Finding the right yerba mate water temperature is both art and science.
Rising early to grab my trusted brushed stainless steel OXO kettle, I unapologetically select the finest water at my disposal. Whether it’s alkalinized 9.5 pH Kangen water or a jug of glacier water from the neighborhood Whole Foods, I’ve come to terms that water isn’t just water.
The Chinese Tea Masters have long extolled the importance of water selection for tea. Some even walked miles to find some obscure pristine stream for water that was just right for the occasion. I feel those pioneers still. In fact, I respect their immovably high standards of preserving, no, enhancing, the experience of drinking a perfect cup of tea each and every time.
Connoisseurship isn’t just a fad when it comes to the likes of tea, wine, whisky, and, of course, yerba mate, it’s actually a long standing respect for whatever you’re partaking in. Go back in time to any Master of a trade and you’ll find a connoisseur, astutely selecting the precise elements.
And the water element lies at the cornerstone of the tea experience. You can have the finest yerba mate in the world, but with subpar water, you’ll never fully expose its exquisiteness. Equally, use amazing water with subpar mate and you’ll bring that mate to life.
The “aqua” in yerba mate’s botanical name, aquafoliacea, literally means “green water or water plant.” Those few Materos, yerba mate enthusiasts, who’ve experienced that perfect sip — that umami, if you will — when everything coalesces into a well-executed symphony of flavors, textures, and ineffable savoriness, are among a growing culture of yerba mate tea sommeliers. Watch out craft beers and gourmet coffee—mate is just rounding the corner.
Assuming that you’re with me on this idea of preserving the integrity of the tea experience, selecting of the highest quality yerba mate; the best mate gourds that suits your design sensibility, be it humble calabash to modern hand-carved wooden gourd; and wisely choosing the best bombilla for the occasion, be it a sleek spoon bombilla for powdery mates and tereré or the eponymous double-action bombilla for your classical Argentine varietals, there comes a point when water cannot be ignored as an integral element of the tea ceremony—or in the case of the Matero, the Mate Circle.
High quality water aside, which usually correlates to a better tasting mate, having less chemicals and contamination than your standard tap water, now you must consider what do to with that water. Just as no one in their right mind would purchase a Rolex to put a Casio face on it, why diminish your quality water by not using the proper water temperature? Water temperature, as I see it, is of vital importance to the mate experience.
Below, I’ll share with you my preferred stages of heating temperatures for yerba mate. From the lower temps to the higher ones, certain yerba mates do better within different temperatures. This is akin to a room temperature malbec boldly exuding robust flavors and a crispy cool Chardonnay bursting with bright summer citrusy notes. Yes, my friends, temperature makes a difference; the coaxing of the plant’s truest expressions come to life with the right water and, subsequently, the proper water temperature.
Yerba Mate Water Temperatures
Ice cold water
If you haven’t already heard of tereré (a term so difficult to pronounce for foreigners that I’m growing more keen on forgetting it altogether), it’s the traditional Paraguayan method of preparing mate with zesty herbs – mint, lemon, etc. – and ice cold water. It’s refreshing as hell! Fast forward a few hundred years, and the same cold tea concoction can be achieved by french pressing mate (pressed mate) then cooling down to make the best iced tea in the world. Watch out Lipton!
160 – 165 ºF / 65 – 73 ºC
For yerba mates with delicate floral tastes – Rosamonte Especial and Ascension come to mind – cooler water temps help express those more delicate flavor profiles. Also ideal for making a slightly weaker brew, cooler temperatures make for a less robust character.
165 – 175 ºF / 73 – 79 ºC
This is your all-around yerba mate water temperature. Ideal for nearly any varietal, it gets the job done very well. Over the years I’ve found sweet spots at around 168 – 173 ºF, which is currently my daily temperature for tea. Those that like mate hot, but nothing that’ll spank your lips, 165-ish is more than acceptable. Your classical Argentine mates, Mission, Cruz de Malta, Unión, Piporé, Nobleza Gaucha, etc., welcome this water temperature range.
175 – 185 ºF / 79 – 85 ºC
Okay, once you start creeping past 175, you’re walking that thin line of actually boiling the water. Approaching 190 and you’re in the red zone. Hit 212, and as the Chinese Tea Masters say, you’re water is now dead and useless. At that point, the water’s oxygen levels have been exhausted and the ability to retain the mate’s flavors (as well as offering a “roundness” of body) has been severely diminished.
For strong Gaucho mates, such as Galaxy, Canarias, Del Cebador, Sara, etc… the higher the temperature, the more maltiness the brew. And if you know anything about Gaucho mates, it’s the malt (that Guinness Stout factor) that keeps the Matero coming back for more. I like to bounce around the 180 line for these dank and earthy mate varietals.
Techniques for Gauging Yerba Mate Water Temperatures
Finger in kettle method
The Argentines taught me this method. If the water is just hot enough to keep the tip of you finger in for a good second only, then your mate water is ready. But don’t ask me what temperature, exactly, that is…
Using a food thermometer
Easy as pie. Dip one of these into your kettle or pot of water every 15 seconds or so, after you begin to see steam and corresponding sounds of the water temperature rising, and you’ll be able to gauge as accurately as any lab-coated scientist where your water temperature lies. Then proceed to place the thermometer in your front pocket alongside your pens, and it’s official. No more guessing.
Handy for the no-nonsense mate drinker that just “wants to get the job done.” Why am I meeting so many of these folks nowadays? In fact, I’m elated to see that there’s a growing number of people who “just want the effects of mate. Period.” Yes, my friends, you’ll get those effects. These digital kettles kill the heat once your water temp reaches its predetermined heat. One-two-three-boom! Instant mate water.
Okay fellow Materos and soon-to-be Materos, remember, quality does matter. Any measures you take to make the best yerba mate experience possible, will be returned to you 100-fold. You can’t put a price on good experience, so skip no steps and keep on striving for the perfect gourd or cup of yerba mate.
Here’s a short video repeating the contents of this article, peppered here and there with some corny wit and dry cleverness for your enjoyment and irritation.