» Traditionally Prepared Mate
In this manner, mate is prepared in a small, hollowed gourd. (The plant product is called “yerba mate,” the drink “mate” and the gourd “a/the mate.”) The infusion is prepared with hot—never boiled—water and sipped through a bombilla, a straw-like tube of metal with a filter at the bottom end to prevent small pieces of yerba mate from entering. Mate prepared in this traditional Argentine way is more than a simple beverage; it is a ritual performed daily. An ordinary glass can also be used in place of a mate gourd.
- Fill three quarters of the mate gourd with yerba mate
- Slope the yerba mate against one side of the gourd and moisten the yerba mate with cold or lukewarm water.
- Wait a short time, and then place the bombilla against the side of the gourd away from the moistened slope of yerba mate.
- Now fill the mate gourd with hot—never boiled—water. For mate enthusiasts, this part of the preparation is an art.
Water is a very important factor when preparing mate, since it greatly affects the aroma and flavor of the infusion.
Always begin with cool tap water. If your local tap water has a high chlorine content, an activated carbon water filter is recommended. It is not always advisable to use purchased mineral water as an alternative to tap water, since most mineral water has an unusually high mineral content, and this can also negatively affect the infusion.
Water temperature is also important. The recommended temperature for mate is 70° to 80° Centigrade (160° to 175° Fahrenheit). Never use boiling water; it destroys the delicate flavors and aromas of mate and brings in other undesirable ones.
Yerba mate should be stored in an airtight container, away from light and humidity and away from other foods and household products with strong odors that might pervade it. Packaging for all yerba mate products at Establecimiento Las Marías is triple-laminated and made of materials that are excellent at resisting humidity and foreign odors. But be sure to reseal the package well after each use, at least with one fold.
» The Right Grind
Each and every component of yerba mate is fundamental for attaining a rich beverage with flavor that lasts. In our formulas for producing yerba mate, bits of leaves, stems and powder are all carefully mixed to assure a fine product, and it is a good idea to know the importance of these components when preparing your own mate. Leaf bits are what add intensity and character to the flavor palette of mate, while stem bits smoothly distribute the flavors. Yerba mate powder is often thought of badly, but it is actually essential for the fusion of all the subtle nuances of flavor that are present in mate. It is also what makes for rich, smooth, frothy mate with flavor that lasts.
» Curing the Mate Gourd
Proper curing of the mate gourd is essential for a delicious infusion. If yours is new, fill it with thoroughly moistened yerba mate. Let it sit for two days, keeping the yerba mate inside it moist. After two days, empty the mate gourd and scrub the inside of it well, removing any softened woody material. Repeat this process at least three times, making sure each time that the yerba mate in the gourd doesn’t ferment, since this could transmit undesirable flavors to the gourd. If a good mate gourd is not available, a glass, either of glass or plastic, can be used as a recipient for mate. Glass or plastic are good materials for preventing foreign flavors from pervading the mate.
» How to Start Serving
Knowing how to start serving mate is key to obtaining rich and lasting flavor. Even excellent mate can be ruined if the serving process is badly begun, coming out bitter, aggressive and short-lived.
For a good start, used a medium-sized, well-cured mate gourd with a capacity of 35 to 50 grams (1 ¼ to 1 ¾ ounces) of yerba mate. Fill it to no more than three-quarters of its capacity. Cover the mate gourd with your hand, turn it upside down and shake it well, so that the larger pieces go to the bottom of the gourd and the finer ones go to the top. Return the mate gourd to its upright position, leaving the yerba mate inside sloped against one side of the gourd, with most of the other side of the gourd exposed. Add a small amount of cold or lukewarm water (never hot) to the slope of yerba mate. Wait about thirty seconds for this to be absorbed, add a bit more water, wait again, and then insert the bombilla against the wall of the mate gourd on the exposed side.
Each time you add hot water while serving, add it slowly and make sure it is not hotter than 80° (175° Fahrenheit). Trickle it near the bombilla the first time, and progress toward the center of the mate gourd with each refill. It is always better to wait a bit between each refill.
How one likes one’s mate is totally subjective, of course. Nevertheless, with mate as with other beverages, there are certain ranges of taste that can be useful for determining or judging quality when mate is served.
- The yerba mate used should be of a light green color with yellow overtones. It should never be an intense green, emerald-colored or tending toward dark green. When serving mate, there should be some froth.
- The grind should be uniform, with no excess stems or fibers. Some powder should be present, along with a healthy quantity of leaf bits.
- Aroma is important as well. There is an aroma typical to properly aged yerba mate that is free of humidity or foreign odors. Improperly aged yerba mate has a more intense, darker green color, a notably bitter flavor and often a “green” taste like that of algae.
When yerba mate is properly aged, bitterness is toned down, and a fruitiness and subtle sweetness are present. Of course these characteristics can vary, depending on which type of yerba mate is used, where it was grown, and how and in what time of year it was processed.