While most of us in the United States are used to just buying yerba mate in a can or glass bottle and drinking it on the go, there are several ways to prepare yerba mate, differing in the amount of time it takes to prepare, the taste, and tradition.
Depending on if you are interested in making your yerba mate the traditional way or not, your method might look very different from others!
How to prepare yerba mate with or without a gourd? When preparing your yerba mate, you can either prepare it traditionally with a gourd and bombilla, or you can make it simpler. Yerba mate can be prepared with tea bags, a strainer, or a French press as well if you want to skip the gourd all together.
If you’re looking for step by step instructions on the different methods you can use to make your yerba mate, you’re in the right place! This article will cover all the different methods you can use, with and without a gourd, for preparing your own yerba mate and ensure you have all the steps needed to brew your tea with ease.
What is Yerba Mate?
Yerba mate, which translates to “gourd herb,” has long been consumed throughout South America as a boost of energy. This mixture is neither coffee nor tea; however, it tastes similar to many teas while giving the caffeine boost of a coffee. The yerba mate itself is made out of steeped leaves and twigs and it’s history is attributed to indigenous peoples in Paraguay.
The crop to make yerba mate has since been grown in countries like Brazil, Argentina, and Chile to then be dried and soaked in hot water for consumption as a wellness tincture. This drink has stayed popular even though the spike in interest in coffee. Though, with its distinctive taste, it takes getting used to, much like coffee.
Many describe the flavor profile of yerba mate has bitter and vegetal; however, do not let the earthy taste fool you. For those who drink excessive amounts of yerba mate, having a trippy experience has been common due to the high levels of caffeine in the drink. This can leave people feeling uneasy, depending on the setting in which the drink is being consumed.
Historically, this feeling has been sought after in yerba mate ceremonies and rituals that celebrate this feeling of excessive caffeine intake. These ceremonies typically take place outdoors and make for a spiritual experience. This traditional way of consuming yerba mate utilizes a dried gourd, a bombilla, and a thermos for transporting hot water.
Traditional Yerba Mate
The bombilla is a special straw used for drinking the yerba mate that enables consumers to filter the tea leaves so that you are not consuming the leaves and twigs with every sip you take of your yerba mate. It is considered very rude to use the bombilla to stir the yerba mate and is important to be placed at an angle so that it does not get clogged with leaves.
Traditionally, the mate (or the gourd) is filled with the leaves and is then filled with warm water. It is important that the water is not boiling, or it will burn the leaves. This will alter the flavor that is released when the water is mixed with the leaves. Although traditionally the mate is an actual gourd, you can use a different vessel to hold the yerba mate.
These are often made with ceramic or wood and often are painted decoratively to add to the traditional experience that is shared with the circle of yerba mate drinkers. The bombilla used can also be made with differing materials, some being made with stainless steel, bamboo, or silver.
As the mate gets passed around, it continues to be refilled with hot water which continues intensifying the flavor of the leaves. For those who do not prefer the bitter taste of the leaves, sugar, or milk can alleviate some of the intensity and make for a smoother drink.
The Coffee Culture
Much like the culture of preparing a tumbler of coffee for the day as a pick me up, many have strayed from the ceremonial drinking of yerba mate and will instead make a thermos of it to drink throughout the day for a caffeine kick. This is done more for the benefits of the beverage and less for the community and celebratory piece that was described above.
As this method of drinking yerba mate has become more and more common, yerba mate has migrated into the United States and, in recent years, has become a popular ingredient for morning drinks and caffeine boosts. Not only that, but many consumers in North America have turned to yerba mate for weight loss, concentration, and to aid in proper digestion.
In most grocery stores today, consumers can find the loose leaf tea to brew at home, as well as pre-prepared yerba mate drinks that are sweetened and often flavored for convenience and easier drinking. However, the traditional experience of drinking with a mate and bombilla is not often practiced in North America as it is throughout South America.
Making your Yerba Mate with Gourd
All you need to make your homemade yerba mate traditionally is:
- A gourd
- Loose-leaf yerba mate tea
- Warm water
Once you get your gourd, you’ll just need to fill it about two-thirds of the way with your loose leaf yerba mate tea. While you can order your tea online, you should be able to find it in most grocery stores in the tea section.
Once you have your loose leaf tea in the gourd, cover your gourd and give it a few shakes. This allows all the leaves and dust to combine thoroughly and will help you avoid clogging your bombilla. Trying your best to keep your yerba mate sitting on one side of the gourd, you can angle your bombilla so that it will not continue to get clogged by the leaves.
Before adding any warm water, pour some cold water over your leaves. This will protect the nutrients and flavors from being burned. Finally, add your warm water but be aware of how hot it is, you do not want to burn your leaves. Ensure your water is not boiling before pouring. Water of about 80 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal.
You can continue adding more leaves to strengthen your elixir and continue adding more water to your mixture to enjoy as long as you would like!
Preparing your Yerba Mate Without a Gourd
If you are not looking to prepare your yerba mate in the traditional way and instead are looking for more convenience and potential to take it on the go, you can still use your loose leaf tea with a French press, tea ball, or strainer. You can also find tea bags filled with yerba mate or create your own tea bags with loose leaf tea.
If you are opting to use your French press, this is an easy process! You’ll simply want to fill your French press with about three spoonful’s worth of your yerba mate, or more if you are looking for a stronger elixir. Again, you need to be super careful of how hot your water is, or you will burn the leaves and be left with a displeasing flavor.
First, add your cold water to the leaves before putting your hot water over the top. The tea should be allowed to steep for about two minutes before using the plunger on your French press to press your leaves. You can then pour your yerba mate and enjoy it at home or on the go! You can follow a similar process to this with a strainer or tea ball.
With a strainer, you will just want to put the loose-leaf yerba mate in the strainer placed directly over the cup and do a pour-over, while with a tea ball, you will just allow your ball to sit and steep for about two minutes before removing and emptying. Remember, with any method of steeping yerba mate, you must pour the cold water over before dousing it with hot water.
If you can find yerba mate tea bags in the store, great! If not, feel free to purchase tea bags that you can fill on your own. If you have these bags, fill them with about one spoonful of yerba mate loose leaf (this amount may vary depending on how large your tea bag is, if you have large bags and want a stronger brew, feel free to put more loose-leaf in).
Once you have appropriately sealed your bag and poured some cold water over it, you can pour your hot water on top. Since tea bags are so portable and do not get in the way of consumption, you can steep the tea for as long as you’d like!
By keeping the bag in, your yerba mate will continue to get stronger, but this also gives you the freedom to continue adding water throughout the day without wasting more of your loose leaf or tea bags.
How Long Can I Reuse my Yerba Mate?
After you have steeped your yerba mate, it is best to continue using the same leaves for future batches in order to avoid waste and make your loose leaf yerba mate last as long as possible! The exact number of times you can reuse the same batch varies depending on the amount of yerba mate you used originally as the strength will vary depending on serving size.
Depending on how large your gourd or mug is, as well as how much loose-leaf is in there, you should be able to continue refilling with water up to about 10 times before having to throw out those leaves! You should continue reusing the same leaves until they no longer have flavor, this will reduce your waste and get the most out of each use.
Remember that whether you are reusing it multiple times in one day or reusing it again the next day, you will still want to pour some cold water over your leaves before pouring the hot water over to protect your leaves from burning. They are still highly susceptible to being burned even once they have been steeped once. This will maintain flavor and quality through each use.
Reusing Yerba Mate a Day Later
If you are only making one serving per day and want to save your leaves for another day, this is a bit of a different process! First, it is very important to avoid mold. If damp leaves are left out for a long period of time, they are very susceptible to mold. One great way to avoid this is to put your leftover leaves in the refrigerator, covered.
Whether your leaves are in the gourd, a mug, or a tea bag, they can all be refrigerated to stop them from molding so quickly. If you are keeping the leaves for more than one day, before use check for any white or green mold growing on your leaves. Once you start using your leftover leaves, the first few batches may not taste as good as new due to the cooling.
After your leaves are cooled, they lose a bit of flavor. A great way to avoid drinking a cup that is subpar is to prepare the first batch and dump it. Make a second batch right after, and your leaves will be warmer, which will result in a better taste! This is the best way to get your leaves back to their optimal taste the day after they have been used for the first time.
After the second day of use, you may want to throw out the leaves as the longer they are left in the refrigerator covered, the higher the chances are that you will start to develop mold, at which point your yerba mate is no longer safe or delicious to drink.
Whether you feel the taste of yerba mate is too strong on its own, or you just simply want to mix it up every once in a while, there are tons of great add-ins to play with flavor. For those who are looking to really alter the flavor, you may want to steep your tea with your add-ins alternatively; if you are just looking for a slight alteration, you may want to add after brewing.
As mentioned in the traditional yerba mate section above, there are many consumers who find the tea on its own too strong and prefer to add some milk or sugar to their elixir. This can be pleasing for many as it can make their concoction more of a latte in the morning. Maybe you add sugar, stevia, honey, maple syrup, or agave, all of these are great sweetener options.
You can froth milk to pour over or add a bit of a natural sweetener like honey or agave to take some of the bitter notes out of your drink. Or do both! This will make for a hardier pick me up and will keep you full for longer due to the extra calories. However, these will only sweeten up the natural tastes; they will not alter the flavor profile of the leaves.
Herbs, Spices, and Citrus
If you’re looking to really alter the essence of the yerba mate leaves, you may want to add in something a bit stronger or even add in something before brewing. Many will add lemon or orange peels to give the brew some zest and add a citrus element to cut the bitterness. This can be done after brewing, or before brewing.
If you are looking to really add some citrus, add some lemon juice once your tonic is brewed. This will brighten the flavors significantly. Alternatively, if you are still looking for an earthy and warm blend, you can add more variety of herbs and spices to your yerba mate leaves. Throw in some cinnamon sticks or maybe some fresh herbs like mint, lemongrass, or rosemary.
These will alter the taste of your final brew a bit more than sweeteners will. Even if you love the taste of pure yerba mate, this can help you to mix it up and try something new from time to time, so you don’t get tired of your morning cup of yerba mate. There are endless possibilities when it comes to add-ins, play around with it to find what you like best!
Health Benefits of Yerba Mate
Among being rich in culture and flavor, yerba mate has a number of benefits for those who choose to consume the blend of leaves. First, yerba mate is very nutrient-dense and rich in antioxidants. As you may expect, it is rich in xanthines, which are compounds that act as stimulants in the body; these include caffeine and theobromine.
Yerba mate is also rich in anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering saponins as well as polyphenols, which are known to reduce the risk of a variety of diseases. For some perspective, yerba mate is known to have slightly higher antioxidant levels than what is in green tea.
However, remember that in the portion you are drinking yerba mate, these antioxidants are not contributing majorly to your diet, and to see big changes in your dietary health, you must maintain a healthy and balanced diet along with drinking yerba mate. The beverage does contain seven out of the nine essential amino acids, however, in low quantity.
While yerba mate does not have as much caffeine as coffee; however, it does have more caffeine than a cup of tea. Drinking yerba mate will increase your energy levels and can, therefore, benefit your mental clarity and focus. A great benefit to yerba mate rather than coffee is that it offers energy without the jitters that often come along with coffee.
With the energy and lack of jitters, comes with more physical energy as well. This can increase your physical performance as you may be able to put more energy into your workouts or sport performance after consuming caffeine. In addition to these benefits, yerba mate has been said to help with boosting the immune system due to the vitamins in the mixture.
Since yerba mate has small amounts of vitamin C, E, selenium, and zinc, it can provide a boost to the immune system, although, as previously stated, the number of vitamins in each drink is not enough to boost your immune system on its own. If you are looking to really boost your immunity or fight off an illness, you will need more than just yerba mate to assist you.
You Should Not Drink Yerba Mate If…
There are a few different medications that are thought to interact badly with yerba mate that are important to be aware of. While caffeine, in general, is thought to interact poorly with certain antidepressants and muscle relaxants, yerba mate is also thought to have a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI).
These MAOIs are commonly prescribed to patients with a variety of illnesses such as depression and Parkinson’s disease. Therefore, by also adding high quantities of yerba mate into the diet, there can be complications with certain drugs that can have long term impacts. With these things in mind, remember that yerba mate may not be the best drink for everybody.
Although yerba mate is similar to any other tea or coffee beverage, it is important that whenever introducing something new into the diet to consider the active ingredients and how they can impact your current health concerns or medications. If you have any concerns before introducing new herbs and plants into your daily routine, consult a doctor first!
And as with most new foods or beverages, be sure to bring yerba mate into your life slowly and gradually. By introducing something new gradually, you’ll be sure to catch any intolerances and get your body use to the new beverage slowly to avoid experiencing any digestive issues.
Potential Side Effects
For those who are unsure of if yerba mate is right for them, consider how your body handles caffeine. The majority of side effects that consumers report after drinking yerba mate is not unique to yerba mate. Rather it is a product of the amount of caffeine they have consumed.
Symptoms that have been reported that are unfavorable include:
- An inability to sleep
- An upset stomach
- Increased heart rate and breathing
While some think this is a product of the plant elixir itself, it is really the product of an intolerance to the amount of caffeine in the yerba mate. Many who experience these symptoms may find the same reaction to coffee and other beverages that are high in caffeine. If you experience any of these symptoms, reduce the amount of yerba mate you are consuming.
By cutting back on your servings, you will not be putting as much caffeine into your body and therefore, will have reduced jitters and nausea. If these symptoms persist, consider phasing yerba mate out of your diet as a lower caffeine beverage may suit your body’s needs better.
However, remember that if your body is not accustomed to drinking caffeine, and you start on yerba mate, you may simply need an adjustment period to regulate with caffeine in your system. That is why, as previously mentioned, it is best to start with small cups and work your way into larger servings to curb any negative caffeine side effects.
Yerba mate is a beverage with deep-rooted history and tradition. Although yerba mate has been used ceremonially in many South American countries where the plant is primarily grown and harvested, it has turned into a rising fad in North America as well for its numerous benefits. This has majorly changed the way in which yerba mate is served and enjoyed.
While yerba mate is traditionally prepared with a gourd and bombilla, many do not use the traditional serving methods in enjoying this brew. For those who are looking to make their yerba mate traditionally, it’s easier than you’d expect! All you need is a gourd, loose leaf tea, and hot water along with your bombilla for filtering your leaves from the gourd.
However, for those looking to enjoy their yerba mate on the go, you may have noticed brands selling brewed yerba mate in cans and bottles, sweetened, flavored, and plain. This is common to find in stores and even easier to brew yourself! While you can often find yerba mate in tea bags, there are also several online companies that serve loose leaf yerba mate for at-home preparation.
This can be prepared in tea bags, a French press, a tea ball, or any other way you prepare your loose leaf teas. With this easy preparation, a steep time of only two minutes, and prolonged energy all day without any jitters, yerba mate is the ideal start to your morning or afternoon pick me up!
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