A Yerba Mate Primer

There are three basic necessities for yerba mate: the mate (gourd cup), the yerba (green stuff), and the bombilla (a sort of filtered straw to sip from). There are many brands of yerba mate; some, like Rosamonte, are quite strong and bitter. Others, like Cruz de Malta, are a little softer. Hit up your local South American market and experiment to see which brands you like.

To brew yerba mate, put the bombilla into the mate and fill with yerba to the top. Put your hand over the top of the gourd, turn it upside down, and shake it to get rid of the tiny dusty bits that clog the bombilla. Fill to the top with green tea–temperature water (180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit), not boiling water. Some people drink yerba mate amargo (bitter), and some add just a tiny bit of sugar to cut the bitterness. When you’ve finished your cup, add more hot water—you can brew the same cup of yerba mate seven or eight times.

Yerba mate is enjoyed by people throughout South America, and it’s a very social activity, says laguera. Take a sip from the bombilla and pass it on to your companions; it’s much more social and pleasant to share it with your friends, unless you’re germaphobic. This practice also serves to share the caffeine: No one wants to be the sole beneficiary of eight brews’ worth of yerba mate.

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