Yerba Mate: How to Prepare it and Everything You Need to Start
Here’s a guide on how to prepare yerba mate and everything you need to start drinking yerba mate including: What type of mate cup, what to look for in a bombilla, and types of yerba.
Mate cups come in all shapes, sizes, and materials: from bone to silicone, wood to ceramic, glass, metal and gourd.
Also called calabaza or porongo are natural cups from the plant Lagenaria Vulgaris which come in a variety of shapes and sizes. It can also be decorated with silver or alpaca, engraved or covered with leather, ceramic, and more. They need to be ‘cured’ before its first use. These are the most common types of mate cups.
Made out of different types of wood which affects its flavor. Algarrobo, orange tree, cinnamon, cocobolo, rosewood, quebracho, and oak are popular. They are dyed, carved, and decorated in various ways.
Made out of cow horns. It was very common among gauchos and is still popular in Paraguay. Much like mate gourds, they need to be ‘cured’ before its first use. These are most commonly used for cold mate.
Metal, glass, ceramic and silicone
They are easy to clean, and they need not to be ‘cured’ before using. They do not absorb the flavor of the yerba, which can be considered a pro or a con, as the mate will not be as tasteful but you can use them for both cimarron and sweet mate. Metal cups can transfer some of the heat from the water, so be careful. The ones made with ceramic or glass are often covered with leather, keeping the heat for a longer period of time.
Silicone mate cups are one of the latest additions to the mate kit. They are particularly handy to travel as they are almost impossible to break. The downside is that because they are flexible they require some practice getting used to.
Bombillas / Straws
In terms of material, you should aim for metal bombillas, made of stainless steel or alpaca. We advise against using glass (because they are very fragile), cane or even wood bombillas (because they are hard to clean and they are prone to mold formation).
In terms of shape, there are two main types, and the difference lies in the type of strainer. The most common one has a shape that resembles a covered spoon, or a flat bulb with small holes. It is the best option when drinking mate without stems as it strains most of the yerba. As a con, it can get clogged and it is not the easiest one to clean.
The other type of bombilla looks more like a metal straw with a flexible spring on the bottom. It is the spring that acts as a strainer, and it can be removed for a faster clean. We go into further detail about straws in our article All About Bombillas.
The flavor and performance of the yerba depend on where the yerba is taken from, its drying and toasting process, the time of year, and the proportion of stems versus leaves. Each brand of yerba has a different taste, so you will need some try and testing to find your favorite.
Here is a short guide to using as a starting point:
Yerba without stems
If you want a strong and more bitter flavor, this must be your choice. It holds the flavor longer and is the most popular type of yerba in Uruguay and South of Brazil.
Yerba with stems
If you are a beginner or if you prefer a more mild flavor, yerba with stems is the way to go. It is also the best option to drink tereré. It’s popular in Paraguay and Argentina.
This type of yerba can have a variable but usually have a higher content of stems. The flavor comes usually from essences, citrus peel or zest. You can also make it yourself!
Usually labeled in Spanish as ‘yerba compuesta’ refers to a mate blend that is formed by at least 60% of yerba and a maximum of 40% of other herbs such as, mint, thyme, sage, pennyroyal, and rosemary.
It can have a variable percentage of stems. Grown without using insecticides, pesticides or additives, organic yerba is made without rushing its natural processes.
Yerba in Tea Bags
It can have a variable percentage of stems and it is a practical way of preparing mate cocido. It's typically brewed much like other teas.
Yerba Mate Kits
The easiest way to get started is with a yerba mate kit. It’s everything that you need to start drinking right away. They typically include a cup, straw, and yerba.
How to Prepare Yerba Mate
Mate is a versatile drink and there are many ways of preparing it, depending on the type of yerba mate and liquid you use. There is a huge variety of yerba: with or without stems, finely ground or roughly cut, flavored, sweetened, blended with other herbs. Mate can be drunk with water - hot or cold -, milk or even juice.
However, the most popular and traditional way of preparing mate is plain, with hot water. Here's how to prepare yerba mate.
What You'll Need
- Yerba mate: For beginners, we recommend yerba with stems. If you want a strong, more toasted and bitter flavor, go for the one without stems.
- Bombilla: metal straw
- Mate gourds: Highly recommended, but you can also drink from a cup.
- Lukewarm water and hot water
- Thermo: Optional but very useful to keep your water at perfect temperature.
- Fill gourd with yerba - Fill 2/3 to 3/4 of the gourd with yerba and slant it at 45-degree angle. If you are using yerba without stems, cover the top of the gourd and shake it up and down, to remove the small particles of the yerba before slanting it (45 degrees angle)
- Add lukewarm water - Pour lukewarm water as close as the wall of the gourd on the lower half of the slant of yerba. Looking at the mate from above, you will see a half-filled with water, and half dry. Wait until the water is absorbed by the yerba (1 minute).
- Repeat but with hot water - Repeat this process but this time with hot water - around 80 Celsius / 176 Fahrenheit or lower. It is not recommended to use water at a higher temperature than that because it could burn the yerba, affecting its taste and performance.
- Put the bombilla -Put the bombilla (covering the top with thumb) on the same lower side of the yerba, on a digging motion, and pressing until you reach the bottom of the gourd.
- Press the yerba with the bombilla - Press the yerba with the bombilla, creating two differentiated levels: one higher and dry, and other lower and wet.
- Add hot water to the lower side - Add hot water to the lower side, aiming as close as possible to the bombilla to avoid the higher (and dry) part of the yerba slant to get wet.
- Your mate is ready - Just drink it using the bombilla and repeat step 6 as many times as you want.
At some point, which varies depending on the type of yerba mate, you will start noticing the mate is losing its taste - if you burn the yerba or if you accidentally wet the whole yerba this will happen sooner, so be careful! When you get to that point, carefully remove the bombilla and repeat steps 4 and 5, but this time on the ‘dry side’ - opposite from where it was. Continue with step 6 and enjoy.