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
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
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
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!”