Yerba Mate Tea

by jptanabe

Not really a true tea, Yerba Mate is an infusion made from the yerba mate plant.

Yerba Mate is an infusion, made from the dried leaves of the yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) plant. Because it does not use the leaves of the tea plant Camellia sinensis it is not a true tea, but rather a tea-like beverage. It does, however, contain caffeine. Yerba Mate is the national drink in Argentina, also Uruguay and Paraguay, and is commonly enjoyed in other countries, particularly Brazil where it is called chimarrao.

Yerba Mate is prepared in a special fashion, using a gourd and a special straw, the bombilla for drinking. It is traditionally drunk in community, with the Yerba Mate passed around so that all can share from the same "cup."

Image of Yerba Mate from Wikimedia Commons.

How to drink Yerba Mate Tea

To prepare Yerba Mate tea you need the right equipment. Of course it's just a bunch of leaves and water, but the joy of this drink comes not just from the flavor but from the tradition of how it's made.

What you need, apart from the tea kettle to boil the water, is a special hollow calabash gourd, often decorated with silver and knows as a guampa, and a silver straw called a bombilla. The leaves of the Yerba Mate plant are dried and crushed, and placed in the gourd. It must be treated with cold water first, to protect the herb from scalding which ruins the flavor and changes the nutritional elements.

Yerba Mate drink

Uruguayan "mate" with a silver metalic straw.
Uruguayan "mate" with a silver metali...

The bombilla can be inserted before or after the water, depending on local custom. The basic idea, though, is that the gourd is tilted so that the Yerba Mate material is arranged in a lopsided pile to one side of the gourd, by a process of shaking and tilting. Hot water is carefully added to the mixture, and it is ready to drink through the bombilla, which is inserted at an angle. The bombilla acts both as a straw to suck up the liquid and as a filter to prevent solid particles of the herb from being drunk by mistake. The gourd can be refilled several times, as the herb is quite strong and its flavor continues through several fillings until it is "washed out."


Yerba Mate Bombilla (straw)
Yerba Mate Bombilla (straw)

History of Yerba Mate

According to legend, Yerba Mate was given to humankind as a "drink of friendship." The story belongs to the Guarani people, indigenous peoples of South America particularly Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil.

The Yerba Mate legend tells of how goddesses came to the earth one day and were threatened by a jaguar. Risking his own life, an old man saved them from the attack. The goddesses gave him a special plant, Yerba Mate, from which he could always prepare the drink of friendship. Consequently, the tradition of drinking Yerba Mate involves passing a communal cup around so that all may share in this friendship drink together.

Enjoying Yerba Mate

I have to admit, the drink looks rather unappetizing, with all those bits of crushed leaves stuck there and floating around on top. There is even mold growing in the gourds, which is considered a good addition to the flavor! And passing around a communal cup (especially with a communal straw) doesn't sound terribly hygienic.

However, it actually is an enjoyable drink, with a flavor somewhere between coffee and green tea with some plant-like additional flavors. Unique and worth a try.

And, if you don't want to deal with all the shaking, tilting, and straining of the loose herbs, it's also available in tea bags!

Buy Yerba Mate!

Of course you can buy Yerba Mate and enjoy it in your own home.

Here's a bag of Yerba Mate tea ready to purchase and enjoy!

The Guayaki company suggests you can brew the Yerba Mate like tea or coffee. That means you can add hot water and then pour it through a tea strainer to drink, or use a coffee maker. Many people who drink it this way like to add some milk and sweetener.

Yerba Mate Gourds and Bombillas

To enjoy your Yerba Mate in the traditional style you need a gourd and bombilla.

Here is an example of each available for purchase. Of course, there are many others!

More about Yerba Mate Tea

Updated: 03/05/2024, jptanabe
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Have you tried Yerba Mate?

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katiem2 on 03/09/2017

Just had to revisit to tweet, google+ and like

katiem2 on 11/16/2016

I enjoy yerba mate tea, great to learn a bit more about one of my indulgences.

happynutritionist on 05/13/2015

My husband was just telling me about this tea the other day..he works with someone who drinks it using the equipment you show here.

jptanabe on 05/03/2015

Let us know how you enjoy it!

Mira on 05/03/2015

I drink lots of tea, of many different kinds, both real teas and herbal teas. Like burntchestnut and ologsinquito, I have heard of yerba mate but never tried it. Your presentation was intriguing so I'll buy some this week :)

ologsinquito on 01/15/2015

No, I've heard of this also, but have never tried it. I'd be interested.

AngelaJohnson on 01/13/2015

No, I've heard of it, but never have tried it. It's interesting to read about this "tea."

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