What is yerba mate?
Yerba mate is an aromatic infusion made from the leaves of Ilex paraguariensis – a tropical plant straight from the Amazon jungle, which is characterised by its high caffeine content. Centuries ago, the properties of the plant were discovered and appreciated by the indigenous inhabitants of South America, who began to prepare a stimulating infusion from the dried leaves. Over the years, the drink became a very important part of their lives, and the tradition of making and drinking yerba mate is still alive among Latin Americans today. For several years now, the yerba mate infusion has been gaining popularity all over the world. It is also gaining more and more interest in our country. Wondering how to start your yerba mate adventure? What do you need to fully enjoy this healthy and natural coffee substitute? You can find out everything in this text!
Yerba mate – a bit of history
Ilex paraguariensis grows in the tropical borderlands of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. It also grows wild in Uruguay, although there, for economic reasons, dried yerba mate is not produced, but is imported from Brazil. The discoverers of the plant's properties were the Guarani Indians who inhabited the area. Hundreds of years ago, they noticed that after consuming the raw leaves of a hitherto unknown plant, they had more energy, their concentration increased, their senses sharpened and, in addition, they did not feel hungry. Indians used the leaves to prepare an energising and nutrient-rich infusion. The consumption of yerba mate was a ritual and the plant was given extraordinary care. It became an important part of their daily life and rich culture. During the conquest period, the areas inhabited by the Guarani Indians came under the administration of the Jesuits. The friars created communities called "Indian reductions". These were quasi-states based on a traditional economy, governed according to ideas of equality and solidarity. Fascinated by the indigenous brew, the monks saw in the properties of yerba mate a potential source of profit. They conducted a series of studies and experiments that were innovative for the time. Eventually, the technology for growing this demanding plant was developed and the first plantations were established. This made it possible to produce large quantities of the raw material, far exceeding local demand. So yerba mate began to be exported to other provinces of the continent. Widespread access and great popularity came quickly. By the 19th century, mate had already gained the status of the national drink of Paraguayans and Argentines. The ritual of brewing yerba mate, using dedicated accessories, became a permanent part of Latino culture and tradition. Over time, yerba mate vessel became a popular motif in art and literature. The gaucho, a romanticised figure of the time – a lone shepherd from the endless pampas – was depicted with an indispensable mate gourd at his side. The people of South America are in love with yerba mate. They drink it every day and at any time – in the morning during breakfast, at school, at work, on journeys, on walks, during siestas and afternoon relaxation. They most like to drink yerba mate in company, sharing one vessel and a bombilla, like a “pipe of peace”.
Yerba mate arrived in Europe back in the 19th century, but for many decades it was a niche product that was difficult to access. It was popular mainly among Hispanic immigrants living in Spain. The real revolution came with the popularisation of Internet sales. Thanks to this, the number of mateists from the Old Continent has been growing steadily for several years.
How does yerba mate work? Properties of yerba mate
One of the most important substances found in the leaves of Ilex paraguariensis is caffeine, thanks to which yerba mate-based infusions have a stimulating effect comparable to that of coffee, which is popular worldwide. Depending on the species, the degree of saturation with the substance ranges from 0.5% to 2%. Caffeine is absorbed by the body via the stomach and small intestine, from where it is directly absorbed into the tissues. In addition to the boost of energy, yerba mate stimulates the muscles, accelerates the metabolism and kidney function. This is why it is readily recommended for weight loss diets. In combination with proper nutrition and physical activity, it can significantly help in the fight against obesity. What is more, yerba mate contains a number of vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants valued by many, whose task is to fight free radicals and can also contribute to protecting the body against various diseases. In short, we can say that yerba mate supports the immune system – mate drinkers get sick less often. Unlike coffee, yerba mate provides magnesium rather than leaching it out. As a result, drinking mate does not suffer the side effects known to coffee drinkers.
Yerba mate or coffee? Which is healthier?
The number of yerba mate lovers is growing every year. More and more enthusiasts continue to appear, ready to abandon coffee in favour of the stimulating infusions from South America. Why so much interest? The question of health effects plays a major role. Let's look at the details. The reason we reach for both drinks is, of course, their stimulating properties. As we know, the energetic stimulation comes from the presence of caffeine. In the case of brewed coffee, there is approximately 380 to 650 mg of it per serving. In comparison, there is an average of 360 mg of caffeine per cup of yerba mate. This begs the question: why is it better to choose an infusion of Ilex paraguariensis rather than coffee? Well, it is not caffeine alone that should be considered. When looking at the full chemical composition of the two drinks, we will see many differences. In a detailed comparison, yerba mate compares much more favourably. Every 100 millilitres of mate tea is a serving of potassium, micro and macro elements, lutein, phosphorus, niacin, 6 vitamins and a huge dose of antioxidants. Coffee beans do not contain most of these substances or they are present in much smaller quantities. What is more, one serving of yerba mate can be successfully poured several times – although each subsequent refill is associated with a slightly lower content of caffeine and valuable substances, they are still delivered to the body. Coffee drinkers will no doubt be familiar with the unpleasant feeling of weakness that comes after drinking coffee. This is due to the fact that coffee flushes out the magnesium accumulated in the body. It is different with yerba mate. In fact, yerba mate does not flush out magnesium, but actually provides it! The feeling of stimulation is not sudden and intense, but lasts longer, is more harmonious and does not cause an unpleasant "caffeine crash".
How is yerba mate produced? Regional varieties of yerba mate
The traditional method of producing yerba mate involves harvesting the mature leaves and twigs of Ilex paraguariensis, drying them using fire and smoke and then leaving them to season, during which the dry product acquires a unique flavour, aroma and real depth. However, depending on the region of origin, certain differences in processing can be observed, which affect the final taste and aroma of the brew. The traditional processing method of yerba mate described above is the most characteristic of Paraguay. Paraguayan yerba mate is characterised by a strongly bitter, “smoky” aroma and the presence of sticks and dust. Due to the high temperatures there, the drink is often served cold, so the dry product must be suitably intense. Paraguayan brands work well in just this form. Although yerba mate is produced similarly in Argentina, it tends not to have such a strong bitterness and contains less dust. Argentinians tend to go for the despalada type of dry mate, which is one that contains almost exclusively leaves. In this country, the brew is most often consumed hot. Yerba mate from Brazil and Uruguay is a separate matter. In the country of samba, the so-called chimarrão is drunk. During the production of this type of yerba mate, the smoking and ageing process is completely omitted. After being harvested and dried, the leaves are ground into a fine dust with a juicy green colour. The infusion has a fresh, sweet, slightly grassy aftertaste. Also popular in Brazil is yerba mate green, which, like chimarrão, is not aged, in addition it is dried using hot air rather than fire. Unlike finely ground chimarrão, however, mate green consists of large, medium-cut green leaves. Uruguayan yerba mate is the one and only compared to the other types, as the country has no plantations of its own! The raw material is imported from Brazil. However, Uruguayan yerba mate has a rather peculiar character, which sets it apart from Brazilian products. It contains a lot of leaves and dust, while lacking sticks. The taste is mild, although the sweet notes of the chimarrão give way to dry accents. It also does not have a luscious green chlorophyll colour. The colour is mostly olive.
In summary, yerba mate can be divided into several types, depending on the country of origin:
- Paraguayan yerba mate – dried using a traditional method, with fire and smoke, and subjected to a seasoning process. Yerba mate is usually made up of finely ground leaves, with a fair amount of sticks and dust. The brew is characterised by an intense, bitter and astringent flavour, with distinctly smoky accents. Paraguayan yerba mate is considered to be one of the strongest in terms of taste and effect; it is great for drinking in a cold form, called tereré. Examples of yerba mate from Paraguay include: Pajarito, Guarani, El Fuego.
- Argentine yerba mate – is considered by many mate drinkers to be the most “classic” species of yerba mate. Like mate from Paraguay, it is made with the traditional method, using fire, and is sometimes additionally smoked and undergoes an ageing process. The dry product consists of medium-cut leaves with a faded colour, a fair amount of sticks and dust. The taste is slightly milder than Paraguayan varieties, but the characteristic astringency and bitterness are clearly discernible. Examples of yerba mate from Argentina include: Amanda, Rosamonte, Rio Parana.
- Brazilian yerba mate – The people of the land of samba drink yerba mate in several ways:
- chimarrão – in its production, the smoking and ageing stages are omitted and the dried leaves are ground to a very fine dust. The result is a powder that resembles finely ground flour with a vibrant green colour. It is characterised by a mild, fresh taste with grassy accents. It is a rather specific type of yerba mate, so special tools are needed to prepare and drink it: a large vessel called cuia and a straw ending in a very fine filter – bomba.
- mate green – is a type of yerba mate that is dried using hot air, rather than the traditional method of using fire and smoke. Once dried, the leaves go into the packet practically straight away – they are not subjected to seasoning, so they retain their vibrant green colour and the taste of the brew is very mild. Mate green is somewhat reminiscent of green tea in flavour, yet has the same effect as traditionally produced yerba mate – it provides a good dose of caffeine, giving you an energy boost. It's a great option to start your yerba mate adventure! One of the most popular mate greens is our bestselling Verde Mate.
- Uruguayan yerba mate – it does not actually come from Uruguay, but from Brazil, where it is produced and then imported to a country where, due to the difficult economic situation, Ilex paraguariensis is not grown on plantations. However, yerba mate labelled “Tipo PU1” (Uruguayan) is very different from the Brazilian one – the dry product consists of finely cut leaves, with a lot of dust. The infusion is quite mild in taste, but more intense than the green Brazilian chimarrão. An example of yerba mate from Uruguay is: Canarias.
Yerba mate can be drunk in many ways. Some prefer the classic 100% Ilex paraguariensis flavour, without any additives, others like original flavour combinations. Yerba mate can be divided into several types, depending on the additives you find in the packet:
- traditional yerba mate, which is 100% Ilex paraguariensis, without any additives. Depending on whether you find twigs and dust in addition to leaves, classic yerba mate can be divided into despalada (practically devoid of sticks) and elaborada (leaves, sticks and dust).
- organic yerba mate – yerba mate itself, as well as all the additives found in the packaging of this type of mate, are of organic origin and ecologically certified. No chemicals or artificial preservatives are used in the development of the plants, and the entire production process is subject to strict regulations and controls.
- extra stimulating yerba mate – Ilex paraguariensis is an excellent, rich source of caffeine, but its effects can be enhanced with the right additives. It is often combined with guarana – another plant straight from the Amazon jungle, which is also rich in caffeine. In combination, they form an explosive blend that provides a powerful dose of energy for the most demanding.
- flavoured yerba mate – with added fruit and flavours. The bitter-tart flavour of yerba mate combines well with the juicy taste of fruit in various forms. Manufacturers are adding candied pineapple cubes, dried apple chunks, raspberries and strawberries, freeze-dried berries and much, much more to the raw product. The possibilities are endless and the compositions highly original! The fruity additions soften the somewhat intense character of yerba mate, which is why this type of mate is often recommended for the beginners.
- herbal yerba mate – with the addition of aromatic herbs. The compositions of this type of yerba mate often include refreshing mint, sour lemongrass, verbena or burrito and boldo, which are less well-known in our country. The herbs perfectly enhance the flavour of Ilex paraguariensis and add a unique depth to the infusion.
- yerba mate green – stimulates and has the same effect as classic yerba mate, but is much milder in taste. It is dried with hot air, so the taste of the brew is devoid of a smoky accent, while the omission of the ageing stage during production means that dried green yerba mate retains its original colour. This is a great option for starting out – we recommend it!
How to prepare yerba mate infusion?
Some people refer to mate as "yerba mate tea", although in fact it has nothing to do with regular tea. It comes from a different plant, it has a nonidentical effect, the taste is also clearly distinct, but above all, the brewing process is completely different. It may seem a little complicated at first, but once you get the hang of it, it doesn't get any easier than this! However, before you start the ritual of brewing yerba mate, you should equip yourself with special traditional accessories – mate gourd, i.e. a vessel from which you will drink the brew, and a bombilla, i.e. a special straw which is used to filter the grounds.
What is a bombilla used for? Types of yerba mate bombilla
What is a bombilla? It is nothing more than a special filtering straw. It is an essential for every yerba mate fan as it separates the grounds from the brew. There are many types of bombilla. We choose them depending on the material of manufacture and the type of dried yerba mate. They are most often made of metal alloys. The choices include aluminium, stainless steel and alpaca, also known as "new silver". Each bombilla is equipped with a filter: spiral, spoon or punched. These can have one or several layers. The more layers there are, the more accurately we filter our brew.
What is a mate gourd? Yerba mate vessels
With your choice of bombilla behind you, you should also consider the right mate gourd, the special vessel in which the infusion is prepared. There are many types of yerba mate vessels, and each has slightly different characteristics.
Calabashes made from a dried and hollowed out tropical pumpkin are an example of a traditional mate gourd. They are an ideal option for lovers of classic, yet inexpensive solutions.
Ceramic mate gourd
In Europe, ceramic mate gourds are the most popular. They have many advantages. They heat up slowly and have a high capacity and durability. What is more, apart from washing with water, they do not require complicated maintenance.
The mythical “sacred tree” is a South American plant that has been revered for centuries for its unusual, ethereal aroma and use in folk medicine. Mate gourd made from palo santo wood emits a pleasant, resinous aroma while introducing a hint of subtlety to the flavour of the brew.
Preparing yerba mate – step by step
If you have succeeded in choosing the right dried yerba mate for you and have equipped yourself with all the necessary accessories, it is time to move on to the most enjoyable activity, which is, of course, brewing yerba mate. There are different ways of preparation, but we will focus on the most popular and widely accepted method:
- Fill the mate gourd with yerba mate. Latinos usually fill the vessel with about 2/3 of its volume of dry product. However, for a beginner mateist this may be a little too much, so pour in about 15g of raw material – 1 large spoonful.
- Cover the vessel filled with the leaves with your hand and shake the whole thing a few times. This will ensure that the finest elements sink to the bottom and do not end up in the straw (bombilla) when drinking.
- Turn the mate gourd so that it is at an angle of about 45 degrees to the ground. Place the bombilla (tube) along the "pyramid" strewn with the dried mate.
- Moisten yerba mate with a little cold water.
- When yerba mate has had time to "drink" cold water, you can proceed to pour hot water over the whole thing. Optimally, it should be around 70-80 Celsius degrees. The most important thing is that it is not boiling water! Water that is too hot can scald the leaves and the infusion will become very bitter in taste. Wait a while for the infusion to brew well.
Tasting time! After drinking, the grounds will be suitable for pouring several times (on average 4-5 refills). A lot depends here on the brand and the type of dry product. Don't be afraid to experiment with additions. Depending on your tastes, you may be tempted to add some herbs, honey, lemon or other citrus. Let your imagination be the only limitation!
How to prepare cold yerba mate? What is tereré?
How to prepare cold yerba mate? We have mentioned pouring hot, but not boiling, water over yerba mate. However, if you are suffering from hot weather or simply want to refresh yourself, tereré, or cold yerba mate, is the ideal solution. The tradition originates from Paraguay, where a cold brew is much more popular due to the harsh tropical climate. The preparation of such a drink is analogous. Try to keep the water well chilled – in lukewarm water the caffeine is not released as easily. After pouring iced water over the dried mate, you need to wait a little longer. About 5 minutes should be enough for the drink to develop its characteristic colour and bitterness. Tereré tastes great with a variety of ingredients. Ice, citrus pieces and even juices are sure to work well. So go ahead!
What is a mate gourd curado?
The ritual of brewing yerba mate with dedicated tools is one thing, but it is also important to take proper care of the accessories. Regardless of which type of mate gourd you choose, it is important to prepare it properly before using it for the first time, as well as to care for it properly after each use. In the case of a mate gourd made of ceramic, the matter is simple – just rinse it with boiling water after purchase and, after drinking a portion of yerba mate, wash it thoroughly or place it in the dishwasher. If you use yerba mate vessels of natural origin, the matter becomes slightly more complicated, but it is worth taking proper care of such an accessory so that it lasts as long as possible. The process of preparing the vessel for use is called curado and aims to impregnate the wood or natural calabash to increase the life of the mate gourd and strengthen the material.
Curado of calabash
Calabash is a dried pumpkin. If it has not been used, a lot of accumulated pulp can collect at the bottom. It is essential to remove it. How do you do this? Simple! Pour water over the vessel and leave it overnight. The next day, the unwanted pulp can be scraped out (e.g. with a spoon). Repeat the whole process. The next day, you only need to rinse the calabash once more with cold water. Now it will be ready to use.
Curado of palo santo and other mate gourds made of wood
Here, the curado process will be a tad more complex. First, rinse the dish under running water. Once dry, gently lubricate the interior with oil or olive. Leave the mate gourd in this state for about two days. During this time, it should soak up the fat solidly. Next, pour in the dried mate and pour warm water over the whole thing – just as if you were brewing yerba mate yourself. Leave the vessel overnight and in the morning rinse it again, discarding the contents. Done!
Yerba Mate FAQ – questions and answers
To conclude, we have prepared for you a collection of the most frequently asked questions with the most comprehensive possible answers. We look forward to reading them!
What is yerba mate?
Yerba mate is an infusion prepared from dried leaves and twigs of Ilex paraguariensis. The plant is found in the South American tropics on the borders of Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. It is in these countries that yerba mate is most popular. The infusion owes it above all to the presence of valuable nutrients and the high natural caffeine content. This is why it is sometimes referred to as a healthier alternative to coffee.
How does yerba mate work?
The substances contained in the leaves of Ilex paraguariensis exhibit a number of valuable health properties. Each serving of the infusion provides vitamins, mineral salts, xanthines and, of course, caffeine. In addition to the stimulating effect, regular consumption of yerba mate helps to regulate blood pressure. In addition, there is a reduction in muscle tension and stimulation of the heart and nervous system. Yerba mate improves digestion and speeds up metabolism, and can therefore aid weight loss.
What is a mate gourd?
Mate gourd is a generic term for various types of yerba mate vessels. The most basic are hollow calabashes made from a tropical pumpkin. However, if you are looking for something more durable and easier to maintain, invest in ceramic calabashes. Experienced infusion enthusiasts like to choose palo santo mate gourds. These are made from a resin-filled South American wood with a wonderful aroma. Also interesting is the guampa, which is a vessel made from... bovine horn!
Which vessel should you choose to start with?
We recommend ceramic mate gourds to beginners. They are relatively inexpensive, readily available and have a high resistance to damage. In addition, they are easy to keep clean and do not require a lot of time for maintenance.
What is bombilla and what is it used for?
A bombilla is a metal or wooden tube that separates the brew from the grounds. It has a mouthpiece at the top and a special strainer is installed at the end. If you wish to prepare yerba mate using traditional methods, the bombilla is an absolute must-have. When choosing one, you are faced with a wide range of choices. Among the cheapest products are those made of bamboo or aluminium. Slightly more expensive are bombillas made of stainless steel. On the "top shelf", on the other hand, you will find bombillas made of alpaca or silver. These, although they can cost a lot, are sure to last for many years.
Can yerba mate be poured over boiling water?
You can do it, although it is a VERY bad idea :). On contact with boiling water, the leaves of Ilex paraguariensis will quickly give up all their properties. As a result, the infusion will be far too intense in flavour. In fact, after the first pour, it will be suitable for throwing away. The best temperature for yerba mate is around 75-80 Celsius degrees. Such an infusion releases the compounds it contains at the optimum rate. You will even be able to afford several refills of water and still enjoy the great taste and properties.
Can yerba mate be prepared cold?
Yes, in our previous answer we mentioned 80 Celsius degrees as the optimum temperature for preparing the infusion. However, we did not add that it is just as good an idea to pour yerba mate in .... very cold water. This form of serving is called terére and will be a great way to cool down on hot days! Terére is particularly popular in Paraguay. The people of this country like to enrich it with ice cubes, fruit or juices.
What is yerba mate green?
This is a popular species of yerba mate in Brazil with a mild flavour and strong stimulating properties. Green yerba mate is dried using hot air instead of smoke. This makes the whole thing considerably less bitter. Yerba mate green blends perfectly with fruity and herbal additives. Verde Mate, the most popular product in this category, has around 50 flavour variations!
Yerba mate despalada and elaborada. What are the differences?
Among the classic yerba mates, there is a distinction between elaborada and despalada. The former group of products contains not only ground leaves of Ilex paraguariensis but also sticks. Yerba mate despalada, on the other hand, is devoid of sticks. Despalada is considered stronger in flavour and effect, as the sticks are tasteless and do not contain caffeine.
"I bought yerba mate but I don't have any accessories. What should I do?"
Be sure to visit our website and order a mate gourd and bombilla! However, if you would like to taste the brew right now, there are alternatives. Yerba mate can be prepared in a tea infuser or a French press, for example.
What is palo santo?
Palo santo is a species of exotic wood characterised by a wonderful, natural resin smell. Due to these properties, it is used in the production of yerba mate vessels and incense sticks.
Which yerba mate would be best to start with?
For beginners, we recommend green yerba mate, such as products from the Brazilian brand Verde Mate Green. They are milder in flavour and come in interesting variations, with the addition of fruit and herbs. A classic mate tea in a less intense suave edition will also be a good choice.
Does yerba mate help with weight loss?
Yes. Yerba mate suppresses hunger by bringing a feeling of satiety. In addition, it aids metabolism by stimulating the digestive system. If physical activity and a balanced diet are kept in mind, yerba mate will certainly help you lose weight.
Can yerba mate only be drunk by adults?
The issue is debatable. In Argentina, fruity yerba mate with lower caffeine content is available for children. We, however, advise refraining from giving the brew to the youngest.