Yerba mate bombilla. You see these words, but you’re not sure what’s it about. On this article I’m going to explain exactly what a mate “ingredients” are. If you have been reading the other posts, and specially if you’re a yerba mate lover yourself, then you probably have an idea. But if you’re just dipping your toes into this world, or see some words in Spanish and wonder what the heck it’s all that about – then, this will definitely help you out.
When we talk of “yerba mate“, we mean the actual “yerba” (herb) that makes the mate (beverage). But what is a “mate”? And what’s a “bombilla“? Allow me to untangle it:
Yerba is the herb that goes inside the gourd; adding water to the mate turns it into an infusion. The Yerba mate plant (Ilex paraguariensis) is grown and processed in South America, specifically in northern Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and southern Brazil. Once harvested, the branches are dried, sometimes with a wood fire (this gives a smoky flavor). The plant can vary in strength of the flavor, caffeine levels and other nutrients depending on whether it is a male or female plant (the latter has less caffeine and milder flavors). Yerba mate contains many nutrients: polyphenols, caffeine (also known as “mateine”), antioxidants and minerals (potassium, magnesium, and manganese). Because of these properties and more, it has been considered a health food.
When we talk about “mate”, we are referring not to the drink itself, but the cup into where the yerba and water are poured, and from where we’ll drink the beverage. There are many types of mate cups, particularly some new technologies have been adopted to make products that are useful but aren’t that similar to the traditional gourds. The latter are still being produced, though, and they are made by artisans, creating each unique mate cup from wood or a special squash. Wooden mates have a few advantages, such as being easier to clean and to stand (they have a flat base), and they also add a special flavour to the yerba.
On the other hand. the traditional gourds, as the ones shown in the picture below, have their ups and downs. They are recommended for more experienced drinkers, since they need to be “cured“; however, the nature of these cups helps with the yerba’s natural bitterness (and even creates a “flavour memory” for those who use it for a long time). It will take longer to add a special flavour to the yerba, in comparison to the wooden mates, but it will be worth it. Additionally, these cups can be found in a huge variety of shapes and sizes. This is important to consider, specially since mate can vary a lot in between regions. For example, in Uruguay and south Brazil, the mate is usually larger than in Paraguay or Argentina. A larger cup will also make it “last longer” if you’re drinking with company (although you will need more yerba to fill it up).
Finally, the new materials used to make mates can be plastic, metal or silicone. These have the advantage of not needing to be “cured” and are easy to wash and maintain, specially if you need a light, resistant and clean cup for travelling. However, not only they don’t add much to the flavour of the beverage, they can have a few smaller downsides: the metal ones can be too hot to grab if you have to pass it to the other people you’re sharing the mate with; the silicone ones can be a bit flimsy and if they are not treated with care, it can be easy to spill over the yerba (speaking from experience, here…). However, they are all fantastic options and the choice is yours to pick the mate that fits your style!
This is the straw from where you can drink the infusion. It has an end that goes inside the mate, and filters the yerba, allowing only the water to be drank through the opposite end. There are many different kinds of bombillas, like with the mate cup, but most of the differences are in the decorations and details (particularly, if they are handcrafted).
Overall, there are some important categories: the material its made of, the shape, the length, and the type of filter. In terms of materials, they can be made of stainless steel (strong and durable; no need to polish), alpaca (strong and durable as well, but it’s traditionally worked by artisans and needs to be polished) and bamboo (strong, although not as durable as the metal ones and more likely to clog). The shape can be either straight (better for larger gourds, and more traditional) or curved (better for drinking with company and looking forwards and not down into the yerba). The length is either long or short (for either large or small cups, respectively). The filter can be either a spoon end filter (extracts the most nutrients and helps scoping out the yerba after drinking), or a tube end filter (easier to use, they don’t clog much, and perform well even if the mate has been prepared poorly).
The picture shows a funky hat decorated with a traditional gourd and many straight, metal bombillas with spoon ends filters and golden tops. The top is not just decoration, but it prevent it to get hot from when you drink it.
THE WHOLE KIT
OK. So you got your mate gourd, you’ll fill it up with yerba mate and will drink it with your bombilla. But let’s not forget one last detail! For example, if you’re going outside (to the park, or the beach) you will need a termo (thermos) to carry the hot water, and keep it at a desired temperature.
That’s all! A matear!! (let’s drink mate!!)