Types of yerba mate bombillas

There are many types of bombillas for drinking yerba mate tea. A mate bombilla is any instrument with a filter used to drink yerba mate the traditional way, from a yerba mate gourd. Bombillas come in myriad shapes, sizes, and materials (plastic, metal, bamboo etc ). They also have various filtration methods, from the traditional coil to the modern spoon bombilla.

Understanding the different types of yerba mate bombillas

As you may have read in our other yerba mate bombillas articles, it’s wise to have several types of bombillas on hand. Just as there are a zillion forms of glasses to best appreciate different varietals of wine, there are bombillas specifically designed for certain cuts of yerba mate.

Spoon Bombilla

Brazilian / Gaucho Style

Spoon Yerba Mate Bombilla

I’m all about these bombillas. They have the most versatile form factor for appreciating all cuts of yerba mate and there’s no better bombilla to ‘mold the mate’ with inside your gourd.

With a spoon-shaped filter, usually dotted with dozens of holes beneath and below, it’ll work for superfine erva mate from Brazil, Gaucho Mate (Uruguayan i.e., Canarias, Galaxy, etc) that’s a bit more coarse, and, certainly, all Classical Argentine mates and most blends.

brazilian bomba bombillaThe caveat here is the (native) Brazilian form of this bombillas known as a bomba (bhomm-BAH). This variation of a spoon bombilla has significantly more holes (filters) than, say, a Paraguayan spoon bombilla (more on that soon). I refer to this as the “filter count”. Bombillas with more than 150 filters (holes) are best suited for the finest cut yerba (specifically ervas from Brazil).

However, you could still get away with using a standard spoon bombilla on all types of mate, but you may have to work a bit harder if drinking powdery mates.

Paraguayan Style

Spoon Yerba Mate Bombilla

More refined and usually handcrafted with a particular metal alloy known as alpaca (aka German silver), these spoon bombillas are notoriously smaller. Their thin profiles make for an attractive bombilla that looks more like fine jewelry than a metal straw. Our Katana bombilla is a good example.

Technically, they were designed to drink cold yerba mate typical of Paraguay, known as tereré (learn about tereré here). However, they’re a perfect fit for Argentine mates, hot or cold. I don’t recommend them for erva and gaucho mates, as the filter count is too low (learn more about the types of mate here).

Hybrid yerba mate bombilla

Hybrid Spoon Bombilla

A spoon bombilla that has a detachable filter is a hybrid between a fixed spoon bombilla and screw bombilla. Our Aretino is a good example.

Double Action Bombilla

We dubbed these bombillas ‘double action’ because they have two layers of filters, hence the double action of filtering. This is the prototypical bombilla of Argentina, no doubt. A shaft is usually slit to act as the initial filtration level (these slits can range from 2–7+; on one or both sides); then coil is placed over the slits and the entire arrangement is encased with a wing-like metal cap securing the base of the unit.

Double Action Bombilla

double action bombilla

The metal cap acts as a latch, easily released to expose the hole at the shaft base—this is important because it allows you to use a bombilla brush to get a good cleaning every once in a while. Our Florence is a good example.

Pick Bombilla

Pick yerba mate bombilla

These quirky bombillas remind me of a dental pick, so we dubbed them ‘pick bombilla’ and the name stuck! They even help in the natural curing process with calabash gourds, allowing you to gently debride the inner skin of these natural gourds, little-by-little, after each use.

Coil Bombilla

Coil yerba mate bombilla

One of the best starter bombillas of all time. They are so simple! A metal shaft encased with a coil filter. That’s it. Nada mas. Just make sure you’re getting one from a reliable source, as some manufacturers use cheap metals to mass produce, sacrificing quality which could lead to rusting. Chrome-plated or stainless steel are the best ways to go. Our Helix bombilla is a solid option.

Screw Bombilla

screw yerba mate bombilla

Extensively used by modern mate drinkers in Argentina and now the United States, Europe, and beyond, the screw bombilla is gaining adoration. Easy to use, clean, and work with. Mostly styled with brushed steel with copper accented handles, they have a modern industrial look and feel. Ideal for coarse cut Argentine mates, but will work well for Paraguayan cuts (hybrid cut) as well.

Fanned Bombilla

Fanned Bombilla by Circle of Drink

Fanned bombillas have a simple ring around the filter of thin horizontal slots. Bombillas of this fashion create more resistance when drawing the infusion, resulting in a taste with more concentrated flavors. This bombilla is good for molding the mate inside the gourd, offering a slight advantage over coil and double action bombillas.

Chambered Bombillas

An awkward bombilla with a tea-ball-like chamber encased in a metal chamber and secured with a metal right at the neck of the filter. This old school bombilla style is certainly out of vogue and resembles something closer to the time of the ancient Guaraní Tribe than the modern Matero. The design is clumsy and inelegant, but makes for a nice novelty item in your bombilla collection.

Chambered Bombillas by Circle of Drink

Chambered Bombillas

Cleaning your yerba mate bombilla

Since we’re talking bombillas, we may as well mention a few ways to clean your yerba mate bombilla.

Using dishwashing soap, you can clean any bombilla as you would a fork or knife. Give it a good scrub and rinse, and you’re set. For those of you Materos that desire a deep cleaning, particularly with flat bombillas, drop your bombillas in a pot of boiling water for several minutes, rendering any bacteria inert.

bombilla brush to clean your bombilla

bombilla brush to clean your bombilla

For your bombillas with round shafts and hole at the base, as seen with double action bombillas, use a bombilla brush to clear any stubborn debris (I recommend using a bombilla brush before using any sort of bombilla that’ll permit it, since some factories leave minute dust / metal particles inside, which could be dangerous).

So what’s the best yerba mate bombilla?

There isn’t one! Use the bombilla that best suits your particular style and type of mate you’re sipping. Any passionate Matero will have several types of bombillas at any given time. So have fun, collect a few, switch up your style from time to time, and mostly importantly, enjoy!

A Beautiful Addiction - Yerba Mate Documentary

Welcome to ‘A Beautiful Addiction.’ A yerba mate docuseries exploring the spectacular, and heretofore, relatively unknown, cultural identity of yerba mate throughout South America and beyond. Yerba mate has a growing list of health benefits alongside a rich social allure of passionate yerba mate enthusiasts known as Materos.

Chocolate Yerba Mate Tea - by circleofdrink

Chocolate Yerba Mate Tea - by circleofdrink

The food of the Gods. That’s what the Aztecs called chocolate. Scientifically, theobroma cacao, chocolate is one our favorite ingredients to blend with yerba mate. The actual chocolate nut is known as cacao. Watch out: don’t mistake is for the processed chocolate powder known as cocoa (that’s the sugary chocolate mix used to bake cakes, cookies, and hot chocolate).

We’ve used cacao to make a few chocolate yerba mate blends here: Chocolate Prophecy and Roasted Chocolate.

Here are few tips when making your own chocolate yerba mate tea

Chocolate increases the robustness of your mate blend, so carefully gauge how strong you’d like your mate when blending. Using the raw cacao bean or powder will have a lighter taste profile; the roasted counterparts will be sweeter and stronger, increasing the richness and body. Experiment with both to see what you like.

Effects of chocolate

Chocolate has a calming effect that produces mild feelings of euphoria. Thank the generous amounts of theobromine, the excitatory compound in chocolate responsible for that eponymous “feel good” sensation. There hasn’t been any studies on this (as far as we know), but the combination of theobromine in chocolate along with mate’s natural ability to also produce euphoria, may have a compounding affect and boost those effects further.

Enjoy your chocolatey mate and feel good!

And share your own chocolate mate recipe in the comments.

Truck transporting Yerba Mate - ©Circleofdrink
Truck carrying yerba mate in Misiones, Argentina. ©circleofdrink
Truck carrying yerba mate in Misiones, Argentina. ©circleofdrink

I’ve been safely traveling with yerba mate for almost a decade and I’ve never had any serious problems carrying yerba mate either directly on the plane in my carry-on luggage or my stowed-away (checked-in) luggage beneath the plane. So, rest assured, since yerba mate is a legal herb, you can safely travel without problems getting through airport security and customs.

Below, I’ll describe some exceptions and offer some tips on how to make sure you always clear your precious yerba mate through customs and airport security while traveling.

How to Travel with Yerba Mate

Did you know that I started selling yerba mate gourds on Circle of Drink with 60 gourds I brought back to New York in my suitcase in 2012? I neatly lined the gourds in a few rows, sandwiched between shirts and sweaters for padding. While going through New York Customs, this was the only time I’ve ever been questioned about traveling with gourds and yerba mate.

The Agents simply wanted to know what the gourds were and why I had so many of them. “They’re yerba mate cups to drink tea from and I plan to share them with family and friends.” “Ok, you can go now,” she quickly responded. And there I went, happily proceeding to my pickup gate with 60 gourds in tow and at least 15 pounds of mate (in original 500g packs).

Follow the Rules When Traveling with Yerba Mate

Then there was a small exception when cutting through Italian or Mexican Customs — an Agent, seeing my loose-leaf yerba packaged in a ziplock bag asked what it was. As usual, I simply responded with the truth: “It’s tea from Argentina… like green tea.” And right on cue, I was told to carry on.

You see, it’s perfectly legal and easy to travel with yerba mate. Remain cognizant of the local laws and prohibitions of the country you’re traveling to and from; make any required declarations (though, I’ve never declared mate as I never seen a reason to); and tell the truth when asked “what’s that green stuff?” The easiest answer is: “it’s green tea from Argentina.” That’s my good luck answer that never fails. A smile or two doesn’t hurt, either.

Declaring Yerba Mate for Customs and Import / Export

If you’re asked to formally declare yerba mate, you may classify it as either “Botanical Herb” , “Paraguayan Tea” or “Mate Tea.” These terms are recognized by the FDA — the federal agency responsible for all food safety within, existing and entering the United States and many other countries.

Getting more technical: every food that’s allowed to enter the United States has an associated “harmonization code.” This code corresponds to a federal database of recognized foods that are imported and exported. The yerba mate harmonization code is: 0903.00.00 and it’s classified as “duty fee,” meaning that you are not legally responsible for paying any import or export taxes for yerba mate. How lucky we are, right!?  Though, if you’re receiving a package of yerba mate from another country, the person or company sending the goods may have to pay a fee, such as an IVA or VAT tax or other associated export fees.

Workers transporting yerba mate to drying factory in Misiones, Argentina. ©circleofdrink
Workers transporting yerba mate to drying factory in Misiones, Argentina. ©circleofdrink

Packaging your Yerba Mate for Safe Travel

Leaving your mate in the original packaging is the safest way to travel. The packaging acts as a self-explanatory sign that clearly states what the product is, where it’s from, and what it’s used for. Yerba Mate Tea. From South America. A drink like green tea. Period. Customs Agents love to see clear and easy-to-understand language that explains a product. It saves them the trouble from investigating further or sampling your product for laboratory testing.

Perhaps you’ve repacked the mate in a bag. That’s fine, too. However, without your permission, if the yerba mate was packed in your checked-in luggage, the Agents may take a small sample from your bag (you’ll notice a clean slick or small hole in the package). This has happened to me many times. If it happens to you, don’t be alarmed. It’s quite fine. Remember, yerba mate is a legal botanical herb (not a controlled substance), so there is nothing to worry about. You haven’t broken any laws whatsoever. Sip easy, Matero!

Traveling with Large Amounts of Yerba Mate?

I’ve packed nearly entire suitcases of mate at times and had no issues. If you do something like this, it comes down to your attitude and how you comport yourself when and if questioned about the yerba mate. Be confident and clearly state that this is tea you consume. Showing any fear or expressing anxiety will almost certainly warrant further investigation.

In most cases, you’re not like me, and won’t travel with more than, say, 5–10kgs (10–20 pounds) of mate, so this won’t apply. But here’s an real example of how I recently travelled with a significant amount of mate.

I wrapped several boxes of mate in what is known as ‘pallet’ or ‘packaging’ wrap. It’s, effectively, strong saran wrap for travel; then I constructed a makeshift handle and checked the entire bag in as a single piece of luggage. I had no issue and successfully traveled with around 20 pounds of yerba mate this way.

Traveling with large amounts of yerba mate. Here's a makeshift suitcase with 15 pounds of yerba mate. ©circleofdrink
Traveling with large amounts of yerba mate. Here’s a makeshift suitcase with 15–20 pounds of yerba mate. ©circleofdrink

A “safer” way would have been to split the mate into a few bags of luggages, interspersed with clothing. But, again, have no fear. We have nothing to hide. The worst that can happen when traveling with a significant amount of mate is that you’re asked to pay a commercial duty fee, if the Agent believes that you intend to sell the product. But yerba mate is a duty free herb, so have harmonization code handy: 0903.00.00.

No Worries, Yerba Mate is Legal and NOT a Drug

So there you have it. It’s perfectly safe and legal to travel with yerba mate. You may also travel with yerba mate gourds and bombillas without issues. For the bombillas (metal straws used to drink mate from the gourd), the most practical idea is to pack them in your checked-in luggage, as some of them may resemble knives.

Safe travels!

cold yerba mate in glass - by circleofdrink

How to make cold brew yerba mate iced tea - by circleofdrink.com

On scorching hot days do you realllyyy want to drink yerba mate? If you asked me that eight or nine years ago, I would’ve said, heck yeahhh! Admittedly, my early mate days were defined by rigid adherence to the traditional Argentine method of preparing mate, which is summed up in a single word: hot!

Summertime Means Cold Yerba Mates

You know, grab the kettle, heat the water to a precise 165–175ºF (never fully boiled, thank you!), then adding the room temperature “dummy water” to temper those gentle herbs, then full on hot mates ready to go. Yes, this is the traditional way. Three season of the year, I’m all about it. But these cold mates have grabbed my heat this sizzling summer, and I’m loving every icy-cold sip of deliciousness.

Here’s How to Cold Brew Yerba Mate

During those periods of hellish heat, cue the ice, cold water, zesty herbs, and your favorite yerba mate — it’s time to make cold yerba mate. Aka “cold brewed yerba mate”, “matefrio”, “tereré” (in Paraguay), “yerba mate iced tea”. Names aside, we’re just talking cold yerba mate. Plain and simple.

Over the years we’ve discussed several ways to prepare cold yerba mate. If you’re interested in those methods, check these pages:

Today, in the video below, you’ll find a comprehensive guide on cold brewing yerba mate tea. I’ve incorporated all previously discussed methods, but thickened the ice with more ideas on which herbs are best for cold yerba mate and shared more refined, step-by-step, instructions.

Warning: this is a long video, so feel free to jump around. I’ve provided timestamp links that’ll get you to the juicy parts of the video.

  • Simple way to make cold yerba mate with a gourd and chilled water [5:53]
  • Using a french press to cold brew yerba mate tea [8:24]
  • Cold brewing mate in glass pitcher for 24 hours [13:16]

A here’s a list of a few yerba mate blends perfect for making cold yerba mate

Princely Peach Rooibos
Throne of Berries
Lemon
Royal Nectar
Ginkgo
Ascension

    (pure mate – makes a good base or good alone)

Stay cool, Materos.

yerba mate tea in glass jar ©circleofdrink

Does Yerba Mate Tea Go Stale?

Wondering if Yerba Mate Expires? Let’s find out

Yerba mate technically can expire if it’s not stored in a cool and dry place. When mate is stored in a dry area, it can become brittle and flaky, and subtle flavors are destroyed. If  it’s stored in an overly-humid place, it’s at risk of mold. However, when properly stored in a dark, dry, and cool locations, such as a kraft paper big, tea tin, or glass jar, yerba mate can actually improve with age, up to several years; such aged yerba mate has a slight yellow hue and still retains a matte sheen on the leaves, without being overly-dry. Aged yerba mate develops subtle, nuanced flavors. A good example would be Anna Park.

How to Properly Store Yerba Mate Tea

Allow me to extrapolate. If you store your yerba mate in a cool, dark, and dry location — preferably in a glass jar or tin — your mate will last way beyond the two year expiration date on the package (those expiration dates on the label have more to do with politics than health when it comes to yerba mate).

In fact, mate will most likely improve with age, with enhanced nuanced flavors and finer aromas. Effectively, as with wine, aging can add complexity to yerba mate.

Understanding the Expiration Date of Yerba Mate

Does Yerba Mate Tea Expire?Remember, if you’re drinking a mate brand directly from South America, the expiration stamp is usually on the side of the bag, sometimes on the top.

How to Determine if Your Yerba Mate Really has Gone Stale?

Three factors are essential for determining the quality of yerba mate.

  1. LOOK. How does the mate look? It should be an olive green with a thin matte sheen.
  2. FEEL. How does the mate feel? It should have some buoyancy and pliancy. The leaves shouldn’t be overly dry and crumble to the touch. You should detect a slight moisture in the leaves and the stems should be an eggshell white to light tan.
  3. SMELL. How does the mate smell? You should detect the general mate bouquet of toasty hay, green vegetables, earth, and a mild sweetness.

That’s about it. More than anything, use common sense to detect the mate’s quality. If it tastes, looks, and smells good, then chances are it’s good. Sip on, Materos!

Kettle on stove preparing yerba mate - by circleofdrink

What's the best temperature for yerba mate tea?

Generally, the best water temperature for yerba mate tea is between 155ºF – 175ºF (68ºC – 70ºC). The lighter the body, the lower the temperature should be, to avoid masking flavors with heat. Also, scientists are confirming that water that has been brought to a boil is immediately used is dangerous for consumption, so avoid boiled water for yerba mate. If you fully boil your water, allow it to cool for 10–15 minutes before preparing your yerba mate.

Read on the learn more…

It’s a question I receive often and there really isn’t any right answer (at least not in terms of taste, but surely in terms of health, as we know that extremely hot water is never safe to consume).

To paraphrase an ancient Tea Master, if the water quality is an 8 and the tea is a 5, the tea’s quality will be an 8. And if the water quality is a 5 and the tea a 10, then the best you can achieve is a 5.

In other words, water quality matters — definitely matters! We’ll be talking mostly about water temperature, but without high quality water, it really doesn’t matter much anyway, since you’ll always have an inferior tea with low quality water. Granted, some folks only have access to tap water, so just do the best you can.

Am I crazy for measuring water temperatures?

There’ve been times when I’ve been called pretentious and crazy for caring so much about water. I’ve heard it all. “Just use some damn tap water!” or “who cares about the water, just enjoy the mate!” “Stop overcomplicating things.”

But you know what? I’ve lived long enough not to lower myself to other people’s standard just to fit in or “play nice.” Nah, no thanks. Life is too short for all that nonsense. Besides, I was the one always thrown out of class for asking too many questions and sharing too many ideas with my teacher. I’ve always strived for the best experience, no matter the medium.

When it comes to the mate experience, it’s precisely that: an experience. It’s my experience. It’s your experience. No one else’s. So, yes, I will happily and shamelessly drink the highest quality water available to me. Take that, haters! Hahaha… I kid, I kid.. No, actually I’m quite serious.

Do I still drink tap water from time to time, sure. Do I try to drink bottled or high pH (from a machine) water most of the time, of course! It only makes sense. We only have one body, so it’s an intelligent move to treat it well.

Ok, glad we got that covered, now onto finding the perfect temperature for your yerba mate experience.

What’s the perfect water temperature for yerba mate?

The general rule of thumb is not to exceed 180ºF (82ºC). Anything over 185ºF and the mate starts to stress and overbrew, quickly diminishing the strength of the mate and significantly decreasing the mate’s flavor staying power (known as the ‘cycle’).

What’s a yerba mate cycle?

A cycle is each time you fill the gourd with water and drink it to the last slurp (and feel free to slurp loudly, it’s actually a polite signal that you’ve finished all the mate to the utter bottom of the gourd—hey now, no backwashing!). A mate with a short cycle will last somewhere around 15 cycles; a medium cycle, around 25–30; a long cycle, 30+ times you’ll fill the gourd with flavors still present.

A mate’s cycle strength doesn’t necessarily make it better or worse, mind you. Just like the bodies of wine, traditional tea, and beer, there will be innumerable strengths, textures, and nuances that’ll all have an influence on how long the flavors linger. I actually love mates that have a graceful cycle, when the body transitions from bold to all sorts of subtle, light and wispy notes. This is the gourmet experience in action.

So let’s get down to it (get to the point, Dave! Ok geezzz..) when it comes to water temperature and mate. And take it with a grain of himalayan sea salt because there’s always room to break the rule and simply have fun with the mate experience—your experience!

These are just a few things I’ve learned from drinking yerba mate daily for, what, over 8 years now. Whoa, time’s a passin!

Match the mate’s character with water temperature

Floral and soft mate > 145–155ºF

What's the best temperature for yerba mate tea?
If a mate has a soft, subtle, gentle character, usually accompanying naturally fruity flavors found in Kraus Organic, Anna Park, Mantis, and Liebig, you’ll want to stay close to the lower end of the spectrum (145–180ºF). To best appreciate delicate mates like these, 155ºF is ideal. The cooler water allows for the floral notes to express themselves fully, without any masking, gently coaxing the mate’s delicate essence to the fore.

Medium mate > 160–170ºF

What's the best temperature for yerba mate tea?
Mates that have a bolder body such as Mission, Ascension, Cruz de Malta, and Playadito, I usually take the heat up a notch to around 160–170ºF (ish). Not to say that these mates wouldn’t also taste good with lower temperatures, but the higher temps are more in alignment with their medium-robustness.

The idea here is to match the mate’s nature with the best possible water temperature, creating a beautiful harmony. Can I get a namaste?

Big and super bold mate > 170–180ºF

What's the best temperature for yerba mate tea?
For more aggressive mates like Rosamonte, Amanda, La Tranquera and, ironically, softer mates such Del Cebador, Canarias, and Galaxy, I like hotter temperatures. In this scenario, things become highly preferential and subjective to your own taste.

I like the hotter temps with these sort of mates because the higher temps accentuate the natural espresso-like, tobaccoy and malty flavors. In order to expose the nature of these mates, like a egg in incubation, higher temperatures are necessary for that pop! Play around 170–180ºF with bold, muscular, and malty mates.

Alrighty folks, I think that should do it for now. Sure, we could always go deeper and explore all the infinitesimally small intricacies of water temperature and mate, so I’m sure we’ll revisit this topic again. Thanks for coming along this journey with me.

Stay warm, sip well, and salud!

Here’s a link to a nifty digital thermometer if you want to gauge your mate’s water like a mad scientist. And if they call you pretentious, just smile and say “salud to you!”

Saponins in yerba mate gourd

Saponins in Yerba Mate Tea

Saponins represent the frothy, foamy bubbles seen upon adding hot water to your yerba mate. These somewhat mysterious compounds are related to myriad health benefits associated with yerba mate, and their presence may even indicate the nutritional strength of a particular mate.

A few years ago we published an article that presented yerba mate as an adaptogenic herb — an herb that contains “adaptive energy”, helping the body adapt to external and internal stress, such a psychological stress, disease, bacteria, environmental, any sort of stress you could image.

Most adaptogenic herbs contain these saponin compounds, offering a growing range of health benefits1 that are constantly being uncovered:

  • Anti-atherosclerotic: Helps keep your heart and arteries pumping blood freely.
  • Antioxidant: Helps enhance immune system; slow aging process; enhances general well-being.
  • Hepatoprotective: Prevents damage to liver.
  • Hypocholesterolemic: Lowers bad cholesterol.
  • Anti-obesity: Increases metabolism and aids in weight loss.
  • Anti-carcinogenic: Fights cancer cells.

Previously, as far as mate researchers knew, only 5 saponins had been identified in mate, known as Matesaponins 1–5 2–3. However, as of 2017, a new study revealed a total of 19 saponins, most of which are newly discovered.

Some notable findings in the study were:

  • Matesaponin D (also known as J3a) was the most abundant, accounting for 30–35% saponin content, followed by Matesaponon 1, Matesaponin 2, Matesaponon 4 (it was previously thought that Matesaponin 2 was most abundant).
  • Saponins, depending on environmental conditions, plant variety, and processing methods varied from mate brand to brand.
  • Yerba mate berries contain about 30% saponins compared to 4% found in the leaves. Humans don’t generally consume mate berries due to their toxicity.

As yerba mate pharmacology continues to broaden and deepen, surely more pieces to mate’s growing cornucopia of health benefits will be unearthed and quantified.

Based upon what we now know, the cornerstone compounds of these health benefits are from chlorogenic acids and saponins. However, it’s clear that scientists still don’t fully understand these saponins and the precise mechanisms how they function. Only time will tell.

So the next time you see the foam, remember our saponin friends are present, doing their job to help protect the heart, lower cholesterol, and aid your immune system with a flurry of antioxidants.

Sources:

  1. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, Volume 63, October 2017, Pages 164-170.
  2. Journal of the Brazilian Chemical Society, Volume, 16 no.4 São Paulo July/Aug. 2005
  3. Journal of Medicinal Food. 2010 Apr;13(2):439-43.