Yerba mate is made from the holly genus Ilex plant, and is consumed all across South America. With a history that spans back thousands of years across many varied cultures, it sure is one helluva drink.
WHAT IS YERBA MATE?
Yerba mate is a popular herbal tea from South America, where it is drunk from a hollow gourd and bamboo bombilla. In countries such as Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, it is more popular than coffee, and each culture has their own unique way of drinking it.
With a history that spans back to the indigenous Guaraní and Tupí people, this drink was originally called ca’a, meaning plant. Now, it is referred to as ‘yerba mate’, coming from the Spanish word hierba meaning ‘herb’, and the indigenous Quechuan word mati meaning ‘container for a drink’.
HOW IS YERBA MATE PROCESSED?
To make yerba mate, you must first plant the seeds of the holly plant, before waiting 4-6 years until it is big enough to harvest from. As you may assume, this then becomes an especially time-heavy process, as once the leaves are picked, you must give the plants another 1-2 years to recover. They say that patience is a virtue!
After harvesting, the leaves then undergo a process called sapecado, which eliminates the enzymes and slows down the decomposition of the plant. Traditionally, this is done with fire, but nowadays a lot of farmers use conveyor belts and automatic dehumidifiers.
Following that, the leaves undergo a smoking process – although most yerba products are now unsmoked. This process is called secado, and the leaves are either dried by the heat of a fire (the process is called carijó), or via smoke wafted through a tunnel beneath the earth (this process is called barbacuá).
Then, the leaves are cut, which is traditionally done with machetes and heavy wooden mills. Once the leaves have gone through this process, they are referred to as canchada.
Beneficio is the next step, where the leaves are aged for between 6 – 24 months. The longer they are aged, the less bitter the flavour. Again, this is where patience comes in.
The final step is milling, where the aged twigs, leaves, sticks, and stems of the mate are separated and then blended into the proper proportions. The higher the ratio of leaves, the stronger the taste.
And then, the yerba mate is ready to drink! Typically, the drink is passed around a circle called ronda del mate, where it is shared between friends. Traditionally, the cebador does all of the pouring for the group, as each person drinks a half-full gourd before handing it back to the leader to refill.
HOW TO MAKE YERBA MATE
To make yerba mate, you should fill a cured gourd over halfway with loose yerba mate, and then tap it to one side to create a ‘little mountain’ and a ‘little valley’ inside. The little valley should then be splashed with cool water, leaving the little mountain dry. The tip of the bombilla should then be inserted into the little valley, and then hot water is poured into the little valley halfway up the gourd. It can be a little tricky at first, but with even more of that golden patience, you’ll become an expert in no time!
Note: you should never stir the bombilla!
~ Let us know if you'd be interested in us offering yerba mate at Eisa Tea Co.!