Here’s a guide on 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 shape, sizes, and materials: from bone to silicone, wood to ceramic, glass, metal and gourd.
Mate 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.
Wood: 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.
Guampa: 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.
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.
In terms of material, you should aim for metal bombillas, made of stainless steel or alpaca (silver)l. 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 on 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.
Stainless Steel Bombillas$2.49
Sleek Innovative Straw Ideal for Tereré or Yerba Mate | Bomba Serejo$15.00 – $20.00
High-Quality Traditional Bombillas by Bortonaggio$15.00 – $25.00
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.
Flavored: this type of yerba can have a variable but usually higher content of stems. The flavor comes usually from essences, citrus peel or zest. You can also make it yourself!
Yerba blends: 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.
Organic yerba: 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.
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.