Being geeky and explorative has it’s plus sides.
I was trying out different types of teas one by one, and ran across the type of tea called ‘mate’. For the most part it’s included as fusions with other teas, such as “Java Mate”. In fact, that’s how I was introduced to it. I purchased “JavaVana Mate” from Teavana because I wanted a tea that was like coffee. When I was at Teavana I tried a sampling and fell in love with the idea of an alternative to coffee but with the texture and consistency. Unfortunately, it seems that Teavana has discontinued JavaVana Mate, but I ran across Churchill Teas (www.churchillteas.com) and they carry Java Mate. Different, but the same basic concept.
I thought about it for a bit — I should try the base ingredient in these types of teas, and see how they are. I started reading about mate tea and realized it was a whole world of it’s own. It was then that I discovered “Yerba Mate” (MAH-tay). It’s a tea, but it’s a class upon it’s own and a culture wrapped around it. It’s fairly prominent in South America (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, etc etc), and I’ve always been interested in their cultures.
Yerba mate is chopped from a plant named… yerba mate. From there it’s processed into it’s final form which is smoked/unsmoked, stems and leaves/only leaves, and various other alterations. It’s a huge thing in South America, more prominent than the coffee industry in North America.
On to my exploration of it. Before I go too far, I just want it to be known that during my time drinking yerba mate I have felt far more concentration and clarity. It does help me with energy but in controlled ways, not like caffeine. I’m integrating it into my daily regimen. It’s culturally drunken from a gourd carved out and cleaned/cured/dried. They’re pretty small actually, about palm sized. I bought one online, cured it with yerba mate moistened for 24-48 hours. To drink from the gourd, what’s known as a “bombilla” (bomb-isha or bomb-bee-a) is used which is basically a wooden or metal straw with a filter at the tip. After that, I filled the gourd halfway with yerba mate and shook it upside down to get the dust towards the top. After, I gradually tilted it sidways and removed my hand, tilting back a bit more until the yerba mate was piled against the wall just stopping at the top lip of the gourd. the gourd is called a mate, as well. The bombilla is inserted into the gourd from the opposite side of the pile, the tip penetrating the pile and resting deep against the wall of the mate gourd, inside the pile of yerba mate. Then, a little water is poured over the pile with the mate gourd a little tilted to allow the pile to be more horizontal… letting the water concentrate on the pile itself. This is to dehydrate the yerba mate a bit, and to stiffen up the pile and allow it to be more steady. Allow the pile to soak for 2 minutes, then slowly fill the cavity with water 150-165 degrees fahrenheit. Let it soak for 30 seconds to a minute. There you have it! The picture below is completely filled up, actually after 4-5 fills. You’ll notice the pile is more spread since it’s hydrated and much larger… and buoyant!
This was my first mate gourd & bombilla, purchased through GoYerbaMate. (www.goyerbamate.com) They also offer a free sample of one brand of yerba mate with every purchase, which I used to try 2 other types.
After the mixture has been drinked, it can be refilled with hot water many times. The taste is the key indicator of when the yerba mate has been fully milked of it’s nutrition and taste, but usually beween 5-10 fills.
So far, I’ve tried 4 different brands of yerba mate, purchased through Amazon along with GoYerbaMate. So far, my favorite is Rosemonte Especial which is a stronger smokier flavor. Oddly, I found it to be smoother than the other three I’ve tried so far. The three I’ve tried so far are Guayaki traditional organic, Nobleza Gaucha blue, & Taragui traditional. I purchased a couple of others to try as time passes. (Amanda, Rosamonte traditional, & Union BCP)
I’ve realized quick the gourds can be a bit of a pain, since they are plantl ife and if not cleaned/dried properly they can mold. (which can be taken care of but that’s not the point) I went to Etsy (www.etsy.com) and purchased a ceramic gourd with a thick lab glass bombilla which handles quite a bit better in the work environment. The glass also doesn’t absorb heat from the water which is very nice. At the base of the glass bombilla is a spiral of silver cord to act as a sieve as the water slips between the cords through pores in the glass. I’m impressed actually, very impressed.
I have a 24 oz thermos full of hot water from the break room coffee machine every morning, and use that through the day to fill the mate gourd. Thankfully most of my time is at my desk performing UNIX/Linux duties.
As with all things in this world, it can be used in ways not culturally accepted but still okay. Yerba mate can be used as a normal tea as well, but with different potency and not the same absorption of nutrients. Thus it’s inclusion into Java Mate and other fusion mixes. Some people even treat it as a sun tea, basking it in the sun while immersed in water for hours.