[I'm collaborating on a three-part series with Argentinian Yerba Mate. Over the course of the next few months we'll explore how to make/drink yerba mate, origins of the brew, and ways to work with yerba mate as an ingredient. Hope you enjoy Part II today ^-^]
Over in Part I, we got a brief overview of Argentinian yerba mate and brewed yerba mate in a French press (instead of traditional gourd). I love the gourd, but it's not always practical and the French press is an excellent tool for the everyday drinker.
I've also tried brewing Argentinian yerba mate in gaiwans and small 6oz pots, but French press works best if gourd is not an option. (I've had yerba mate ground superfine and pulled like a shot of espresso which was neat...subject for another day!) Today...
...we're looking into the origin of the beverage. The yerba mate plant starts as a shrub and grows into a tree (40-50 feet tall on average). The leaves are flat, about the size of a business card. In Argentina, the plants are grown in Corrientes and Misiones, the northern part of the country. Argentina produces 290,000 metric tons of yerba mate a year (the production process of the leaves is 100% natural), and the average person consumes 5kg a year.
The drink is rich in caffeine (you get 78mg caffeine in one cup of yerba mate, and 85mg in one cup of coffee), but the caffeine doesn't rush into your body all at once (like it does with coffee) so you won't get the crazy jitters.
In the US, we see yerba mate consumed as a solo drink (the same way you'd drink tea/coffee). But in Argentina it's a social/group affair and is a big part of the country's cultural identity. Assume we are in a large group of 6-8 (say it's Sunday afternoon and we're hanging out at a friend's house), and we're using the ground to make yerba mate. First, someone takes the role of the "sever" (aka the cebador... I'll do it :).
The server prepares the first round of yerba mate and drinks it all herself. This first brew is called mate del zonzo...that means mate of the fool. The server is being polite by making sure that first brew in the gourd was made correctly (you don't want to risk sharing a subpar brew with friends). If acceptable, the second brew is passed to the friend on the right. That friend drinks it all and passes it back to the server to refill with hot water. Then it goes to the next friend, and so on.
There are so many details in the etiquette of drinking yerba mate (ex. only the server can move the positioning of the straw/bombilla) that makes this a fascinating subject. The leaves can be steeped a dozen times (more or less depending on quality of leaves, temperature and volume of water, and also just how experienced the cebador is at making yerba mate).
At this point you must be thinking...so everyone shares and drinks from the same straw?? The answer is yes. That is tradition.
But for the germ adverse there are ways around it. My friend Sebastian has this funny solution. If someone offers him a sip he'll ask, "oh, is there sugar in this?" If they say "no", he'll be like "ahh it's ok, I like yerba mate with sugar." If they say "yes", he'll say "ahh thanks but I don't like sugar with yerba mate." Something to keep in mind.
So next time you brew a cup at home or order Argentinian yerba mate at a cafe, don't forget about the origins. It makes experiencing the drink all the more sweeter ^-^