleaner.
You can infuse yerba mate many times, so it is also worth buying a thermos, although it is not an obligation. It will save your time boiling water before each pour, and it will also make it easier to take the drink on the go - for travel or to school/work. There is a wide range of thermoses with different functions available in our shop - be sure to check out the "Gadgets and additional accessories for yerba mate" category.
For brewing yerba mate, a thermometer or a kettle with a built-in thermometer can also be useful to help accurately measure the temperature of the water.
Finally, the most important point: choosing the right type of yerba mate. A dried mate with a high dust content will be strong in flavour and effect, while a mate consisting of practically just leaves will be much milder. The sticks are the “filler”, so the fewer they are, the more stimulating the brew will be. The taste of yerba mate is also influenced by the way the plants are dried. Mate dried with warm air is mild in flavour and not as bitter as smoked yerba mate.
Brewing yerba mate tea step by step
According to the traditional method, brewing mate involves several steps:
Step 1. The first step is to pour the dried mate into the mate gourd. The amount depends on how strong the infusion you want to make. Usually you should pour about 1/4-3/4 of the volume of the gourd. But it is known that the more dried mate you use, the stronger your infusion will be, so at the beginning you can start by pouring in 2-3 teaspoons of ground leaves (it is about 15g of dried mate).
Step 2. The next step, according to tradition, is to cover the mate gourd with your hand and turn it upside down, then shake it. This way, some of the dust will stay on your hand and will not clog the filter in the bombilla later. If you choose yerba mate without twigs and dust, you can skip this step.
Step 3. Once you turn your mate gourd to its initial position, tilt it at an angle so that a “mound” of the dried mate forms on one wall of the gourd and the bottom of the vessel is exposed.
Step 4. Place the bombilla on the mound, with the filter downwards - so that it touches the bottom of the mate gourd.
Step 5. Carefully tilt the mate gourd to an upright position taking care that the dried mate does not cover the bottom.
Step 6. Pour a small amount of cool water over the yerba mate, aiming for the uncovered bottom of the mate gourd and wait for the liquid to soak into dried leaves.
A small digression: the phenomenon of water “disappearing” mysteriously in the dried leaves of yerba mate used to be called the “sip for Saint Thomas”. The legend originated with the Jesuits, who came to South America after the conquest of the continent by the Spanish conquistadors. The Jesuits spread Christianity among the Indians, which at some point began to intermingle with the beliefs of the indigenous population. They began to believe that it was Saint Thomas who brought the Ilex paraguariensis plant to the world and showed it to the Guarani people. The first sip of yerba mate was therefore a “gift” to Saint Thomas, given as a thank-you for showing the population the miraculous plant.
Step 7. The final step in the preparation of the infusion is to pour hot water over the dried mate until the mate gourd is full. The optimal yerba mate brewing temperature is around 70-80 °C. The cooler the water is, the longer the yerba mate will take to brew. The milder it will taste and the weaker it will release its properties. It is very important that the water for yerba mate is not too hot. Too high temperature will scald the Ilex paraguariensis leaves and the infusion will be very bitter. If you don't have a thermometer and can't check the yerba mate tea temperature accurately, simply wait about 4-10 minutes after boiling the water. If you haven't put the bombilla in the mate gourd before - do it now, plugging the tip with your thumb. This way you will avoid clogging the filter. Yerba mate will brew for about 5 minutes. A longer steeping time will cause the infusion to become stronger and bitter.
Remember: you can pour one portion of the dried mate several times until you can taste the infusion. With each pour, the infusion will become weaker. It is interesting to "brew" yerba mate in water at a low temperature. Iced mate is mostly popular in Paraguay, where it is very hot during the summer season. Mate tea prepared with very low temperature water is called tereré.
Brewing yerba mate is so simple!
The instruction for preparing yerba mate described above refers to tradition. In fact, you make an infusion and drink it as you like - in a regular cup or glass, prepared with a brewer or french press, drunk without the use of a bombilla. Drinking yerba mate this way, however, will lack all its mystery and magic. While it may seem that preparing yerba mate in the traditional way is difficult and time-consuming, nothing could be further from the truth. You will find that you will quickly become proficient and the ritual of brewing yerba mate will become your daily routine. Now, grab your favourite mate gourd and bombilla and brew the most delicious yerba mate in the world!
Source of information:
- M. Petruzzello, Mate - beverage, Encyclopædia Britannica.
- Wikipedia.org: Yerba mate, Camellia sinensis.