Yerba maté is a South American drink made by steeping the ground leaves and stems of an evergreen holly, Ilex paraguariensis, a plant native to South America.
A healthy drink
According to scientists Yerba maté delivers the most balanced energy boost of all the commonly used stimulants in the world (coffee, tea, kola nut, cocoa, guarani…).
It is also known to be a nutritional powerhouse – it is packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and has 196 active compounds. Yerba maté has also a long history as a digestive aid and protection against food poisoning. It regulates low blood pressure and protects the cardiovascular system.
Legends also tell of Amazon people having survived periods of drought and famine by drinking this, the ‘Drink of the Gods.’
Having said that, there are few possible side effects with high consumption of maté: anxiety, nervousness, heart palpitations and insomnia amongst others. Much like coffee.
A social drink
With the strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the euphoria of chocolate, this popular drink has evolved from a Guarani’s daily tonic and medicinal drink to a social drink in countries like Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and southern Brazil.
Indeed, sharing this drink from the traditional cup is a sign of friendship and bonding. As the maté cup is passed around, a sense of connection emerges… Pope Francis has even been photographed sharing maté in St Peter’s square with his followers.
Prepare Yerba Maté
The word ‘maté’ actually derives from the Quechua word ‘mati,’ which means glass or recipient for drinking, it later became the common name of the fruit of the gourd plant. Traditionally, the ‘Cebador’ is the only person who pours the water, passes the maté cup around, and maintains the freshness of the herb.
Here is all you need to make Yerba maté:
– 1 maté cup
– 1 bombilla (traditional straw like infuser)
– 1l of hot water
– Yerba Maté (dried, looks somewhat like loose tea leaves)
– Fill the maté cup with Yerba Maté (2/3 full).
– Shake and tilt the cup to settle the Yerba maté on one side.
– Insert the bombilla into the bottom of the cup.
– Moisten the Yerba maté with a little cold water. Leave the maté cup tilted until the Yerba maté has absorbed the water.
– Fill the cup with hot water (65ºc) until it reaches just below the top of the Yerba maté.
– Test this first pour, then add more hot water (the flavour will soften as more water is added for each drink)
– When it’s ready, serve your friends: pour, pass, sip… The cup can be refilled many times until it runs out of flavour.
Be careful not to move the bombilla too much otherwise it will shake the Yerba.
Alternatively, if you don’t have all the kit, it is possible to do without it. Using a cafetiere, a tea ball or a strainer works very well too. Just make sure to always moisten the herb with cool water first, never use boiling water, and steep for no more than five minutes.
A different version of this maté preparation is the tropical iced Yerba maté known as ‘Tereré.’ Very popular in Paraguay – they even have a National Tereré Day on February 27. It involves the same process as the original preparation except that instead of hot water: ice cubes, fruit, sweeteners, herbs, juice or ice water fill the cup.
Although it is best to use a glass instead of your traditional maté cup as the fruit and sugar flavours might taint the cup thereafter.
Measures and flavours are really up to you, however know that some of the most popular juices for Tereré are: lime, orange, lemon, mango, peach, and grapefruit (any combination is possible of course!). Some of the most popular herbs used are: mint, lemongrass, and lemon verbena. Finally, Agave syrup, maple syrup, honey or unrefined cane sugar can also be used as sweeteners.Varieties are endless so please experiment your own recipe.
Ready to explore for yourself?
Explore Argentina’s food culture on a Pura Aventura trip – Argentina is a vast country with some of the most awesome landscapes in South America. Glaciers, deserts, mountains, lakes, wild coastlines and some of the best trekking in South America. As well as the landscapes there is the wonderful food and wine, so at the end of an amazing day of hiking or wildlife watching you can treat your body to the best steaks and wine.