Chimarrão (pronounced shee-ma-HA-oom) is the name of a caffeinated drink made from Ilex paraguariensis (in Portuguese, ‘erva-mate’) and hot water. It is a type of mate drunk in the southern regions of Brazil: Parana, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul.
Just like Argentine and Uruguayan mate, it is drunk in a mate gourd, with a bombilla and hot water.
It is also a highly social drink, drank among big groups of friends and/or family. In addition, the ‘Chimarrão etiquette’ is very similar to the ‘mate etiquette’. Pércio de Moraes Branco’s ‘10th Commandments of Chimarrão’ include drinking until hearing a slurping-like sound (which is expected and it signs that you are done with the drink), to avoid touching the ‘bomba’, changing the order the mate is being served or taking a long time to drink it.
Its health benefits are pretty much the same, as they are all from the same plant, although it is still debated whether the freshness of Chimarrão’s yerba mate could contain more caffeine and antioxidants.
‘Chimarrão’ (or ‘Cimarrón’ in Spanish), according to Vergínio Assunção, Klumb Arnoni and Pereira Machado Júnior, was the name that the settlers gave the drink. The word has a double meaning, reflecting the influence of both the Portuguese and the Spanish. ‘Cimarrón’ means barbarian or brute, and refers to the animals that become wild.
The term was used to refer to the strong or overly bitter drink that the natives drunk, without other ingredients that would make the drink more appealing. In Portuguese, ‘chimarrão’ refers to something clandestine, which relates to the prohibition of trading mate and the gauchos, known for stealing cattle and contraband the herb.
Far from being forbidden, in the states of Santa Catarina and Parana, the economy is based mainly on the production of erva-mate.
Differences between Chimarrão and Uruguayan or Argentinian mate?
Erva-mate: Ground Yerba Mate
The Chimarrão yerba (in Portuguese, ‘erva-mate’) is notably different from Argentine, Paraguayan or ‘Uruguayan’* yerba. It differs in color, texture, and taste.
The yerba mate used in Uruguay, which has a characteristic bitter, toasted flavor like the one from the popular brand Canarias is actually planted in Brazil.
Although erva-mate goes to the processes of sapecado, fogueado and cancheado, the yerba is then quickly packed (within approximately a week), so it doesn’t have the time of maturation that other yerbas like the Argentine, Paraguayan and Uruguayan.
This lack of aging or oxidation makes erva-mate retain higher levels of chlorophyll, which gives erva-mate a bright neon green color.
The Brazilian government made a classification of yerba mate, based on the proportion of stems to powdered leaves.
Of the PN (‘Padrão Nacional’, the national standard), PN 1 has the highest quality. It contains at least 70% of leaves and 30% of stems at most. PN 2 contains around 60% of leaves, and between 40% of stems. PN 3, the lowest one in quality, has the same proportion of leaves and stems.
Chimarrão can also contain some aromatic herbs, and according to Javier Ricca, since 1998 these blends are regulated and can be just around 10% of the content.
Referring to a PN 1 without other types of herbs, we can say that erva-mate resembles matcha green tea more than other yerbas. This is because it looks like fine powder (without being able to distinguish the cut leaves), but with some small stems.
As we have mentioned before, the taste of the erva-mate will vary from brand to brand, different harvests, and of course affected by the temperature of the water, how it is prepared, etc.
In general terms, however, erva-mate is lighter and fresher, with a less bitter or toasted flavor. It is a good starting point for beginners or those who find aged yerba mate too strong.
Larger Mate Gourd for Chimarrão
Chimarrão is traditionally drunk in a specific natural mate gourd called cuia, which have different shapes but are usually bigger and with thicker walls than mate gourds. They can pack up to half a kilo of erva-mate and are meant to be shared among 4 people.
The process of ‘curating’ the cuia as well as taking care of it is the same as with other mate gourds.
If the gourd is too big, a ‘vira mate’ is essential. ‘Vira mate’ (which translates as ‘mate turner’) is a plastic or hard-cardboard circle that is placed at the top of the mate gourd instead of the hand as a first step, to shake the to remove the smallest particles and allow the erva-mate to set.
If you do not have a cuia, do not worry. You can also prepare it in a mate gourd, or mate cups made of glass or ceramic.
Instead of having one side flat, resembling small paddles, Chimarrão bombas have two convex sides. With the powdery Chimarrão erva-mate in mind, the holes that act as a filter are much smaller than in the mate bombillas. A ‘camisinha’ – a small linen bag – can also be used as a further measure to filter the powdered yerba mate. This has been recommended for beginners, but it is not necessary.
The bomba is mandatory, as any other type of bombilla will let too much erva-mate through.
In terms of materials, the recommendations are the same as with the bombillas: we recommend buying silver, stainless steel or alpaca bombas, and avoid tin, iron, and of any material covered with copper or nickel.
Another thing to consider is size: bombas tend to be longer than bombillas because they are usually proportional to bigger mate gourds.
How to Prepare Chimarrão
As a direct result of the difference in texture between erva mate and yerba mate, Chimarrão requires slightly different preparation. Chimarrão, although not as well known as other types of mate, presents a uniquely fresh and soft flavor, and is a great starting point for those afraid of bitterness. A chimarrão can be intimidating due to its size, the powdery consistency of erva-mate and the seemingly infinite number of tutorials that are around.
Just as with mate and tereré, each person has their own personal way of preparing the drink. We’ll introduce three ways of preparing chimarrão: the ‘traditional’ one, the fool-proof one, and a very (very!) quick one.
Please keep in mind that the amounts are dependant on the size and shape of the gourd, so take them as a guideline more than a recipe, and as usual, feel free to experiment.
The Traditional Way
This is the ‘proper’ way of doing it, but it requires some practice. For this method, you will need a vira-mate (it will depend on the size of your cuia).
- If you are using a cuia, fill it with erva-mate until you reach the neck of the cuia. If using a gourd, this would be approximately 2/3 to 3/4.
- Cover the top of the cuia or gourd with a vira-mate or with your hand, making sure it covers the cuia completely. Gently shake it up and down, to remove the small particles of the yerba.
- With the top covered, slant the cuia almost horizontally, then carefully remove the vira-mate. The idea is that, if seen from the side, you would have a strip of erva-mate and on top of that, a strip of the space left.
- Carefully incline the cuia vertically trying to keep the shape of the erva-mate.
- With your bomba, gently press the ‘walls’ of the erva mate. Remove the bomba.
- Add lukewarm water on the empty side until it reaches the border of the cuia/gourd.
- If you are planning on using the camisinha, this is the time to do so.
Cover the top of the bomba with your thumb and put it on the side that has water. Then, without moving your thumb, and with clockwise direction, turn the bomba towards the side that has erva-mate. The bomba should stand by itself.
- Add hot water to the ‘empty’ side, making sure the yerba on the top is as dry as possible.
- Your chimarrão is ready. Drink from the bomba and repeat step 8 until you feel is losing its taste.
If you want a visual aid, we have found a Youtube video (in Portuguese) where the process is shown in a glass mate cup (starts at 2:07).
The Foolproof Way
You don’t want to worry about all the slanting and shaking? This is the technique for you.
- If you are using a cuia, fill it with lukewarm water up to the neck of the cuia. If using a gourd, this would be approximately 2/3 to 3/4.
- With a spoon, add erva-mate and put it on top of the hot water until you have a little mountain.
- With your bomba, carefully push one side of the yerba towards the center, until you can see the water.
- Add more hot water in the free space you just created. It should look similar to an Uruguayan or Argentine mate, with one side of dry erva-mate and another of water.
- If you are using the camisinha, this is the time to do so.
Cover the top of the bomba with your thumb and put it on the side that has water. Push the bomba to the bottom with small, lateral movements, and then slightly twist the bomba.
- Add hot water to the side, making sure the yerba on the top is as dry as possible.
- Your chimarrão is ready. Drink from the bomba and repeat step 6 until you feel is losing its taste.
If you want to see it in a video, Stephen Full explains it step by step.
The Very Quick Way
We know we always say that mate is meant to be drunk at easy, but what if you need to prepare your chimarrão quickly? With this method, you will have your chimarrão ready in 30 seconds or less!
Optional: Put 1 tablespoon of erva-mate at the bottom of the cuia or mate gourd.
If you are using the camisinha, put it over the bomba now.
- Add hot water until the waist of the cuia, approximately 2/3 or 3/4 of the cup.
- Put the bomba on one side.
- Add erva-mate until you have a little mountain.
Optional: with the back of a spoon or with a spatula, flatten the top.
- Make a small hole in the ‘mountain’ in the opposite side of the bomba, or at a 90-degree angle from it (if the bomba is at 12 o’clock, then the hole should ideally be at 6 o’clock, and if not, at 9 or 3 o’clock.)
If you want to see the fastest chimarrão in the world, you can do so here (in Portuguese, starts at 1:12)
Final Thoughts on Chimarrão
Chimarrão is a secret gem – known by few and barely drunk outside Brazil.
This might be due to an almost-only local production, or the fact that the yerba has a shorter shelf life than other types of yerba, which makes it trickier to drink abroad. It could also be because of its reputation as a drink hard to make.
However, it is becoming more common to buy it online, and as you can see from the three ways of preparing it, it doesn’t need to be hard to prepare!
Are you bored with your mate? Are you a beginner? Chimarrão is for you. Erva-mate has a uniquely fresh and soft flavor, making it a great alternative to other mates and an easy starting point for those afraid of bitterness.
We encourage you to try it!