Welcome to The Official Yerba Mate Buying Guide, where you’ll easily learn everything you need to buy yerba mate and start drinking like a True Mate Drinker, also known as a Matero (pronounced MAH-ter-ROW).
Maybe you’ve just heard about Yerba Mate, maybe you’re still asking “what is yerba mate?,” or maybe you have had some experience with this incredible herb from South America. Regardless of your experience, this is a quick, but comprehensive guide that’ll give you the confidence to properly purchase the right equipment (mateware) and Yerba Mate that’s perfect for you. Soon you’ll know everything from organic Yerba Mate to mate gourds and the differences between yerba mate straws called bombillas.
So sit back and scroll through the information below. If you have some mate already prepared, take a few sips and enjoy. Our yerba mate guide is going to help you get the most out of the immense health and social benefits Yerba Mate has to offer.
The Social and Health Benefits of Yerba Mate
Here are a few videos to introduce you to the world of Yerba Mate. You’ll learn just how healthy yerba mate is and the social benefits that it provides.
The Components of the Yerba Mate Kit
The Mate Kit (el equipo de mate) has three basic components:
- The mate (the receptacle)
- The bombilla (the straw with a filter)
- The yerba (the herb itself)
To keep things simple, the receptacle is commonly referred to as a gourd, even if it isn’t an actual gourd (i.e., glass, wood, aluminum). Drinking Yerba Mate with the gourd and bombilla is the best way to maximize the health benefits, as the nutrients can be fully extracted with repeated steepings. Additionally, the added agitation from the sucking action of the bombilla aids in reaping its health benefits.
Plus, it just looks cool to drink with a gourd and bombilla.
The gourd is essentially a variety of squash, similar to a butternut or summer variety, that has been hollowed and dried. The cut end of the gourd is tapered, forming a natural rim to rest your mate bombilla (straw) on.
Choosing a Yerba Mate Gourd
Mate gourds are unique as the Materos using them, and there is a gourd to fit every sense of style. There are two basic types of gourds (click on the links below to see our products):
A modern twist on the mate gourd:
Each type of gourd has its own unique personality which may differ in functionality and ease of use. Your lifestyle and needs will dictate the type of gourd that will best suit you. Whether it’s a glass gourd that’s easy to clean or a calabash gourd that’s as traditional as it gets, there are many types to choose from.
Below I will describe each type and offer some pros and cons to illustrate the differences.
Wooden Mate Gourd
Easy to use and versatile, wooden mate gourds offer an attractive way to drink mate. They’re usually made from palo santo (holy stick) or algarrobo (carob) trees. Not as common, but some are made from the hardest wood in the world (Lignam Vitae), such as our Lignam Original Mate Gourds.
Palo santo wood is very dense and heavy; it’s durable and sturdy. It imparts a faint piney flavor on the mate. Carob is significantly lighter and has a reddish hue.
Here are few pros and cons for a wooden yerba mate gourd:
- Ergonomic shape makes it easy to hold
- Wood provides good protection from heat
- Naturally enhances flavor and aromatics of the yerba mate
- Easy to clean and keep dry
- Usually hold less yerba mate than calabash gourds
- Usually needs to cured before use
- Can be prone to cracking if water is too hot
Calabash Yerba Mate Gourd
Made from the dried and hollowed ends of a squash, calabash are the quintessential mate vessel. They have been used for hundreds of years as the traditional mate container in South America by the natives and are intertwined with the history of yerba mate itself. Natural, beautiful, and an amazing medium for art, nothing says yerba mate like drinking from one of these.
Here are a few pros and cons for a calabash mate gourd:
- Come in many sizes and shapes
- Easy to get
- Excess organic material on the inside of the gourd can be difficult to remove
- Curing process may take several days to cure
- Essential to keep as dry as possible; mold can grow
- May impart a slight bitter taste for the fist several weeks of use (until a “full cure” is achieved)
Vidrio (Glass) Yerba Mate Gourds
This is a sleek, modern interpretation of the mate gourd. The interior is made of thick tempered glass which ensures that you are tasting only the yerba mate. On the exterior, a comfortable leather envelops the gourd making it easy to hold and not too hot to handle. Metal and silicon are other materials being used for modern gourds.
Here are a few pros and cons to choosing a glass yerba mate gourd:
- Very easy to clean
- No need to cure
- Holds a generous amount of yerba mate
- Not traditional
- None of the complementary flavors found in wood and calabash gourds
- May break if dropped repeatedly
Caring for Your Yerba Mate Gourd
Now that you have chosen the mate gourd that is right for you, there are some things you need to know to keep your gourd in proper working order. With the right maintenance, your gourd will last years.
Curing your Mate Gourd
If you find yourself having bought either a wooden or calabash gourd, congratulations, you’ve made an excellent choice. Now it’s important to properly cure it. The curing process is essential for two reasons:
- The organic nature of the calabash and wooden gourds means that they will impart their own flavor. Curing your gourds will soften this flavor by creating a yerba mate “taste memory”.
- By absorbing the hot water during the curing process, microscopic holes in the organic material are closed by the expansion process in the walls of the gourd. This will also help to prevent cracking that can render your gourd useless.
Whether you have a calabash or a wooden mate gourd (algarrobo wood), the curing process is essentially the same. However, you’ll want to gently scrape out excess organic material from the bottom of the calabash gourd (without compromising its watertight integrity, of course) before and after curing.
Now, just follow these common gourd-curing steps:
- Rinse out your new gourd with fresh cold water.
- Fill your gourd to 3/4s capacity, preferably using a Gaucho cut (without palos).
- Add properly heated mate water (160–180°F) to your gourd — top it off to the brim.
- Let the gourd sit overnight. In the morning repeat the process (you don’t have to wash out the gourd again).
- Add fresh yerba, then add properly heated water, and let it sit for another 12 hours.
The entire process will take approximately a full day with two, 12-hour soaking periods. If time is short, you may opt to let the gourd cure for 24 hours straight, without making the change after 12 hours (which is also acceptable). Just make sure to add more water every several hours as it’s absorbed by the gourd.
Do Not Cure Palo Santo and Lignam Vitae Yerba Mate Gourds
If you’re using a hard wooden gourd such as palo santo or lignam vitae, we recommend NOT curing the gourd. You’ll need to use the slow cure method we’ve developed. Allow a 24-hour (min.) resting period after each full day of use for the first 6 months. This will slowly cure the gourd over time, allowing the moisture content to leave the gourd. If you cure it the traditional way, you run the risk of the wood absorbing too much water and eventually cracking. Ironically, it’s best to cure only the softer woods as the harder ones are, initially, more susceptible to cracking.
If you decided for a sweet modern vidrio mate gourd — again, superb choice — you get to skip the curing process and caring for your vidrio gourd is a breeze: empty the lavado (washed or with little flavor) yerba mate and then rinse! Super simple.
How to Prevent and Deal with Mold in your Yerba Mate Gourd
There is nothing as shocking and depressing like waking up one day, all excited to drink mate, only to discover an unwanted colony of mold thriving in your mate chalace. Sayyy whaattt..!! A Matero’s nightmare!
Here is how you can prevent mold in your mate gourd:
Keep your gourd clean and dry. Drinking yerba mate creates the perfect environment for mold to grow — warm, wet, and dark. By cleaning out your gourd after each use and letting it dry on its side, you hamper the growth of mold.
Lets say that, hypothetically speaking, you forgot to keep your gourd clean and dry between uses and now it is all green and moldy inside. Are you going to have to throw it away and buy a new one? No!
Here’s what you do:
- Fill your (moldy) gourd with boiling water and let sit for approximately 25 minutes.
- Pour out the water and let it dry for 2–3 days — you want it bone-dry.
This should take care of your problem. Remember: Never use soap to wash your calabash gourd. A slight hint of dish soap is never a tasting note you want in your mate.
Shed Some Light on the Problem
Sunlight is the opposite of cool, dark, and damp — the preferred adjectives of mold everywhere. Leaving your gourds to dry in the sunlight (making sure to get the entire inside of the gourd exposed) is an effective and natural way to disinfect your gourd.
We recommend that you roll with an entourage of 2–3 gourds. This way there is ample time for each to rest and completely dry between uses, ensuring that you always have a clean and dry gourd “sin moho” (without mold)!
Choosing a Yerba Mate Bombilla (straw)
In order to properly drink yerba mate in the traditional manner you need to get a bombilla (pronounced bom-BEE-sha or bom-BEE-yah). It literally means “straw” in Castellano (Spanish) and is used to — you guessed it — drink the hot water infused with the goodness of yerba mate. The bottom of the bombilla contains one of many types of filters, preventing the yerba mate from entering your mouth.
Yerba Mate bombillas come in all sorts of sizes and filter mechanisms. The various types were developed for specific yerba mate cuts (discussed shortly) and gourd styles.
Katana Bombilla ™ (spoon style)
This elegant and stylish bombilla is made from high quality alpaca silver (also called German Silver and Nickel Silver). At 7.5˝ long and 1 cm wide, it works well with most gourds and cuts of mate. It’s a great all-around bombilla. The filter is spoon shaped with fine holes that provide reliable filtration.
- Works well with both calabash and vidrio gourds
- Especially efficient with Gaucho cut mate (very fine particles)
- Easy to place in the gourd
- Thin spout also for easy sipping
Double Action Bombilla ™
As the name implies, there is more going on here. A combination of pinholes and a compressible spring provide twice the amount of filtration with this double action bombilla.
- Stainless steel (surgical grade) — won’t rust
- Best for the larger regional cuts
Maintaining Your Yerba Mate Bombilla
Like your gourd, your bombilla needs to be kept in good working order. Over time, the inside of your bombilla can be completely clogged by layers of organic material that are left behind when drinking mate. To prevent this from happening, we recommend a simple technique that will keep your bombilla clean and clear of any blockages.
- Boil your bombilla in hot water for 10 minutes, once per week (this is also called “curing the bombilla”)
- You may also use a sponge and mild dishwashing liquid to clean your bombilla. This helps to keep it shiny
Don’t Scrape your Alpaca Bombilla
If you’re using a bombilla made from alpaca silver, which is significantly softer than stainless steel, take extra precaution not to use it for scraping lavado (tasteless) yerba from your gourd, lest it becomes worn and discolored.
Choosing a Cut of Yerba Mate
Across the four major mate drinking regions of South America — Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay — there are three principal cuts of yerba mate. What is a cut? Essentially, a cut is the composition of three components:
- Las hojas (the leaves)
- El polvo (the fine dust particles)
- Los palos (the small twigs)
The regional cuts each have a different make-up of these elements, resulting from the processing methods of the mate. Cuts are also determined by the philosophy of each mate producer. Some believe that adding stems dilute the mates; others believe that they are absolutely necessary, adding a natural sweetness to the yerba.
These different cuts allow each yerba mate to have its own unique character and style, just as wine has many textures, levels of roundness, and body. Seasoned mate drinkers learn how to appreciate the various nuances between all yerba mate cuts over time.
As the name implies, the Argentine Cut is the dominant variety in Argentina and is also the most widespread throughout the world. The cut can be recognized by the classical composition of these three components:
- Hojas: broad cut leaves
- Polvo: relatively low amount of polvo
- Palos: contains small to large twigs
Our Mission Organic Yerba Mate is a good example. This cut makes for a smooth, medium body mate.
Drunk mainly in Uruguay and Brazil, this cut is famous for its connection with the legendary Gauchos (cowboys), who roamed the Pampas of South America. The Gauchos drunk yerba mate for its health benefits and energizing effect during their long, hard days. It also helped them to curb their appetites during long horseback rides without food.
The components of a Gaucho Cut:
- Hojas: pulverized to small cut leaves
- Polvo: lots of powder
- Palos: twigs are pulverized
Our Organic Galaxy Yerba Mate is a good example. This cut creates a dusty mate that has a strong, malty, robust flavor. Full body.
The Paraguayan Cut is unique. It shows hybrid characteristics between Argentine and Gaucho cuts of yerba mate. Popular in Paraguay, it is also very common to be aged for 2–3 years, giving it a unique floral and sour taste profile.
The components of a Paraguayan Cut:
- Hojas: pulverized to medium cut leaves
- Polvo: lots of powder
- Palos: pulverized twigs and whole palos
Mate grown in Paraguay has a signature sourness and slight tartness, with complex flavors of cherry, tobacco, chocolate, and vanilla. For someone only accustomed to Argentine yerba, trying it will add another level to your mate experience. Our Ascension Organic Yerba Mate is a good example. The floral, smooth, and sometimes robust and earthy tones make for a unique experience. Light to medium body.
Alternative Ways to Enjoy Yerba Mate
While drinking yerba mate with a gourd and bombilla is the best way to get the full mate experience, we understand that preparing the traditional gourd isn’t always going to be the most convenient option. Some people may be intimidated by such an elaborate process or simply don’t like the strong taste of mate from a gourd. No problem. Truth be told, not many people started drinking coffee with straight espresso — it’s something that most have to learn to appreciate. Luckily, Yerba Mate is versatile enough to shine in many ways.
Preparing Yerba Mate with a French Press
Traditionally a way to make coffee, the french press is a quick and easy way to make a lot of Yerba Mate. You’ll notice a lighter, more nuanced beverage when brewing Yerba Mate without a gourd and bombilla.
- Add 1 heaping tsp. (approx. 5–7 grams) per 8 oz of water
- Pour some room temperature or slightly heated water over the yerba mate for 1 minute, allowing the leaves “bloom” and prepare for the hot water
- Add hot water (approx. 175ºF )
- Gently submerge the leaves floating on top of the water to ensure a full extraction — be careful not to agitate too much
- Steep for 3-5 minutes (up to 10 minutes for very strong and robust mate)
- Store any extra in a thermos for later
Check out this video for a demonstration brewing Yerba Mate on a french press:
Making Yerba Mate with a Teapot
Brewing in a teapot is as easy as french press. Most modern teapots come with a detachable strainer inside. If yours doesn’t, any standard cooking strainer should do.
- Add 1 heaping tsp. (approx. 5–7 grams) per 8 oz of water
- Wet Yerba Mate with room temperature water (approx. 72ºF) for 1 minute to let the leaves “bloom” and prepare for the hot water
- Add hot water (approx. 175ºF)
- Steep for 3-5 minutes, or to your liking
- Store any extra in a thermos for later
Check out this video on brewing yerba mate in a teapot:
How to brew Yerba Mate with a Tea Infuser
Tea Infusers are excellent for making quick single cup. Follow the same brewing guidelines as the french press. Since the tea infuser straining mechanism is gravity fed, you can avoid clogging the filter by using a Yerba Mate with minimal polvo (such as Mission Yerba Mate).
Here’s a video showing how to make yerba mate in a tea infuser:
Yerba Mate Tea Bags
Is there anything more convenient and transportable than a yerba mate tea bag? Not really. So it’s good news that Yerba Mate can be deliciously made with tea bags. Great for drinking yerba mate in college or work environment We offer a wide selection of yerba mate tea bags.
Here’s how to prepare a yerba mate tea bag:
- Select 1–2 teabags of yerba mate — add to a mug
- Add 8oz of water at 175ºF
So Now You’re Ready to Begin Drinking Yerba Mate — Yes Indeed!
By this point we’re hoping that you have learned enough to make an informed decision about a few things:
- How to pick a gourd and take care of it
- What type of bombilla works best for you
- How to choose a cut of yerba mate
These are fundamental building blocks of your yerba mate experience upon which you are going to start accumulating more knowledge. Some of it you’ll read about in other articles and videos — perhaps from our yerba mate book, Mateology — but most of it will come from personal experience or from the person sitting next to you in the Mate Circle.
Every day, millions of people around the world enjoy sipping on mate by themselves, but what we want to make clear is that yerba mate is a social drink: It’s the Drink of Friendship.
Yes, the health benefits are incredible. But forming friendships, sharing something so personal as a straw with complete strangers — this is what makes yerba mate magical.
Salud! And welcome to the wonderful world of yerba mate.