Mate, more than a companion: How to make this South American drink

Tools needed to prepare yerba mate. (Photo illustration by Gabriela Faraone | Collegian Media Group)

Yerba mate has gained popularity in health stores around the country. It is labeled as a tea, but it has an energy kick like coffee. Priya Krishna, a journalist for Food & Wine, said that the taste is “strong, bitter and vegetal,” and that it “has a very distinctive taste that, like coffee, can require adjusting to.” So what exactly is this wellness beverage?

What is mate?

Mate (MAH-the) is derived from a South American herb grown primarily in the subtropical rainforests of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay. It is cultivated from the leaves and young twigs of the mate tree. The leaves are dried, shredded and aged for a year in cedar containers before becoming yerba mate.

The Guarani Indians located in Paraguay have consumed yerba mate for centuries, praising it for its healing properties. Traditionally, mate was consumed by partaking in a special ritual. During this ritual, participants would brew the tea and then pour it into a hollowed-out gourd. Then, they would pass the gourd in a circle, as each person sipped through a filtered straw.

According to a research made by INYM Argentina, “yerba mate infusions present a great antioxidant power due to its high concentration of polyphenols.” It contains potassium and B-group vitamins responsible for energy and red blood cell production, and it also reduces LDL cholesterol levels and triglycerides.

The mate “ritual”

The first step is to fill your kettle with fresh, filtered water and heat it to a rolling boil. Unlike other brews, you will need a special metal straw known as “bombilla” and a gourd in which you will put the yerba.

Fill the gourd half to three-quarters of the way with yerba. Grasp the opening of the gourd with your full hand, covering and roughly sealing it.

Then, turn the mate upside down and shake vigorously but briefly in this inverted position to cause the finest, most powdery particles of the yerba to settle toward your palm.

Tap the mate toward one side of the gourd to create a “little hill.” Moisten the “little hill” with cool water, but do not flood it. It is important to keep the brewing water at one side only, keeping the other side of the yerba dry the whole time. Let it fully absorb the cool water before continuing.

Now, insert the filter side of the bombilla in the side without mate. Where you inserted your straw, add your boiled water. Carefully pour the hot water into the cavity opposite of the yerba, until it reaches almost to the top of the gourd when the yerba is fully saturated.

Once the hot water has been added, you are ready to drink your mate!