How to Make Mate Tea the South American Way
With a robust flavor and studies showing its potential to replace coffee, yerba mate tea is growing in popularity. Described by Guayaki as having the "strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the euphoria of chocolate," yerba mate is a delightfully balanced beverage that rejuvenates and invigorates.
Yerba mate is also an extremely versatile tea, meaning it can be brewed in a variety of different ways including with the coffee maker you already have at home. While this is great news for people who want to enjoy drinking yerba mate without a lot of hassle, there are also brewing methods that date back centuries and incorporate a cultural experience into each cup.
For a more immersive tea drinking experience, we'll show you how to brew yerba mate tea the traditional South American way. All you need is a gourd or calabash, metal straw and tea ball to get started. Read on to find out what makes yerba mate tea so special and how to brew the perfect cup each and every time.
What is Yerba Mate Tea?
Known as the tea of the gods, this leafy elixir offers a host of health benefits including the potential to prevent colon cancer and improve brain function. The most well-known health benefit of yerba mate is its use as a replacement for coffee. With natural stimulant compounds such as theobromine, yerba mate offers the kick you need to get your day started without the negative side effects of jitters or insomnia.
Made from a mix of stems and leaves from the Ilex paraguariensis plant, this tea is popular in indigenous communities such as the Guarani in Paraguay as well as in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Featuring a chocolatey, earthy and nutty flavor, yerba mate offers a bitter flavor profile that is similar to green tea, black tea and coffee. Woodsy notes can be offset with a little honey if preferred, but traditionally this tea is consumed unsweetened.
Whether you drink yerba mate for the health benefits or simply because you love the taste, there are a few guidelines to follow when brewing the perfect mate cup. Read on to find out how to brew yerba mate just like the South American gods.
Traditional South American Brewing Method
Yerba mate tea can be brewed the South American way or using tools most Westerners use to brew coffee. The traditional way to brew and consume yerba mate tea is by using a gourd or a calabash. Don't worry if you don't have one of these tea tools on hand; simply brew yerba mate using a stainless steel French press, coffee pot, teapot or espresso machine instead.
Traditionally, yerba mate is sipped not from the brim of the cup, but from a metal straw. These straws have a filter on the bottom end, which is used to filter out the powdery leaves when drinking.
Traditional yerba mate ceremonies are community affairs that center on kinship and familial ties. Many South American societies pass around gourds of yerba mate as a show of communal friendship and to bond with new acquaintances.
Whether you choose to prepare yerba mate using the traditional methods or with a French press, follow the guidelines below.
How to Brew Yerba Mate
Step 1: Cure Your Gourd or Calabash
Before using your mate gourd for the first time, you need to cure it to ensure the best flavor profiles when brewing your tea. You only need to cure the gourd once, but it's important to allow your gourd to dry completely between each use to prevent mold. Also, avoid using soap to clean your gourd as the porous surface can absorb residue and alter the flavor.
To cure your gourd, use the following steps.
- Add a few tablespoons of yerba mate to the gourd and fill to the brim with hot water.
- Allow the gourd to sit for 24 hours, then dump out the contents and rinse well.
- Gently scrape the inside of the gourd using a spoon. Be careful not to scrape too hard or to damage the stem at the bottom of the cup, which prevents leakage.
- Allow the gourd to dry completely before using.
With continued use, your mate gourd will begin to take on the green color of the yerba mate tea. Make sure to only use the cured gourd with yerba mate teas and not other types to avoid altering the flavor profile. With a well-cared-for gourd, your yerba mate teas will have a more developed and rich flavor.
Step 2: Prepare Leaves
Yerba mate can be brewed using mate tea bags or one of our loose leaf packages in combination with a tea ball or strainer. If using loose tea, fill one third of the gourd with mate leaves. In general, you should use 1 teaspoon of loose leaves for every 8-ounce cup of water.
Step 3: Simmer Water
Avoid using extremely hot water when making yerba mate tea to avoid cracking your gourd. Using higher water temperatures can also result in a more bitter taste. Bring your water to a simmer instead of a boil and pour hot water into the gourd covering all of the mate leaves.
Let the tea steep for 3 to 5 minutes.
Yerba mate is typically consumed hot, but you can also drink mate leaves cold for a refreshing beverage if preferred. Simply add hot water, then allow the tea to steep and cool to room temperature before placing in the refrigerator or serving immediately with ice cubes.
Step 4: Sweeten to Taste (Optional)
While traditionally consumed unsweetened, you can flavor your yerba mate using lemon juice, mint, warm milk or burnt sugar.
Jump Start Your Day With Yerba Mate
Packed with caffeine, yerba mate is a great alternative to coffee without the negative side effects. With a delicious flavor profile that is rich and chock full of tannins, this tea offers a unique drinking experience with a history dating back centuries.
If you are looking to try yerba mate, but don't want to commit to buying an entire bag of it, check out our top 8 favorite tea bundle, which includes yerba mate along with oolong, pu-erh, English breakfast and other classic favorites.
Enjoy your yerba mate ice-cold on the patio or take it on the go on a cold winter morning in your thermos. Celebrate friendship and communal ties with a yerba mate tea ceremony and create bonds with those around you. Whatever your preference, drink yerba mate to awaken your senses and transport yourself to distant lands with the bold flavor of this South American drink.