Hello everybody! My name is Santiago and I’m part of the local tour operator Beyond BA Latam (which website you’re surfing right now). We’re based in Buenos Aires, and we offer custom tours in Argentina and Chile for visitors that come from abroad.
One of the most frequent questions we get, is about “how to make Mate” tea, the most important local infusion of the Argentinians (also popular in Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay, and South Brazil).
As I love Mate, and I drink it every day, I would love to share on this post how to make a good Mate (influenced by my preferences, naturally 😉 ).
How do you prepare and drink Yerba Mate?
Most importantly, is to know which elements you need:
A “mate” cup:
This is the recipient from where you drink the hot beverage. This cup can be made out of different materials; however, the most popular ones are made with wood or dried pumpkins. The exterior side is usually decorated with different forms and sometimes metal features. You can buy it in different shops, or even make it yourself.
Make sure your “Mate” cup is curated. This applies especially for wooden or pumpkin-made mates. This means to prepare and “curate” the surface where you will pour the water and the Yerba. If it’s a wooden one, you can spread a thin layer of sunflower oil over the inner side, leave it for 3 hours, and then to put humid “Yerba” (herb) for another 3 hours. Afterward, wash it with hot water (I suggest you not to use detergents) and it’s ready to use. If it’s pumpkin, 6 hours of humid Yerba is enough (no oil required). You can do this only once and that’s ok, no need to repeat the process. And when you wash it, better without using chemicals.
A straw (a.k.a. “Bombilla”):
The Bombilla is the metal straw that is inserted on the Yerba (herb) and from where you drink the beverage. They’re usually made out of metal, and come in different forms. Buy a couple of straws. Even though you will use one, having some spare ones will be useful. Clean it once in a while with a thin brush from the inside part. The straws are usually made with metal.
The Yerba is the herb that you use to prepare Mate. It’s made after processing the leaves of the Yerba-mate plants, which look very similar to the regular tea plants. The Yerba plantations are mostly in the litoral of Argentina, particularly in the province of Misiones.
There are a lot of brands, with different kinds of tastes and intensity, and you can buy them in different kinds of shops. My suggestion is to start always with the traditional ones, such as “La Tranquera”, “Taragui”, “Cruz de Malta”, etc.. Most of the brands are industrially processed (to sell them on a big scale), however, you can also find organic ones!
Moreover, among the classic Yerbas you can find strong, medium, or soft ones. This marks the level of intensity (bitterness), therefore, my suggestion is to start with a soft one.
Additionally, some people prefer Yerba with extra ingredients such as other herbs or citric fruits. I particularly don’t like those kinds of products, but rather prefer to do it myself (in case I want to do that).
Traditionally served from kettles or 1 lt. Thermos bottle. Most importantly, check the temperature of the water. It should NEVER boil. Temperature should be between 70° and 85° Celsius. I rather prefer around 70°.
How do you know when the temperature is ok?
Some people use the electric kettle with Display, or you can do it “Gaucho’s” style: try it out until you find the right temperature for you, ALWAYS from cold to hot. If your first try is super hot, you will burn the Yerba (herb).
If you see that the water has fume when you pour the hot water, it could also be a good sign.
How to prepare a good Mate (step by step):
Below you will find how to make mate, step-by-step:
1). Fill 3 quarters of the Mate cup with Yerba.
Depending on the size of your Mate cup, fill about two thirds of the recipient with Yerba. This is important because then the water will make it rise and you don’t want to spill it all over the place. Therefore, leave some free space.
2). Cover the mouth of the Mate cup with your hand and shake it upside down until the dust is out
The Yerba is formed of thin, broken-dried leaves, which in the process contain a lot of dust. If you don’t take it out, the beverage could become then acid and also block the straw.
After you shake it, put it in the original position, but make sure to leave an empty hole in one of the sides of the cup (without Yerba). I mean, let the Yerba accumulated in one of the sides like shown in the draw below.
3). Make sure to leave the empty gap!
I insist on this: make sure to leave the empty gap (after you took out the dust). The best way is to leave a “diagonal” that starts at the top ends at the intersection between the floor and the wall of the mate cup (an inverted triangle).
4). Put a little bit of cold water in the hole (optional)
Pour a little bit of cold water (or warm water BUT NOT TO WARM) on the whole. This is to avoid burning the Yerba if the water is too warm. You can do this step before or after point 5. Do not wet the Yerba which is at the very top of the cup (only a little bit of the empty gap of the hole).
5). Put the straw in the hole, covering the top with your thumb.
Cover the mouth at the top of the straw with your thumb (so then it doesn’t get stuck), and put it slowly on the hole in this way: slide it softly down the wall of the cup until you reach the floor, and then slide it under the Yerba-mountain until the straw inclines to the empty side of the cup.
*** Steps 4 and 5 can be done in any order ***
6). Pour the hot water
Pour the hot water slowly on the hole, until it reaches the surface, but never touching the dry part (the Yerba that was left on the top). This means that if you want to drink a good mate, the top of the “mountain” made of Yerba should NEVER get wet. If you pour the water in the hole, you can prevent this to happen.
Remember NOT TO PUT TOO HOT WATER, otherwise you will burn the Yerba and spoil the good flavor.
If you have an electric kettle, you can start with a temperature around 70° CELSIUS and try it until you find the right temperature for you.
How do you know what is the right temperature?
If you pour the water, and you see that the wet part looks like foam, is a good signal.
7). Drink zip by zip and don’t move the straw!!
Drink the load zip by zip until you end the load. Then load it again and give it to your friend (or drink it yourself). Avoid at any cost moving the straw!!! Just leave it in the position where you put it originally, otherwise the water could be stuck and also you could wet the dry part of the yerba.
8). Get inspired
Drink until you feel satisfied, but be aware that it contains “Mateína” (maybe stronger than caffeine), which stimulates your nervous system. You could start with a couple of loads.
While you drink it, remember the life of the South Americans, and be aware that this drink is a symbol that unify us all: Gauchos, indigenous, and immigrants, and that it embrace the local culture in a way that nowadays very few things do.
If you feel it’s too bitter, add some sugar to the yerba 😉
We offer custom tours in Argentina and would love to help you, not only to know how to make Mate, but also to design your dream tour around Argentina (with extensions to Chile, Uruguay, Antarctica and Brazil).
On this website you can find tours based on destinations or in different travel styles (check our menu).
As a kick off, we invite you to explore the following travel samples, which can be adapted to your needs and preferences:
Patagonia Highlights tour
Cruise Ushuaia to Punta Arenas
Antarctica by Air and Cruise