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How to Drink Yerba Mate the Traditional Way

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Yerba Mate is growing in popularity around the world, but many people are still confused about how to drink it. The authentic way of drinking Yerba Mate descends from the indigenous people of South America and lives on in the modern countries of Argentina and Paraguay. If you’re serious about taking up a Yerba Mate habit – and there are good health reasons to do so – then keep reading to learn how to drink Yerba Mate the traditional way.

What is Yerba Mate?

Yerba Mate is a shrub-like plant native to the southern cone of South America. After being cut and dried, it is brewed into a caffeine-rich infusion similar to tea and coffee.

The stimulant in Yerba Mate is slightly different than caffeine and is sometimes referred to as “mateine.” Yerba Mate aficionados claim that the effects are less harsh than coffee and that you can expect improved mood, focus, and energy without the jittery anxiety and impending crash.

While the experience varies from user to user, it’s undeniable that you don’t have to worry about coffee breath and yellow teeth with Yerba Mate. And sipping it is certainly a more distinctive look than walking around with a white paper cup of coffee in your hand.

How Do I Drink Yerba Mate Like a Gaucho?

Yerba Mate 2The Yerba Mate culture is closely linked to the history of the Gauchos – the South American version of the cowboy – who adopted Yerba Mate drinking from the native Indian tribes of South America.

The traditional way to drink it involves only a few components: a gourd (confusingly called a mate in Spanish), a metal straw (or bombilla), a bag of Yerba Mate, and a thermos of hot water. All you have to do is put a heaping pile of Yerba Mate into the gourd, add some hot water, and sip through the straw.

Drinking it in this manner is a big part of both the rural and urban culture in Argentina, Paraguay, and parts of Chile and Brazil. Gauchos take breaks from ranching cattle with a round of Yerba Mate in the open fields. In the busy cities, you will invariably see families at the park with a gourd or two and the accompanying thermos.

It is customary for a group of people to share one gourd and pass it around as they refill the gourd. Because there is such a large quantity of Yerba Mate in the gourd, you can get several brews out of a single helping. When it loses all flavor, it’s time to refill and start again.

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What Does Yerba Mate Taste Like?

When you brew Yerba Mate the traditional way, the result is a powerful, bitter, and hoppy taste that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But, like most acquired tastes – and coffee is no exception – you begin to enjoy it and even crave it over time.

When you’re still getting used to it, you can brew it a little weaker or even sprinkle some sugar on the top. Alternatively, you can just pass on the first and second brews and build up your tolerance over time.

You can also brew Yerba Mate like tea by packing the herb into a tea ball or a tea bag and infusing in hot water. If you want to go that route, you can also pick up pre-bagged Yerba Mate at your local Trader Joe’s. Just don’t invite any South Americans over when you consume it this way – they will scoff at your watery, inauthentic brew.

Is Yerba Mate Good for You?

Like black tea, green tea, matcha, and coffee, Yerba Mate is full of antioxidants and polyphenols. It also contains a number of nutrients not found in those other beverages, including vitamins A, C, E, various B vitamins, as well as calcium, manganese, iron, selenium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc. Drinking it is like drinking a vegetable smoothie, only with an added caffeine boost.

If health is your main concern, however, you may want to steer clear of some of the traditional practices. First and foremost, South Americans like to drink their Yerba Mate piping hot, which is linked to an increase in mouth, stomach, and esophageal cancer.

Additionally, traditional Yerba Mate is smoked and known to contain harmful carcinogens. The good news is that you can control let the water cool down a bit before drinking out of the gourd – and you can purchase non-smoked varieties of Yerba Mate sold by the Guayaki, the main U.S. provider of Yerba Mate. This will guarantee that you get all the benefits and take none of the risks.

Be the First to Experiment with Yerba Mate

Yerba Mate is a vibrant alternative to tea and coffee, offering a similar boost and a host of health benefits. Be the first to share the unique flavor, history and drinking culture with your friends. To get started, pick up a gourd, bombilla, and a big package of high-quality Yerba Mate, whether traditionally smoked or air-dried.

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