What is Mate?
Mate is the most traditional Argentinean green infusion. A small cup called Mate (gourd) is filled about three-quarters full with Yerba mate, the dried leaves and stems/twigs of a plant. Hot but not boiling water is poured into the mate. The drink, which is rather bitter, is sipped through a metal straw with a filter at the end called a Bombilla.
You will probably find a lot of people drinking this, especially in Argentina and Uruguay, in all kind of places: parks, office, shops, streets, etc. It’s a social activity, normally shared between friends. During a pandemic, each person can have its own.
How to prepare a good, tasty and long-lasting Mate?
The process may differ if you use a very small mate or if you like it with sugar or sweetener. However; in general terms, the right way to prepare is as follows.
1. Make a slope of yerba in the mate. Optionally, in order to remove the powder/dust, cover the open area with your hand and shake it a couple of times, so the powder sticks to your palm and can be discarded. Additionally, the yerba can be filtered in advance with a strainer. Bear in mind that the powder can cause heartburn. The alternative is to use a yerba that comes explicitly with less powder (see the section about yerba below).
2. Add a splash of slightly warm water to the “shallow” end of the yerba mate slope.
3. Insert the bombilla (filter straw) firmly to the “shallow” end of the mate. Most people discard this first mate (the word mate, in this case, means first drink) by spiting it somewhere. This step is very important if you want to make it last for longer.
4. Pour hot water (Between 77° and 80°C) to the “shallow” end of the slope, filling at least 3/4.
5. Drink, top-up once finished, pass on and repeat. Continue this way until the flavour is out. If it is a rather big mate, at some point you can swap and start pouring in the other half of the slope, where yerba is dry. For this, you can change the staw position to the other side.
What are the best Yerbas, according to your taste?
There are many options when it comes to yerbas, especially if you are in Argentina or South America. But nowadays there are many brands available everywhere in the world, especially to buy online.
The key difference when choosing yerba is your taste. In particular, if you like smooth/light or strong. This is the main difference in my opinion. Besides that, it depends if you drink it sweet and/or flavoured.
The taste of the yerba depends, besides the quality of the plants themselves, on the blend (ratio) of leaves and stems (overall, the ratio is 70/30), and the time used to dry/rest the yerba after the harvest. Some brands, like La Merced, are known for using a full natural drying mechanism, while others accelerate the process by other means, so they can reach the shelves faster. These factors will influence the intensity, acidity, taste and duration of your mate.
Another factor which is not always considered is the amount of yerba. The more yerba, the stronger the mate. The same happens if you use 2 or 3 bags of tea instead of one.
As of today, my favourite yerba is, by far, Playadito. I discovered it 4 years ago and never changed it again. Smooth to the right level, with low quantity of powder, great flavour and intensity. If you are really interested in low powder yerba, there are many videos on youtube of people filtering different brands to measure it.
Other good yerbas on the smooth/light side are La Mañanita, Cachamate, La Union. The latter has a version with less powder (“Bajo contenido de polvo“). Another two that are worth trying, slightly less smooth, are Cruz De Malta and Anna Park (organic).
Moving to stronger yerbas, we can recommend Amanda, Rosamonte and the “premium” from Las Marias, La Merced. The latter currently comes in 5 different flavours: Campo Sur (the smoothest), De Campo (less smooth), De Monte (intense), Barbacuá (smoky) and Campo y Monte (balanced).
Among the flavoured ones, the most popular brand is CBSe.
Types of Mates
There are also many things to say about the type of mate (gourd/cup). The original, most common, and most recommended material is Calabaza (pumpkin). Most of them are finished with an aluminium ring on top. You can buy them online of all sizes.
As we mentioned above, bear in mind that the bigger the mate (and hence the more yerba), the stronger the infusion.
Some of the types above, such as Calabaza (arguably the best material), needs to be “curados” (cured) when they are new and before the first use. There are also a few ways of doing it. One is to add a bit of oil or butter to cover the pores and then used yerba, keeping it wet. This should go for 48 to 72 hs, changing the used yerba a couple of times.
The type of bombilla/straw can also influence your mate experience. Is not about the taste, and is not as important as the yerba and preparation. But a bombilla that “gets stuck” easily can cause troubles while you sip. A good one should give you a good flow of the infusion.
I can recommend the ones like the picture above. In particular, the ones with spring are easier to clean and more difficult to get stuck. You can also buy cleaning brushes if needed.
Types of Termos (flask)
There is also a variety of termos/thermo (or flasks) where you can keep and transport your hot water, and which you will use to pour.
The most popular and more expensive, kind of trendy at the moment in Argentina is Stanley. This is a good brand and can maintain the water at a good temperature for longer.
Another popular brand in Argentina is Lumilagro. They are good value for money, but not that good for clumsy people, as they are not that strong, and the material inside made for keeping the water can break if you hit it.
An easier, cheaper and most common alternative can be the classic stainless steel thermos in the form of a tube. These ones don’t normally maintain the water hot for a long time, as there is no special material for that matter inside.
10 things you may not know about Mate
What are the only countries producing yerba?
Argentina, Brasil y Paraguay
What is the main importer of Argentine yerba?
What the biggest importer of yerba?
What Argentine provinces produce yerba?
Misiones y Corrientes.
What’s the best water temperature for drinking mate?
Between 77° and 80°C.
What’s the material of the first mates ever made?
What is Club Mate?
It’s a German non-alcoholic energy drink.
What’s the mate consumption per person in Argentina?
According to the Instituto Nacional de la Yerba, it’s 110 litres per year. In total, Argentine consumes 256 millions of yerba per year.
Who were the first to drink mate?
Guarani, a group of culturally related indigenous peoples of South America, is known for using mate during their rituals.
What properties does it have?
The infusion has antioxidant and energizing properties, and contains a large number of polyphenols, B vitamins, potassium, magnesium and xanthines.
Travel tips and recommendations
- To know the best Argentine food you can try, visit “Best Traditional Food in Argentina“.
- If you are in Buenos Aires, check our post “Best cool and quirky restaurants in Buenos Aires“.
- If you want to visit a coastal city, have a look at “Best of Mar del Plata“.
- And if you like good wine, visit “Best value Malbec wines from Argentina” and “Best affordable red wines from Argentina“.