Everything you need to know about Yerba Mate Uncover South America

South America | Blog Everything you need to know about Yerba Mate

June 23, 2021

So you’ve recently heard and seen your favourite celebrity drink, Yerba Mate, and you’re now wondering... What actually is Yerba Mate? This article breaks down exactly what it is and why it is gaining popularity globally. From Obama and Madonna to Griezmann and Ronaldo, we tell you everything you need to know about this tea known for its health benefits.

Countries where Yerba Mate comes from

Initially mate was cultivated in present day Paraguay. The indigenous Guarani and Tupi communities grew this crop solely for their use. With the commercialization of this tea it became widespread in central and southern regions of South America including Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia and Chile. The Druze in Lebanon and Syria also speak highly of its benefits.

Process of Cultivation

Native of South America, yerba mate is now specifically grown in Argentina. However, it is also cultivated in Paraguay, Uruguay and Southern Brazil.

The yerba mate tree, belongs to the holly family. The shrub produces small berries that blossom into flowers, similar to a coffee shrub. The first harvest takes between 4-6 years after planting. Harvest occurs once every 2 years in rotation. This means that only part of the plantation is harvested, thus providing a constant crop and giving the tree two years to replace growth lost due to pruning. Seedlings are germinated from buds that have turned a deep purple. 

Harvesters are experienced family members who have learnt the trade and skill from generation to generation. Leaves are carefully hand-picked. Care is taken not to hurt the tree during harvesting. After picking the crop is dried, sometimes over an open fire and cut before consumption. Leaves gathered in February and March tend to have a higher stimulant property than those gathered in September. This however, does not adjust the flavour.

Benefits of Mate

Like any tea Yerba Mate is rich in antioxidants and nutrients but includes these added benefits which make it a magical beverage: 

  • Xanthines, which act as stimulants and are found in tea and coffee and chocolate.
  • Caffeoyl which is the main health promoting antioxidan
  • Saponins are bitter compounds that are said to have anti-inflammatory and cholesterol lowering properties.
  • Polyphenols are a large group of antioxidants which are linked to reduce the risk of various diseases.
  • Natural compounds such as vitamin C, E Selenium and zinc which help boost immunity.

The antioxidant power of yerba mate tea is slightly higher than that of green tea and contains seven out of nine essential amino acids, in addition to every mineral and vitamin the body needs. It has been claimed that drinking a cup or two daily of yerba mate boosts energy and improves mental focus without having the jitters that come with drinking coffee. Maybe a good recommendation for that work colleague of yours that starts shaking their leg after 2 minutes without coffee? 

It also enhances physical performance and burns approximately 24% of fat during moderate-intense workouts, plus it reduces fatigue and muscle contractions. Studies carried out prove that it can prevent bacterial infections and if you thought that was it, you’re wrong: Yerba Mate may also help in weight loss and belly fat by reducing appetite and boosting metabolism.

To top it all off, it can lower blood sugar and reduce complications related to diabetes whilst also lowering risk of heart diseases as it contains antioxidant compounds.

Why has Yerba Mate popularity grown?

Yerba Mate drink is more a beverage than a tea. Known locally as chimarrao or cimarron. One of the favourite drinks in South America surpassing coffee or traditional tea, particularly in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. 

Like coffee, mate produces caffeine which is the main reason for its popularity. Many of us are accustomed to a hot beverage in the morning to give a boost to start the day, without the nervousness that comes with coffee. The indigenous people of Paraguay and Southern Brazil believed that it provided medicinal and supernatural benefits.

Globally popularity has spread of mate South America as an energy boost drink. As pointed out in benefits in also helps with digestion, weight loss and improved concentration. Its antioxidant properties are sought after against infections, low blood sugar and heart disease. As people all over the world become more health conscious than the popularity of such a beverage can only grow in demand.

Yerba Mate has become so popular that it can now be bought in cans, like any soft drink and can be drank cold as with iced tea for a refreshing, invigorating kick.

How to Prepare Mate

How you make mate depends entirely on the teachings of your cebador (male server) or cebadora (female server). Naturally, opinions differ but below is a rough guideline to brewing the perfect cup.
Fill a calabash with a third of dried yerba mate leaves. Slowly add fresh water, not boiling. Temperatures should be between 70-80 degrees Celsius. Steep for 3-5 minutes. It is important to keep the gourd at an angle to gather the leaves to one side. As calabashes cannot be found in cupboards across the globe a good alternative would be a teapot!

How to Drink Mate

Traditionally yerba mate is consumed from a gourd and sipped through a metal straw with a filter that strains out leaf fragments. The host takes the first sip. The gourd is then past around a circle and drinking from it is a sign of friendship and bonding. Maybe hold that idea until after the pandemic.

Considered as South America’s favourite drink, mate has a long history that is steeped (no pun meant) in history. There are some guidelines to follow when partaking in this ritual.

  • Traditionally mate is drunk from a calabash or gourd. However, a mug or cup made from wood or glass is acceptable. In Paraguay mate is drunk from guampa a hollowed-out bull horn. Some of these mugs are ornately decorated in silver and gold.
  • As explained mate is drunk through a straw known as a bombilla. This straw is commonly made from stainless steel though materials such as glass can be used.
  • In this part of the world yerba mate is far more than just a drink. Legend describes this beverage as “drink of the gods”. It’s a social and cultural tradition bringing families, loved ones and strangers together. It’s a great sign of respect when you are offered mate.

Following are the fundamental mate etiquette. Rituals vary but very slightly by country. Get ready to impress locals with your knowledge.

  • Drinkers sit in a circle known as the “ronda de mate”
  • Never help yourself to mate. 
  • A cebador or family member will be in charge of serving.
  • The cebador always pours the first mate. As this is the strongest and most bitter the server will be able to check for sweetness and temperature before offering the rest of the group. In the olden days it was also a sign that mate was not poisoned.
  • Mate is always passed clockwise. Ensure that you accept the calabash or cup with your right hand not to offend the group.
  • Don’t touch the bombilla, the straw. Nor think of stirring the mate with it. The cebador will take offense as it implies that he/she has done a bad job of brewing the tea.
  • Drink the full cup. Its considered impolite to make the guests in the circle wait.
  • Always pass the mate back to the cebador. Never pass the mate on to the next person. It’s the job of the cebador. The gourd has to be handed back to the cebador who will pass it on to the next person.
  • Only say gracias when you don’t want a refill. In western culture we say no thanks when we don’t want something. In mate culture you say thank you to the cebador when you have finished drinking. Silence will be taken as a sign that you would like another cup.
  • If for hygiene reasons you do not wish to drink from the same straw, politely decline the offer, without comment on the unsanitary aspect.

We hope this article has given you a little taste of what to expect for your first sip of Yerba Mate and we’d love to have you enjoy it during one of our tours! Contact us today so we can create for you the trip of your dreams!


Nathalie Coeln


Booking completed. You will receive email with booking confirmation.

Payment Gateway Error

We are sorry but we are facing our payment gateway error. Please try again soon.


We are sorry but we cannot complete booking due to availability change. Please try again with new dates.


We are sorry but we cannot complete booking due to availability change. Please try again with new dates.


We are sorry but we cannot complete booking due to booking key error. Please try again.

Almost done! You will now be directed to PayPal to complete the secure booking process. You're so close to booking an amazing holiday in Colombia!