Updated on June 13, 2010
Yerba Mate: That amazing South American Tea
Yerba Mate is an invigorating and nutrient rich tea from South America. It is broadly enjoyed in Uruguay, Paraguay, and some parts of Argentina and Brazil. I was first introduced to mate by high school Spanish teacher. I will be the first to admit that it is an acquired taste, but so are coffee, beer, tea, wine, and other beverages that so many people love.
Mate can be best described as a rich tea with a complex flavor that is earthy, bitter, and depending on the brand smoky. Mate is usually sold in 1 kilo (2.2 lb) bags. The two main varieties are Con and Sin Palo (with or without stems). The addition of stems mellows the bitterness some. There are too many brands to count, but my favorite are Canarias and Nobleza Gaucha.
Mate is prepared in a gourd also called a mate or in a horn called a guampa. A hot infusion is usually referred to simply as mate. A cold infusion often including fruit juice is called Tereré. The infusion is filtered through a metal straw like device called a bombilla. The whole set up is often carried around in a matera. Materas are traditionally leather cases with a shoulder strap, but ones made out of synthetic materials are gaining popularity on the streets of Montevideo, Uruguay.
Mate Preparation Mate is prepared by filling the gourd one half to three quarters of the way with ground yerba mate. With your hand over the mouth of the gourd it is shaken to bring the finer particles (powder) to the top. This helps prevent clogs later on. After shaking it the gourd is tilted to its side and your hand slowly removed. You want the yerba mate to stay stacked on the side of the gourd. It is difficult to do and some of the yerba mate will settle.
Next cool water will be gently poured in the empty side and allowed to absorb. The cool water is essential to prevent the mate from being scalded by hot water later on. The bombilla is now inserted in to the wet yerba mate with your thumb covering the mouth piece. Now water heated to just before boiling may be added and the mate enjoyed.
Tereré is prepared in a similar fashion. It makes a wonderful hot weather drink. The yerba is packed in a similar fashion usually in a guampa. This time however the tea is infused with cold water that is often sweetened with fruit juice.
“Each infusion of yerba mate contains:
• Vitamins: A, C, E, B1, B2, Niacin (B3), B5, B Complex
• Minerals: Calcium, Manganese, Iron, Selenium, Potassium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Zinc
• Additional Compounds: Carotene, Fatty Acids, Chlorophyll, Flavonols,
Polyphenols, Inositol, Trace Minerals, Antioxidants, Tannins, Pantothenic Acid and 15 Amino Acids.” Guayaki