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Types of yerba mate – what true mate lovers drink?

2022-10-25
Types of yerba mate – what true mate lovers drink?

Yerba mate is very popular in southern Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. Drinking methods and types of mate generally differ between these regions. Would you like to know more about it? Read on!

  1. A few words about different types of yerba mate
  2. Brazil. Green gold from the heart of the Amazon rainforest
  3. Argentina. The largest producer of yerba mate
  4. Paraguay. The birthplace of yerba mate?
  5. Uruguay. The biggest yerba mate lovers live here

A few words about different types of yerba mate

Although citizens of every “mate-country” drink an infusion made from the same plant, Ilex paraguariensis, you can clearly feel the difference in the types of yerba mate coming from different countries. For example, mate tea originating from Brazil tends to be milder and more “friendly” to beginners, while Paraguayan mate is associated with strong stimulation and a bitter, smoky flavour. What exactly are the differences between the different types of yerba mate?

Brazil. Green gold from the heart of the Amazon rainforest

Brazil is the largest and the most populous country in South America and it’s a very interesting country in terms of its yerba mate drinking culture. It stands out among other “yerba mate countries” already in its very nomenclature. The official language of Brazil is Portuguese, which is why yerba mate is referred to here as “erva mate”. In Portuguese, “erva” means “herb”. The green, stimulating drink made from the leaves of Ilex paraguariensis fits perfectly into Brazilian culture and tradition. What’s more, green is one of the two national colours (the other one is yellow). Green also symbolises the expansive Amazon rainforest in Brazil, where Ilex paraguariensis grows wild. After Argentina, Brazil is one of the largest producers of yerba mate. The plantations produce more than 500,000 tonnes of dried mate every year. Interestingly, mate tea is only drunk in the south of the country. In the north, coffee takes the lead in production and popularity, and people in this part of the country often do not even know what yerba mate is. Nevertheless, for the “southerners”, the green, stimulating drink is an important part of their identity. So important that several types of yerba mate have been developed there:

  • The most distinctive among the types of mate, is chimarrão. It is a dusty, finely ground yerba mate in a bright green colour. It is usually dried with hot air and not aged, which contributes to its characteristic green shade, fresh, grass-cut-like aroma and slightly sweet taste. Brazilians drink chimarrão in a vessel, called “cuia”, which is characterised by thick walls and a wide collar. Due to a very fine texture of chimarrão, Brazilians also use a special bombilla with a large, flat and round filter, which they call “bomba”.
  • Yerba mate green - just like chimarrão, it is dried with hot air and is not aged, allowing the Ilex paraguariensis leaves to retain their vibrant green colour. Green yerba mate, however, is not ground into a fine powder - each packet comes with coarsely cut pieces of leaves, with no dust and virtually no twigs. Skipping the ageing stage also affects the taste of mate tea, which becomes milder, without any noticeable bitterness. This, in turn, makes green yerba mate very suitable for the beginners.
  • ”Uruguayan” yerba mate is the biggest phenomenon among Brazilian types of mate. It is produced in Brazil, but goes entirely to the Uruguayan market. Why is this so? We will discuss this further in the article!

Argentina. The largest producer of yerba mate

Argentina is the largest producer of yerba mate, with the most popular plantations located in the north-east of the country - in the province of Misiones. Argentines prefer to drink their favourite brew from a small calabash. They add sugar, lemon or orange peel to it. After pouring water over the leaves, they immediately drink the mate tastefully. They often have a thermos of warm water on hand to refill the calabash. They drink mate tea in company - with friends or family. Drinking yerba mate together has evolved into a ritual where participants drink mate from one vessel, passing it from hand to hand. What is their favourite type of mate? It's fire-dried and sometimes smoked mate, which contains twigs, medium-cut leaves and dust. The twigs mellow the flavour, while the dust enhances the intensity at the start of brewing.

Paraguay. The birthplace of yerba mate

Many people believe that yerba mate originally came from Paraguay. It is here that the largest percentage of Guarani Indians live, who were the first discoverers of the properties of Ilex paraguariensis. Their tradition and culture are still alive in the minds of modern Paraguayans. The Guarani language has official status alongside Spanish. Guarani is also the name of the currency used in Paraguay. Finally, the Paraguayan element is present in the very name of the Ilex paraguariensis plant. The truth is that the Guarani Indians used to inhabit a wide area that included a little of each of the four countries we know today. Therefore, it can be said that each of these countries is a little bit the homeland of yerba mate. Most Paraguayans like to brew their mate cold - it is called “tereré”. They add lemon or lime to the gourd, then ice-cold water or chilled juice and drink the brew prepared this way in one gulp. They have a large thermos at hand to refill the calabash - usually a specially shaped guampa. The type of mate is similar to that enjoyed by Argentines - with leaves, sticks and dust, but the distinctive flavour characteristics of Argentine and Paraguayan mate are different. The Paraguayan variety is considered the strongest of all types of yerba mate.

Uruguay. The biggest yerba mate lovers live here

While Argentina produces the most amount of yerba mate, Uruguay has the highest per capita consumption of this drink, despite the fact that, due to the poor economic and business background, yerba mate is hardly ever produced there. The vast majority of yerba mate consumed by Uruguayans comes from Brazil. More than half of the country's population prefers very strong mate. They use larger calabashes - usually those made from the top of the calabash, called porongo - and allow the infusion to brew longer before drinking. What kind of mate do they like? Those with very finely cut leaves, without sticks and with a significant amount of dust. The most popular brand in Uruguay is Canarias.


Source of information:

  1. Wikipedia: Mate.
  2. Statistics: oec.world, statista.com.

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