Yerba mate is traditionally consumed from a hollowed gourd called a mate using a metal straw with a filter called a bombilla. Just like any tea, yerba mate may be brewed different ways, whether with a tea bag, an infuser, a tea maker, but it is most often brewed in a mate. Native to Argentina and Paraguay, mate is more than just a drink in that area, it is an essential part of the culture. Whether visiting friends, or walking down the streets of Buenos Aires, yerba mate is everywhere. It is as widely consumed, if not more so than coffee is in the United States. Preparing a good cup of yerba mate involves more than just pouring hot water over tea leaves, rather there is a delicate process that ensures a great tasting cup while preserving the nutrients that make yerba mate so healthy.
First off, one needs a mate. A mate refers to the gourd, not the tea (which is the yerba.) Mates may be bought at tea shops, or online, one such company that sells everything you need is Guayaki, which emphasizes sustainability and market driven restoration of the rainforest. Once you have purchased a mate, you must cure it. This helps to seal the inside membrane of the gourd to prevent it from molding, and it also adds a flavor characteristic to the mate in a similar way that a yixing clay teapot would enhance flavor of tea. To cure the mate:
- Lightly scrape the inside of the gourd with the side of a teaspoon to release loose particles and shake out the loose pieces.
- Fill the mate 3/4 full with yerba and add boiling hot water.
- Let the yerba soak into the mate for 24 hours.
- Clean out the mate, and scrape off any more loose pieces.
- Again fill the mate with yerba and add boiling water, let it sit for an additional 24 hours.
- Empty out the mate and let it air dry (preferably in sunlight)
Now you are ready to prepare your mate.
- Fill the mate halfway with yerba
- Cover the top of the mate with your palm, turn it upside down and shake out any loose dust. This prevents dust from becoming trapped in the bombilla.
- Tilt the mate to the side so that the yerba moves onto one side of the mate, then insert the bombilla into the mate.
- Add a little bit of cool water to the yerba, this prevents the yerba from being shocked and losing it nutrients. It also prevents the yerba from cooking on contact of the hot water, which results in a smoother taste
- Add hot water (NEVER BOILING WATER), try to make sure the water is no more than 200 degrees.
- Start drinking your tea, and refill your mate up to 10 times!
Be sure to properly clean your mate and allow it to dry before the next use.