Mate is to the Argentines what a cup of tea is to the Brits. If you’ve spent any time in Argentina, you’ve probably already come across these special leaves from the South American rain forest, pronounced yer-bah mah-tay. They provide the same caffeine boost as coffee with all the health benefits of tea (think vitamins, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants). While most hardcore materos drink their mate pure and unadulterated and would scoff at the idea of adding anything other than the yerba, there are ways of making it more drinkable for delicate palates that find it too bitter on its own. Here are five alternative ways to enjoy your mate.
1. Add some citrus-y zest
Some people complain of heartburn when drinking mate. Adding some orange or lemon zest or small bits of peel to your yerba mix helps neutralize the acidity in your stomach, while adding a fruity twist. For the best results, use dried or roasted peel. If that sounds like too much bother, look out for a citrus blend of yerba mate in your local supermercardo that will take the edge off the bitterness.
2. Mix it with other herbs
Another way to jazz up your mate is to add some extra herbs to your gourd. Fresh peppermint makes your mate infinitely more refreshing, while chamomile, known for its relaxing properties, adds a sweet, floral flavor. Depending on your taste buds, you might also want to experiment with a few sprigs of rosemary or some fragrant sage (believe it or not, that sweet pine-like flavor adds a pleasant touch).
3. Drink it cold when it’s hot
An ice-cold mate is amazingly refreshing on a hot summer’s day. Like iced coffee, there are various ways you can prepare it. You can either brew the yerba leaves in hot water first in the usual fashion and then leave it to chill for a couple of hours. Or, prepare a cold brew by mixing the leaves into an ice-filled jug of water and allowing it to brew (if you like your mate weak, 15 minutes is sufficient but if you want a stronger tea, let it sit for a few hours or even overnight). If in doubt, ask a Paraguayan, who are pioneers of the iced mate.
4. Sweeten your mate
If you find mate to be very bitter then you can add a spoon of sugar, artificial sweetener or honey (honey being the natural, healthier option, of course).
5. And for more adventurous mate drinkers…
Other less common ways to boost your mate include adding coffee or alcohol. The combination of coffee and yerba makes for a wildly caffeinated drink, making it the perfect concoction to kick start your day. Mixing mate with booze is an old tradition, which remains very much alive in the campo of the northern regions of Argentina. It’s a good choice on a cold winter's night when you’re looking for that warm fuzzy feeling inside. To prepare it, first soak the yerba tea leaves with a generous pour of brandy or [cachaça]. Once all the alcohol has been absorbed, add water in the usual fashion then you can top it up with a fresh dose of booze when necessary.
Remember your mate manners
One thing to remember if you are going to sweeten your mate or add another flavor to the mix, this is only to be done in the company of people who want to do the same. If you’re sharing mate with a circle of friends and the mate was served bitter by the cebador (the person preparing the mate) then it would be a faux pas to get out the sweetener and sweeten it yourself when it’s passed to you.
And remember.... when someone offers you mate; always drink it all before handing it back. If you’re finished and don’t care for more, just say gracias as you hand the gourd back. If you want more, hold off on the thanks and wait for it to be offered again. And never, under any circumstances, move that bombilla (metal straw) from its position in the gourd.
How to make basic mate at home
Fill your mate cup just over half full with yerba mate. Tilt the gourd until the leaves cover the sides and almost reach the top. Before putting the straw in, pour hot (never boiling) water covering the bottom half of the drink (a temperature of 140 to 158ºF / 60 to 70ºC is best). Let it sit for a minute so that the leaves absorb the water. Put the filtered end of the mate straw into the tea at a slight angle. Take a long slurp.
Got any other tips for spicing up your mate? Share them with our readers in the comments section below.