The preparation and etiquette of mate is quite complex and somewhat ceremonial. If you are not informed of the practice, you stand a good chance of offending your fellow drinkers. First, you should select a proper drinking vessel (also called a mate). The most common and historical being a calabash gourd. The gourd is hollowed, dried, and often decorated before it is prepped for mate. To prep your gourd, fill it approximately half way with dry yerba before filling it to the brim with hot water. Let this brew stand for 24 hours. Before going to bed be sure to top it off with more hot water as the gourd and yerba mate absorbs the water. Next, empty the gourd and scrape out as much of the remaining flesh as possible. Once dry, your mate (gourd) has been cured. Wooden, ceramic, stainless steel, and silver mates are also used.
Once you've selected your mate, you will need a bombilla (or straw). Traditionally, the bombilla is made of silver. Stainless steel and bamboo are other common materials for bombillas. Now all you need is your yerba mate and water.
|Yerba Mate, Bombilla, and Mate|
1. Fill the mate roughly one-half to three-quarters full of yerba mate. Seal the opening with one hand, turning your mate upside-down and shake it vigorously. This will separate the thicker particles from the finest particles, leaving the finest near the opening. Once the yerba has settled, carefully tilt the mate to a near-sideways angle and carefully shake it side-to-side to further settle the yerba. Then tilt the mate back onto its base while trying to minimize further disturbances. The yerba should now be slightly sloped with the finest particles towards the opening (top) of your mate.
|Mate filled with yerba|
|Shake, shake, shake Senora.....|
|Separated and angled|
2. Insert the bombilla. It should follow the same slope as the yerba inside the mate. Rest the heavy, bottom end of the bombilla on the bottom, opposite wall from the yerba. Next, fill the empty space with cool water allowing the yerba to absorb the water completely (this should take no longer than a few minutes). Pouring hot water onto dry yerba can scald the leaves causing depletion of nutrients and a bitter taste. Once the cool water is absorbed, hot water (approximately 160-180 degrees) should be added until it reaches the brim.
|First filling with cool water|
|Cool water absorbed, hot water ready to pour|
3. The yerba mate is now ready to drink. The first brew is often quite bitter and cold. As you continue to pour hot water into (refill) your mate, the taste will mellow out. A typical mate lasts around 10 pours depending on the size of your mate and the amount of yerba added.
|Ready to drink|
There are some very important things to remember when it comes to mate etiquette. Mate is typically drunk in a shared, social setting with friends or family. Remembering the following guidelines can save you some seriously embarrassing moments.....
Never use boiling water. The same mate and bombilla are used by all drinkers. If you are the server (pourer or cebador) you must always drink the first pour and sometimes the second. It is considered rude to pass a cold, ill flowing, and/or bitter mate. Always pass the mate in a counter-clockwise rotation. Pass with your right hand and be sure the bombilla faces the recipient. Drink until the mate is empty of water, usually signified by a loud sucking noise, which is NOT considered rude, before passing the empty mate back to the cebador (bombilla facing cebador). Saying "gracias" indicates that you have had your fill of yerba mate and no longer wish to receive the mate.