How to Use It.
Its most popular form comes in 500 gram (17.6 oz.) bags of loose-leaf tea that is dried and ground.
In some places it is available in tea bags, called Mate Cocido, but these do not provide the strength and full benefit of the more traditional methods for drinking it.
Yerba Mate (literally, the "Mate Herb") gets its name from the traditional cup (called Mate as well) used to drink it.
This cup, originally a dried and decorated gourd, can be made out of almost anything these days. In South America, where Maté was introduced to the world, Maté is still sipped from the Maté cup using a metal or wood decorative straw & filter called a bombilla.
The modern Maté drinker can choose any number of ways to extract the beneficial tea from the herb. It can be brewed like normal loose-leaf tea and filtered before pouring into a cup.
It can be use in a coffee press, where the herb is infused with hot water, and then the herb is pressed out of the way of the tea.
It can be made into a flavorful iced tea to drink on a hot summer day. It can be made like coffee, in a standard automatic coffee maker (make sure you use a large amount of the herb).
And, if you have a Maté cup and a bombilla, you can follow in the foot steps of the ancients by sipping Maté the traditional way.
How to prepare a traditional Mate infusion
To prepare the Maté infusion, the dried minced leaves of the Yerba Maté are placed inside the Maté cup and hot water (approx. 70 C) is added (this is called "cebar el Maté").
The infusion is sucked through a metal pipe called "bombilla," which has a strainer at its lower end to prevent the minced leaves from reaching the mouth.
There are as many different techniques to prepare Maté as Maté drinkers, here is a fairly traditional method:
Fill the Maté cup with Yerba Maté up to 3/4 of its capacity.
A variation that will give you more tea per infusion and a less potent taste is to fill the Maté cup only half way, or even a little less than that.
Pour some hot water in until it nearly fills the cup.
Don't worry if some of the leaves remain dry, floating on the top.
They will eventually absorb water in subsequent infusions.
Let it stand a few seconds and replenish with hot water when the previous one is absorbed by the dry Maté leaves.
When the water is not absorbed anymore, close the bombilla's "mouthpiece" with your thumb and insert it firmly into the Maté.
Some people add sugar and/or some herbs (like mint, for example).
Some replace the water with milk, specially for the children.
You drink and replenish the Maté with hot water many times till the liquid comes out with almost no taste.
The repetitive extraction with hot water seems to be an efficient way of extracting the beneficial properties of the herb.
Enjoy! Although the first taste will be an unusual flavor for newcomers, it is a haunting taste that beckons you back time and time again. It's almost as if the body knows how good Maté is for you and calls out for you to take in more.