Yerba Mate

Yerba Mate – the national drink of South America

Do you know Yerba Mate?

Yerba Mate is the name of a plant that grows in several countries in South America

It is made from the leaves of a species of holly, called Ilex paraguariensis in Latin. The leaves are used to make an infusion drink called mate tea. This tea is the national drink of some South American countries. It is particularly beloved in Argentina, but also very popular in Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile and Brazil.

Even nowadays a large part of the leaves are still harvested from wild growing trees. It is also cultivated in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.

The word mate actually used to refer to the drinking vessel, but nowadays the tea is called that

Mate is not related to the tea plant (Camellia sinensis), but both plants contain caffein. This means that mate also helps you wake up. You can find green and roasted mate in shops. Green mate tastes fresh and gives a green infusion, roasted mate tastes slightly smoky and slightly like caramel and gives a dark brown infusion. There is also mate “sin Palo”, which means that it has a very high proportion of leaves and (almost) no stems and mate “con palo” with leaves and stems. Mate with stems is milder than mate without stems.

Traditionally, mate is drunk from a calabash with the help of a bombilla. 

A calabash is a hollowed-out, dry pumpkin, which is used as a cup. Usually, they are beautifully decorated with pyrography and have a metal ring at the top. Besides pumpkins, turned wooden vessels, horns or metal vessels are also used as cups for mate.

A bombilla, on the other hand, is a metal straw with a perforated thickening at the bottom, which serves as a filter.


Calabash and bombilla
Calabash and bombilla


The mate leaves are poured directly into the calabash, water is added and the mate is then drunk through the bombilla. It is important to place the bombilla in the calabash as long as there is no water in it since the wet leaves swell up and become very compact.

The leaves then remain in the cup the whole day and hot water is refilled again and again. The water is carried in a thermos flask for this purpose. In many South American cities it’s a common sight to see people with a calabash in their hand and a thermos under their arm.

But be careful, the bombilla gets very hot!

If you like, you can add milk, honey or lemon to the mate. The first infusion is quite bitter, if you don’t like that, you can empty the first infusion away and only drink from the second infusion onwards.

If you don’t have a calabash and bombilla, you can, of course, drink the mate from a normal cup!

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