How to Make Yerba Mate? [In-Depth Guide]
Yerba mate is an unusual beverage: not only does it have a very unique flavor that takes some getting used to, but its traditional brewing method is also quite distinct.
Like tea, it’s made from steeping leaves in hot water, but there are many more steps in the process that set yerba mate apart.
Yerba mate is meant to be enjoyed slowly and mindfully with people you care about. Brewing its leaves with the reverence this traditional practice deserves, makes the whole experience special.
So, what are the different methods of making yerba mate?
Let’s dive in.
Traditional Yerba Mate Brewing Method
The traditional yerba mate brewing method yields the tastiest results. But it’s not just about the taste: it’s the process of the ceremony that adds to the experience and allows you to get the most out of this beverage.
Aside from your loose-leaf yerba mate, the traditional method requires two tools: a bombilla and a gourd.
Yerba Mate Bombilla
The bombilla (pronounced bom-bee-yah) is the traditional straw that yerba mate is drunk through. Nowadays, they are often made from metal, but in the early days of yerba mate drinking the Guarani people in South America used hollow twigs and stalks. Bombillas act as a filter, so any loose yerba mate tea does not get in your mouth.
There are six types of bombilla:
- Spoon bombilla: this type is suitable for all cuts of yerba mate, and is the most common type.
- Fanned bombilla: this is great for experienced yerba mate drinkers; it helps you drink slowly and truly savor the tea.
- Coiled bombilla: this has a spring-shaped filter that is good for beginners because it doesn’t clog easily.
- Chambered bombilla: this contains a chamber that is similar to a tea ball.
- Double-action bombilla: this is a mix between a spoon and coiled bombilla.
- Bamboo bombilla: this is made of thin bamboo cane and has a simple design.
If you’re not sure which kind to get, we recommend starting out with a spoon or coiled bombilla.
Yerba Mate Gourd
The yerba mate gourd is the traditional cup in which the tea is steeped and drunk. Customarily it is made from a type of gourd vine, usually a calabash squash, which has a hard shell. However, there are many kinds that come in different sizes and shapes.
- Round: the smallest, made to be used by one person
- Cylinder: usually used for iced cold mate tea (tereré)
- Neck: a larger gourd meant to be passed around the circle
There are numerous types of yerba mate gourds:
- Wooden: The wood adds a nice flavor, and this type is very easy to use so it’s great for beginners
- Calabash: The traditional gourd made from calabash squash, requiring curing before its first use. It absorbs and releases flavors, further improving the taste of your yerba mate tea
- Horn: Made from cattle horn, this is another traditional gourd usually made in Paraguay
- Ceramic: Ceramic gourds are beautiful, hardy, and easy to clean
- Glass: Like ceramic, glass gourds are hardy and easy to clean
- Metal: Practical, resilient, and easy to clean, stainless steel gourds are effective though perhaps less beautiful than traditional gourds
To prevent your hands from burning, some gourds are also enclosed in leather.
Hot tip: You should never put boiling water in your gourd! It may crack your gourd, and besides, yerba mate is brewed in lower temperatures.
Steps to Traditional Brewing
In a traditional yerba mate ceremony, a circle of family and friends will participate, so recruit some loved ones to enjoy this special treat. In yerba mate tradition, the person who prepares the tea is called “el cebador,” and that person will pour the water and pass the beverage to each participant.
Traditional brewing method:
- Heat water to 65-80 degrees Celcius (150 to 175 Fahrenheit). If the water is boiling hot, it will burn the yerba mate and damage your gourd.
- Fill half of the gourd with the loose, dry yerba mate.
- Cover the gourd with your palm and flip it over, then tap on the bottom. This allows the fine particles to go to the top and leaves the large particles at the bottom, which act as a filter.
- Turn the gourd on its side and shake it lightly several times, bringing the larger stems to the surface. This makes it easier to filter out the powdery leaves.
- Turn the gourd back upright very slowly, so the yerba mate leaves are piled on one side of the gourd,
- Insert the bombilla into your gourd on the side that does not have the yerba mate leaves.
- Pour cool water into the gourd in the space between the bombilla and yerba mate leaves; stop once the water is just about to reach the top of the leaf pile. Wait for the leaves to absorb the water.
- Pour in your hot water in the empty space in the middle, keeping the top of the leaf pile dry, until the gourd is almost full.
- Now it’s ready to drink! The first sip is taken by the person who prepared the yerba mate. Sip your brewed tea through the straw until no more remains. Do not jiggle the gourd or bombilla to attempt to stir it: keep it still.
- Add more hot water to the gourd.
- Pass the gourd and bombilla along in the circle; as people drink the tea, continue to refill and pass it along. Usually, it takes about ten refills before it starts to lose its flavor.
- Once the yerba mate tastes bland, you can empty your gourd, refill and start again.
- If you do not want any more mate, say “thank you” to “el cebador;” do not say thank you until you no longer want a refill.
- After the ceremony, clean the gourd and leave it to dry; if it is made from natural materials and remains wet, it may rot.
French Press Yerba Mate Brewing Method
Want a simpler method? While it does not have the grandeur of the traditional ceremony, you can also brew your yerba mate in the French press:
- Add two tablespoons of yerba mate to your French press for every one cup of water.
- Add a bit of cold water to moisten the mate; let it sit so it can moisten throughout. This helps protect the integrity of the mate and flavor.
- Add hot water, between 65-80 degrees Celcius or 150 to 175 Fahrenheit.
- Let the tea steep for a few minutes.
- Press the French press plunger down, and it is ready to serve.
- You can continue to add hot water to the French press and drink several rounds.
Tea Bag Yerba Mate Brewing Method
If you like drinking your yerba mate on the go, the tea bag brewing method is convenient and quick.
- Take a loose tea bag and put a spoonful of loose yerba mate tea inside.
- Drop your tea bag into a mug.
- Add a bit of cold water on top of the tea bag.
- Add hot water, between 65-80 degrees Celcius or 150 to 175 Fahrenheit.
- Steep for as long as you like, and enjoy!
Hot Tip: If your yerba mate is too bitter, don’t sweeten it- pair it with a sweet treat on the side so your palette can adjust.
Unlike regular tea, making yerba mate is not a matter of simply adding hot water to leaves. The traditional ceremony and tools of this special beverage set it apart from the rest and should be respected for its cultural importance. If you’ve never tried this unique experience, give it a shot, and get steeped in this South American custom.
Written by Stephanie Moore
Stephanie is a professional writer who is a ‘SIBO survivor’ herself with broad experience writing in the health field. She is a regular writer for SIBO Survivor and calls Berlin, Germany home.