Although yerba mate is often referred to as a "tea," is is technically an "herbal tea," tisane or "herbal infusion." Unlike teas from the tea plant (green, black, oolong, etc.) it is harvested from the leaves and stems of a particular type of holly tree. It is sometimes roasted or aged before consumption to mellow its flavor.
Yerba mate has a bold, bittersweet flavor. It is traditionally drunk from a hollow gourd through a filtering straw (bombilla), but it can also be infused in a Western-style teapot, brewed with a French press, or made in other ways.
Coffee drinkers tend to prefer their yerba mate straight, blended with sugar/honey or made into a latte. Tea drinkers often like yerba mate blends. In parts of South America, yerba mate is blended with mint, citrus, gin and/or other ingredients. There are many yerba mate blends available on the U.S. market.
A number of health claims surround yerba mate. One common (and incorrect) claim is that yerba mate contains no caffeine, but has instead a "stereoisomer of caffeine called mateine." There is no such thing. Yerba mate is moderately high in caffeine, but some say that factors like the gender of the plant and whether or not it is shade grown impact the final product's caffeine level.
Yerba Mate Reviews
If you're ready to try yerba mate outside if the coffeehouse or tea shop, it's worth checking out a few different kinds.
If you want something that's already brewed, I recommend Honest Tea's Sublime Mate (4.5 stars) and Tropical Mate (4 stars), and ITO EN's Mate Sencha Shot (4 stars).
If you want to brew yerba mate at home, I suggest starting with flavored blends or a good quality unblended mate.
In terms of blends, Mighty Leaf has a popular teabag and loose-leaf yerba mate blend called Rainforest Mate (3 stars). Personally, I prefer Rishi Tea's yerba mate blends. Many tea shops also offer various yerba mate blends.
For an unblended yerba mate, check out my review of Nativa Yerba Mate.
If you like yerba mate and beer (and don't find it blasphemous to combine the two), definitely check out these reviews of MateVeza Organic Yerba Mate IPA and MateVeza Organic Yerba Mate Black Lager.
Yerba Mate Brewing Basics
If you want an easy, convenient brewing method for your yerba mate, try using a Western-style teapot with a built-in strainer and follow your mate's instructions. Coffee drinkers will also find that brewing yerba mate in a French press is easy... though I recommend washing the press well before each use to keep your mate from tasting like coffee!
If you prefer your infusions cold, try cold-brewing yerba mate. It is easy and it produces a smoother taste than normal brewing methods.
Traditionalists and anyone who loves a good beverage ritual will love brewing yerba mate in a gourd with a bombilla. To prepare mate in this traditional fashion, use warm (not boiling) water at around 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Fill the gourd about one third of the way with yerba mate leaves, add a tiny bit of water to moisten the leaves (much like you would with a manual drip coffee filter), and then brew it for quick multiple infusions, drinking from the bombilla between each one.
Yerba Mate Recipes
Like coffee and tea, yerba mate is easy to enjoy with a range of flavors and ingredients. Anyone who got their start with yerba mate at a coffeehouse will want to check out these recipes for yerba mate lattes:
- Classic Yerba Mate Latte recipe
- How to Make a Peppermint Yerba Mate Latte (Video)
- Vegan Yerba Mate Latte Recipe (made with soy milk)
- Hazelnut Honey Yerba Mate Latte
- Mocha Yerba Mate Latte