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Last Updated on January 15, 2022
What Does Yerba Mate Taste Like?
It might seem a bit odd to dedicate a whole post to what a beverage tastes like – the only way to really learn how something tastes is, well, to taste it. But yerba mate is a unique beverage unlike any other, and its taste is anything but neutral. Many people hate the taste at first, so before trying it, there are a few things you should know.
This herbal infusion is similar to tea, but there are key differences. Let’s dive in and learn all about yerba mate because one thing is for sure: your first tasting experience is bound to be memorable!
First Things First: Taste
The most important thing to know is that yerba mate is an acquired taste. Like wine, coffee, and cigars, it tastes unpleasantly bitter to most people at first. In fact, it can be downright inedible! However, once your palette is experienced, it has incredibly delicious and complex flavors that delight your tastebuds. Yerba mate is a stronger, bolder taste than traditional teas like green and black tea.
Upon first taste, you’ll notice how earthy it is. You may taste grass, soil, and even an ashtray-type flavor. That may not sound appealing, but give it a chance. Once you are used to the flavor, you will be amazed at the complexity and how delicious it can be (not to mention its great health benefits — more on that below). Yerba mate has a big flavor profile and its dominant notes can change dramatically depending on the individual brew.
Over time, you’ll develop a “mate palate” and come to notice other flavors like:
- Dried fruit
- Peanut butter
This complex, sophisticated drink is worth pushing through the initial unpleasant taste. But it’s not just the flavor that matters- the texture plays a role too.
The texture of your yerba mate brew will impact the mouthfeel and your experience of the drink, and the texture is largely determined by the region the yerba mate is grown in.
Some are full-bodied and heavy and feel creamy, chalky, or sandy in your mouth, while other brews are light-bodied and have a watery texture. When finding the right yerba mate brew for you, try a variety of textures.
Why Does Yerba Mate Taste Like That?
Yerba mate’s taste depends on a number of factors: the region it’s grown in, how it’s grown, and the production method.
The region yerba mate is grown in can alter the flavor significantly.
Argentinian yerba mate is the most popular and what many people think of as classic yerba mate. It’s the most beginner-friendly, with a range of complex flavors and something for everyone. Argentina produces sweet and bitter yerba mate and everything in between.
Uruguayan yerba mate is actually sourced from Brazil most of the time, but Uruguay has its own unique manufacturing process. This brew is ground particularly finely which alters the texture, making it silkier and creamier than other yerba mates. For chocolate and malt lovers, this may be the brew for you. However, Uruguay does also produce bold, strong blends as well- there are many options.
Paraguayan yerba mate is actually produced to be turned into a cold brew mate (called tereré). Because cold brew isn’t exposed to hot water and could taste weaker, this yerba mate and stronger and bolder. It has a more woody, peppery, smoky flavor. In fact, it is sometimes smoked during the drying process.
Brazilian yerba mate is the finest ground of all yerba mates. It’s not aged and maintains a bright green color. With its fine powder and fresh grassy taste, it resembles matcha tea. It’s sweeter and more milky than bitter but has a light body and easy mouthfeel.
Growing Yerba Mate
Like most plants, the individual flavors vary based on the growing method. By changing the growing region, soil, sunlight, precipitation, and fertilization, you can have drastically different results. For instance, yerba mate grown in shady regions is less caffeinated and more earthy tasting, while yerba mate grown in sunny sloping regions will have more caffeine and sweeter flavors. Organic fertilizers will add to the earthy flavors, while non-organic fertilizers will produce less flavorful yerba mate.
Typically yerba mate is grown from seed in a nursery for the first year, and then transferred to soil from there. They are not harvested until at least their fourth year, although they do not reach their peak production until their seventh or eighth year.
After it grows to the appropriate height, branches and their leaves are removed by hand, typically with a handsaw or mache. From there, they are prepared for drying. At this point, the manufacturer may impart some of their signature flavor (ex. smoking the leaves). The yerba mate is then dried with an indirect heat source and prepared for either aging or grinding.
Some, but not all, yerba mates are aged after their drying is complete. Aging is a fermentation and oxidation process that allows the full flavor profile and color in the yerba mate to develop. Aging can last up to three years, and aged yerba mate tends to have a much deeper flavor. However, even without aging, yerba mate is still wonderfully complex- Brazilian yerba mate, for instance, is not aged at all.
How yerba mate is ground will impact its mouthfeel, altering the overall tasting experience. If yerba mate is ground with a higher proportion of stems, it will taste lighter and sweeter. Yerba mate ground without stems can be dustier and heavier.
Benefits of Yerba Mate
Like other herbal infusions and teas, yerba mate has a number of important health benefits.
Yerba Mate is proven to be effective in fighting obesity. In fact, this 2015 study  found, “Yerba Mate supplementation decreased body fat mass, percent body fat and WHR. Yerba Mate was a potent anti-obesity reagent that did not produce significant adverse effects. These results suggested that Yerba Mate supplementation may be effective for treating obese individuals.”
Plus, its caffeine content may also help you maintain a healthy weight. Caffeine supports weight loss by improving your body’s fat-burning abilities and increasing exercise performance.
Supports Your Cardiovascular Health
Yerba mate is proven to support cardiovascular health.
This 2018 study  found that “the group that consumed more than 1 L/day of mate infusion had significantly fewer diagnoses of coronary disease, dyslipidemia, and hypertension (P<0.049, P<0.048, and P<0.016, respectively). Furthermore, the serum levels of glucose were lower in the group with a higher consumption of yerba mate infusion (P<0.013).”
Protects Your Liver
According to this 2018 study  on rats, yerba mate has hepatoprotective effects while remaining non-toxic.
Yerba mate “reduced hepatic lesions and necrosis, and expressions of PPARα and CYP4A2 were recovered about 48 % by 400 mg/kg/day of [yerba mate] pre-treatment. We found six major compounds, including cynarine and chlorogenic acid, and the extract was appeared to be non-toxic in acute toxicity study. This study indicates the protective effect of IPEE against CCl4-associated liver injury by attributing its control on PPARα, CYP4A2 regulation, and thereby it could be an opportunistic agent.”
This is promising for those with liver injury. As it’s not contraindicated, it is a safe option to support your ongoing liver health.
Yerba mate contains antioxidants in the form of total polyphenols  which are very beneficial for your health. Polyphenols prevent cellular aging and fight inflammation. Plus, they regulate hormones, stabilize your blood sugar, keep your skin healthy, prevent osteoporosis, and support your neurological health.
Yerba mate improves the fat absorption in your body and actually prevents diabetes from forming.
This 2012 study found that “we have made the interesting observations that Yerba Mate has the ability to decrease the differentiation of pre-adipocytes and to reduce the accumulation of lipids in adipocytes, both of which contribute to a lower growth rate of adipose tissue, lower body weight gain, and obesity…Yerba Mate treatment affects food intake, resulting in higher energy expenditure, likely as a result of higher basal metabolism in Yerba Mate-treated mice.
Furthermore, in vivo effects of Yerba Mate on lipid metabolism included reductions in serum cholesterol, serum triglycerides, and glucose concentrations in mice that were fed a high-fat diet. In conclusion, Yerba Mate can potentially be used to treat obesity and diabetes.” .
Brewing Yerba Mate
To get the best flavor possible, it’s important to brew yerba mate right. The traditional method involves three things: your loose-leaf yerba mate, a bombilla (metal straw/strainer), and a gourd (traditional cup). Ideally, you also have a circle of family and friends to share it with, too!
In yerba mate tradition, the person who prepares the tea is called a “cebador,” and that person will pour the water and pass the beverage to each person.
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.
- Fill half of the gourd with the loose, dry yerba mate.
- Cover the gourd with your palm and turn it to a horizontal position, then tap on the bottom. This allows the fine particles to go to the top and leaves the large particles at the bottom as a filter.
- Turn the gourd back slowly; you should find a small ‘pit’ of mate and a mound of mate on the other side of the gourd.
- Pour a bit of cold water over the mound of mate to moisten it.
- Put the filter end of the bombilla in the ‘pit’ of mate, and pour your hot water in the gourd to the halfway point; the top should still remain dry.
- Sip your brewed tea through the straw until no more remains.
- Add hot water to the gourd and pass it along in the circle; as people drink the tea, continue to refill and pass it along.
- Once the yerba mate tastes bland, you can empty your gourd, refill and start again.
Want a simpler method? You can also brew your yerba mate in the French press:
- Add 2 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.
Hot Top: If your yerba mate is too bitter, don’t sweeten it- pair it with a sweet good on the side so your palette can adjust.
While it may not be ‘love at first sip’ with yerba mate, once your palette adjusts, this love is made to last. The delicious flavor, long-lasting energy, and nutritional benefits that yerba mate offers you are well worth the process.