How to Prepare Yerba Mate and Use Bombillas for Ideal Results

I have always loved drinking Yerba mate.  For as long as I can remember, we always had a gourd filled with Yerba in the kitchen.  My mom would drink it there, while she was cooking or talking on the phone.  My father would drink mate on a leisurely Sunday morning, always making it a bit sweeter for me before he handed it over.  When I went to my grandmother's house, we would sit at her kitchen table and share it with a pile of her strudel in front of us, and my aunt would share it with me in her dining room, using the time to find out about how I was doing at school and letting me just unload!

This is me as a child in Argentina at my grandmother's table in her "magical" backyard drinking mate.

With all of this mate around, you would think I was a connoisseur, but no….my habit was to drink coffee in the morning.  After all, I grew up here, in the states, and it just seemed a bit odd to take out a gourd and bombilla in front of my American friends.  It didn't help any that my father had this thought that Americans would think we were doing drugs of some kind and we should only take it out in front of people we trusted!!  So, mate for me was always something I did with my parents, or my family in Argentina.  

My sister and enjoying mate together.

My sister and enjoying mate together.

All of that changed, though, when I got pregnant.  When that happened, my midwife told me to stop drinking coffee altogether (and stop other things for that matter!)  I thought I was going to die.  But, a brilliant thought came to me and I asked her about drinking Yerba mate.  She looked it up and not only gave her approval, but her support!  That begun a whole new era in my life.  I got out my step stool and took out all my Yerba mate accessories that on the top shelf of my cupboard.  From that day forward, I drank mate.

Up until that time, I mostly drank mate with others.  Drinking it by myself felt kind of odd.  As the days went on, I got used to this "other way" of drinking mate.  It began to be quite a comfort.  It had more of a ritual feel than my normal morning coffee.  There was a level of coziness to this, a level of "connection to self," and after a few days, I knew I would never go back.  What is interesting though is that I learned of ways to make mate that I like.  In other words, I like the temperature of the water "just so."  

I like to sweeten my water with a couple of drops of stevia.  During winter months, I like the warmth of the natural gourd and during the summer, gravitate more towards a glass mate.  I like to fill it with Yerba 3/4 way full, no more no less.  Still, when I go to Argentina, I am told of other ways to make it!  Each time, I learn something new, put in a different step and change what I do.  I always get back with 2 or 3 new bombillas and a few extra mates tucked into my bags. I LOVE having a new mate and have a shelf in my kitchen that is filled with my collection.

In the winter, the natural gourd mate warms my hands.

As the years went on, I offered my mate to friends and people loved it.  Often, I have thought if this custom, this ritual of drinking Yerba mate would succeed here, in the states.  After visiting my family this past year in Argentina, and watching what has been happening here in the states, I decided to launch a business that would work on bringing this amazing treat here, to North America.  It seems like we are all ready to look at things differently.  People are seeking more meaning, a kind of connection with each other and a reason to sit at a table and talk.  If there was ever a time for Yerba mate to resonate with Americans, it is now.  

My friend Pamela Saunders immediately loved the idea and saw the magic.  She decided to partner with me and together, we created "Love from Argentina."  We are a company that is sourcing artisanal products including mates, bombillas, and Yerba mate.  We want to start a wave of action, helping people to connect with comfort, to themselves and to others. 


This is the list of what you will need to make mate.

1.  Mate - This is the gourd, or cup used to contain the loose leaf Yerba mate and what you will pour the hot water into.  There are a million different varieties.  There are natural ones made out of gourds, there are glass ones, wooden ones, metal ones, plastic, or silicon, to name just a few.  Each has different advantages and different feels.  Just like coffee cups, they will each have their special attributes and you will choose a different one for different times.

Mate (cup), Bombilla (straw), and Bombilla cleaner

2.  Bombilla - This is the diffusing straw that fits into the mate.  The bombilla is used so that you can drink the water without getting tea leaves into your mouth.  While most straws are metallic, there are also some made of bamboo, plastic, and other things.  The bombillas can be long or short.  You will most likely use one according to the size of your mate.  They are also bent or straight.  This is a preference, and you will decide according to how you like to hold the mate.  There is no right or wrong here.

Bombillas - you can never have too many.

3.  Yerba Mate - Loose leaf Yerba is a kind of tea.  The tea goes into the gourd.  You will want to fill the gourd with a few tablespoons of mate the first time you drink.  Increase the amount of Yerba according to your tastes.

4.  Water - You will want hot water for the mate, but not boiling.  Here too, it is a matter of taste.  Too hot will burn your tongue and will also weaken the taste of the tea.  Not hot enough and you will not get good flavor out of the Yerba.  I like to heat my water until it steams.  Most like to put the hot water in a thermos so it will remain hot, and can also be a bit more transportable.  In other words, it might be easier for you to take a thermos to your desk rather than a tea kettle.  Do what works best for you.

5.  Sweetener - Most need to sweeten the mate.  You can sweeten either the Yerba mate itself or the water.   Sweeteners include stevia, maple syrup, honey or any variety of sugar.  Since I like to take advantage of the health benefits Yerba mate has to offer, I use a natural sweetener, stevia.  I either add the loose leaf organic stevia leaves to the Yerba, or I place a few drops of liquid stevia into my thermos.  This is a matter of taste and preference.

Making an amazing Yerba mate is very easy.  After a time or two putting it together, you will see it only takes a few minutes to make.  What is wonderful about mate is that anyone you ask will have a different opinion on the do's and don'ts of how to make the perfect one.  I love hearing people's different advice.  (Don't boil the water, don't move the straw once the water has been poured, shake the Yerba in the mate to mix the tea, only one person can pour the water….)  That being said, find the way that works for you.  Play with the amount of Yerba, play with fun mates (a cup that holds the loose leaf tea) and different bombillas.

Curing the Mate Gourd

If you have a mate with a plastic or glass interior, please go to the next step.

Curing the mate just means that you seal the inside of the gourd.  There are many ways to do this.  The easiest is to let the mate "cure itself" with use.  Others prefer to fill the gourd with Yerba mate or ground coffee, fill with water and let sit for 24 hours.  You are ready to go!!  Every now and then, allow the mate to fully dry out.  Over time, you will see that the inside of the gourd will get hard and seal.

Heating and sweetening water

Use filtered water.  Heat until water is steaming, but does not boil.  Look for little champagne like bubbles. Any water that is too hot will “wash” the tea leaves and make a very weak tea after a few servings.  Pour water into a pitcher or thermos that allows for a “narrow stream” to pour out.  Using a thermos will allow you to keep the water warm for a longer period of time.

If you have decided to sweeten the water, add your stevia or another product to the thermos.

First time EVER drinking mate

Fill the gourd about 1/3 full of tea. Weaker than Argentinians would prefer, but delicious!  Dampen the tea with room temperature water.  Allow the tea leaves to "swell."  Place the bombilla (mouthpiece up) into the tea leaves.  Add a few drops of stevia or another sweetener to the hot water and pour the hot water into the gourd until it reached the top.  The Yerba mate does not steep.  You drink it right away because it is strong and gets too bitter for me if you wait too long. Every cup thereafter is made with the same tea leaves. Just keep adding water and sometimes, stevia and drink until the tea has lost its flavor.  So, you pour and sip, pour and sip.  You should get 6-10 pours from the mate.  If you want the mate to be stronger, next time, just add more Yerba 

If using a gourd, please note that the first few times you use it, the stain on the gourd will bleed.  This is a hand painted cup and the paint needs to “set” with use. You can either wash the outside with warm soap and water or just place a paper towel under for a few uses or until the color sets and stops running.

Filling the mate

You will want to start slowly.  Yerba is quite strong.  Fill the mate with Yerba about 1/3 of the way full.  Put your palm over the opening and shake so that the leaves mix with powder.  Turn the mate right-side up.  (After you have had mate a few times, you may want to increase the amount of Yerba in the mate.  Most will settle at around 2/3 full)

Adding water to the mate

Add a little room temperature water to one side of the gourd filled with your tea.  The leaves will "swell" a bit allowing for the bombilla to be placed inside.  Once that is done, push the bombilla through.  The bottom of the bombilla should touch the bottom of the mate cup.

Add hot water to the top of the mate, sip through the straw and enjoy.  If it needs a bit of sweetener, add more.  Refill and sip until the water has washed away the flavor (6-10 fills.)  Once you are done, you can toss out the wet Yerba mate and either refill with more, or let the gourd air dry until its next use.  

To Clean

With a small spoon or your finger, scoop out all the tea.  Rinse well and set to dry.