Looking for a caffeine fix? Put down your coffee and give yerba mate a try! Extremely popular in South American countries, yerba mate is an herbal tisane that can be consumed both hot and cold. It is often enjoyed by groups for friends, sometimes in a very ceremonial manner.
Yerba mate (pronounced ma-tae) is a tall, dioecious evergreen member of the holly family that is native to South America. The leaves of the plant are used to make a highly-caffeinated beverage known as yerba mate tea, which is extremely popular throughout South America. In fact, more than 90% of Argentinian adults consistently consume it as their morning brew. Mate cafes and mate bars are as prevalent in South America as coffee houses are in North America and Europe.
Yerba Mate History
Yerba mate is also known as St. Bartholomew’s tea, Jesuit’s tea and Ilex Paraguay tea. The leaves of the yerba maté tree had been gathered in the wild by the native peoples of Paraguay and Brazil for centuries. However, it was the Spanish Jesuit missionaries who began cultivating large tracts of the plant near their missions after it was introduced to them by Guarani tribesmen.
Following the expulsions of the Jesuits in the 1770s, the domestication of yerba mate declined for many years. It continued to be of some importance to the Paraguayan economy during the 1800s, but Brazil and Argentina quickly took over the market during the 19th and 20th centuries. These two countries continue to be both the largest producers, as well as consumers, of yerba mate.
Use as a Beverage
A yerba mate infusion is traditionally made by filling a container, usually a gourd in South American countries, up to 3/4 full with mate leaves, then adding hot water (not boiling). Sugar may also be added. We recommend 2 tsp. of yerba mate per 8 oz. water. Steep for 3-4 minutes. Then add your sweetener of choice, such as honey, sugar, or agave nectar. The grassy, vegetal flavor of yerba mate blends particularly well with honey and a touch of lemon juice. Or try adding cream/milk and sugar for a more “coffee like” experience.
Yerba mate can also be consumed as a cold beverage, which is called a tereré. This drink can be prepared simply with cold water and yerba mate leaves, the most common way in Paraguay and Brazil, or with fruit juice, the most popular way in Argentina. Our Hibiscus Mate Terere is delicious prepared with just cold water, or try it with a sweet fruit juice like pineapple, pomegranate or passion fruit. Or try it with lemonade!
In the same way as people meet for tea or coffee, friends often gather and drink mate in Paraguay, Argentina, southern Brazil, and Uruguay. Sharing mate is almost a ritual, following customary rules. In warm weather the hot water is sometimes replaced by lemonade, but not in Uruguay. Paraguayans typically drink yerba mate with cold water during hot days and hot water in the morning and cooler temperatures.
The gourd (mate in Spanish) is given by the brewer to each person, often in a circle, in turn. The recipient gives thanks, drinks the few mouthfuls and returns the mate to the brewer, who refills it and passes it to the next person in clockwise order. Although traditionally made from a hollowed calabash gourd, these days mate “gourds” are produced from a variety of materials including wood, glass, bull horns, ceramic and silicone.
No matter how you choose to enjoy yerba mate, hot or cold, alone or with friends, we think you will love this unique beverage!