Yerba mate is not tea, at least not in the strictest sense of the word. But in North America it’s often lumped in with tea due to the fact that it’s a leafy substance that’s something like tea and because it’s steeped in water and typically served hot. But all of these finer distinctions are mostly irrelevant to the millions of South Americans whose love for this beverage rivals that of coffee drinkers from our part of the world.
Yerba mate is traditionally prepared in and consumed from a gourd known as a mate. The beverage itself is sipped through a filter tipped metal straw, of sorts, called a bombilla. This is the most authentic and effective method for preparing and drinking yerba mate, but nowadays the beverage is also being produced in tea bags and has even begun to turn up in bottled beverages.
The easiest way to enjoy the yerba mate experience is by letting someone else take care of the preparation. North Americans, particularly those in and around big cities, might be lucky enough to find a cafe, restaurant or tea house that serves yerba mate, perhaps even in the traditional manner. If you ever find yourself in northern California, you can drop in to the Guayaki Mate Bar and sample from its wide selection of yerba mate-based drinks.
If you’re planning to drink yerba mate in the traditional manner and you have a new mate (gourd) on hand, the first thing you’ll need to do is cure it. For a few pointers on how to do this, refer to these instructions. For another perspective on curing, along with a few preparation tips for yerba mate, look here. Look for some additional preparation pointers here. For a few tips on non-traditional preparation methods, including making yerba mate in a French press, look here.
For a more extensive look at yerba mate and suggestions for additional informational resources, refer to this Wikipedia entry.
Check out Williams blog, Tea Guy Speaks.