Dry yerba mate, which is often called the “sacred herb” is an excellent alternative to coffee. It stimulates, brightens the mind, and has an incredibly beneficial effect on health, while it delights with the intense but pleasant bitterness. There’s a whole ritual involved in the preparation of yerba mate that allows you to get the full taste and health benefits from it. So, how to brew yerba mate and what accessories should you use? You will find out this and more later in this article. 

I’m a huge fan of yerba mate and love writing about it, so this article could be quite long. On the bright side, you’ll definitely learn everything there is to know about this amazing herb! So, let’s dive right into it.  

What is yerba mate

Yerba mate (also known as Jesuit, Paraguay, or mission tea) is an aromatic, stimulating brew from South America. It’s made from the leaves of the Paraguay Holly, which is the plant that comes from the border of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina. There, too (and also in Uruguay), it has enjoyed the status of the national drink – a large part of their population enjoyed yerba for centuries. It reached Europe in the 17th century thanks to the Jesuits when monks promoted the drink as an alternative to Asian tea. In Paraguay, drinking yerba together is an opportunity for meetings to this day.

 In recent years, yerba mate is gaining popularity for its health benefits in our cultural circle as well. Everyone appreciates its energetic potential and positive effect on health. No wonder people often call it a healthier alternative to coffee.

The name yerba mate comes from the Latin words “herba” (herb) and “mati” (calabash). A traditional pot for drinking the drink is a special mug made of a gourd (more on that later). There are several types of yerba, namely: Paraguayan, Argentinean, and Brazilian.

Paraguayan yerba mate

 The most powerful because they dry the leaves over the smoke from the fire. Because of this process, it has some very strong stimulating properties. Most often Paraguayan yerba is drunk warm, but Paraguayans prefer it frozen (which is perfect for summer days). Both of them add fresh herbs and cold juice to it.

Argentine yerba mate

This one, on the other hand, has a milder flavor and weaker stimulant properties. This is due to its drying process, which is shorter than that of Paraguayan yerba. In Argentina, they sip the drink in the morning, just like coffee. For Argentineans, it’s their national drink. It’s essentially the same as a hookah for the inhabitants of Arab countries.

Brazilian yerba mate 

Has finely ground leaves that may even resemble flour. The infusion is thick, so you need a special straw called a bomba or bombilla to drink it (more on that later). It has a light green color and a grassy scent. I would say it kind of looks like green coffee. It’s also very efficient, so you can brew it more often than, for example, its Paraguay counterpart.

Yerba mate – a gift from an Indian goddess

Yerba mate typical of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Mountain scenery in the background.

The history of yerba mate goes back to pre-Columbian times – Indians of the Guarani tribe were the first to try it. They found that chewing or infusing the leaves was effective in reducing fatigue and refreshing the mind. The natives, however, did not know the techniques needed to establish plantations, so they obtained the plant only from wild plants. Due to the limited number of bushes, each of them was considered sacred and worshiped, and drinking yerba mate itself took the form of a mystical celebration. The presence in native mythology is a perfect example of the esteem that yerba mate and its benefits had even such a long time ago.

According to folk tradition, holly of yerba mate appeared on earth thanks to the goddesses Yari and Arai. As they walked in human form through the jungle, a jaguar attacked them! They survived only thanks to the intervention of a hunter named Guarani, who knocked down the aggressive beast with an accurate shot. After their return to heaven, the goddesses decided to reward their savior. One night they planted a mysterious blue seed in front of his house. in the morning the hunter found a few small trees with lush green leaves. It was the Paraguayan holly, which from then on became a symbol of friendship and peace.

Health properties of yerba mate

The biggest advantages of yerba mate include a high content of nutrients such as B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9) and vitamins C and E. In addition, it contains magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, iron, potassium, calcium, and silicon. Our bodies can function properly thanks to these microelements, so we must get enough of them on our diet. Other than that, yerba mate has the following health benefits: 

  • stimulates the nervous system
  • increases the ability to concentrate
  • lowers blood pressure, improves circulation
  • has a relaxing effect on the muscles
  • reduces the feeling of fatigue and hunger
  • supports the fight against asthma
Yerba mate cup isolated on white background.

Yerba mate also contains a high content of chlorogenic acid which is a strong antioxidant. Taking it lowers blood sugar levels and can even protect against diabetes. What’s more, it is helpful in the fight against insulin resistance, as it increases the body’s sensitivity to its effects. As a bonus, the chlorogenic acid contained in yerba mate can help you lose weight thanks to its slimming properties. 

How can it boost your brain?

Yerba mate is more than just another coffee substitute, it has an incomparably better effect on the human body. First of all, it has better stimulating properties, and thanks to B vitamins and magnesium it helps to improve concentration and attention. Yerba mate drinkers have more energy than coffee lovers and can work longer on specific tasks.

The drink also has a beneficial effect on the human psyche. The high concentration of B vitamins makes yerba mate an anti-depressant and soothes anxiety.

Of course, you shouldn’t treat it as a typical medicine, but thanks to the substances it contains, the brain can be better nourished. This, in turn, will result in better well-being. Yerba mate is worth using as a natural dietary supplement when our emotional performance drops.

Yerba and exercise

The drink is very popular among athletes. Unlike coffee, it does not rinse out nutrients and even provides them in large amounts. Many athletes treat yerba mate as an isotonic drink, and for a good reason. Drinking it after exercise restores balance to the muscles and protects against excessive fatigue. To feel the benefits of drinking yerba mate, it’s worth drinking a few sips between series of exercises instead of pure water or a sweetened isotonic drink. 

Does it affect sexual performance?

The health properties of yerba mate make our bodies much more efficient overall. Thanks to that, as it turns out, people who regularly drink Paraguay Holly infusion also have a greater libido. All the aforementioned benefits of drinking mate, such as increased endurance and comprehensive nutrition of the body, make its consumers also … better lovers.

Yerba mate also has some great benefits on the condition of the skin, nails, and hair. Thanks to vitamins B, C, E, silicon, and zinc, hair grows faster and the nail structure is stronger. This leads to many yerba mate enthusiasts looking better and enjoying greater popularity with the opposite sex. What’s more, the infusion helps fight free radicals that contribute to faster aging. A younger-looking and healthy body inevitably makes you more of a stud – that’s a fact!

What are xanthines and saponins in yerba mate?

Xanthines are compounds thanks to which yerba mate has stimulating properties. These include caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine. Caffeine activates the cerebral cortex and dilates the coronary vessels. Thanks to it, gastric juice is released. In turn, theophylline dilates the bronchi and improves respiratory efficiency, so taking it brings relief, among others. asthmatics and smokers suffering from respiratory diseases.

Saponins are chemical compounds belonging to glycosides. We can find them both in the Paraguay Holly and other plants. Thanks to them, the yerba mate drink acts as an expectorant and diuretic, supports the secretion of mucus, and stimulates the absorption of nutrients. Saponins are recommended for people with too high cholesterol. They also have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.

The saponins present in the infusion support digestive processes and facilitate the reduction of toxins in the body. Thanks to this, yerba mate is very popular both among people who like its flavors and those who drink it because of its health properties. Xanthins and saponins make the energy boost a bit slower than with caffeine.

Yerba mate vs. coffee. Which one is healthier?

Male hand holds traditional drink yerba mate. Outdoors in the autumn forest.

Recently, more and more people are giving up their everyday cup of “small black” in favor of yerba mate. I’m doesn’t surprise me as this approach has some very rational premises. Let’s take a closer look at the details. 

The energizing effect of both infusions results from the presence of caffeine – brewed coffee contains 380 to 650 mg of it. There will be a little less of it in yerba mate, but still quite a lot overall. One cup of the infusion contains about 360 mg of caffeine. So why is yerba mate a better choice? The devil is in the details.

See also: Top 10 herbs of Ayurveda and their amazing benefits

Yerba mate infusion contains many more ingredients valuable for the body. Every 100 ml will provide us with 6 vitamins, micro-, and macroelements as well as potassium, niacin, lutein, and phosphorus. Coffee consumption is often accompanied by a sudden burst of energy, followed by soon weakness and general weakness. It’s because it rinses out magnesium in the body. Thanks to yerba mate you can forget about this unpleasant feeling! The stimulation will be less abrupt, but longer and more stable. With multiple refills of the infusion, we provide balanced doses of compounds and nutrients without a sudden crash. The stimulation effect will therefore be released gradually and remain at a similar level.

Is yerba for everyone?

Although yerba mate has many health benefits, there are some things you need to keep in mind before enjoying this wonderful drink. First of all, children and pregnant women should avoid it due to its high content of caffeine. It may also be harmful to breastfeeding mothers. Nevertheless, in their case, there is no need to give up drinking yerba mate, but only limit yourself to two cups a day.

Many benefits of drinking yerba mate will be felt primarily by people who work mentally and people whose work requires concentration and clarity of mind. Students, lawyers, and office workers eagerly reach for the brew. Yerba mate has a beneficial effect on psychophysical abilities – this is due to caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine.

A few interesting facts about yerba mate:
1. Many famous people drink Yerba. They include Leo Messi, Diego Maradona, and even… Pope Francis.
2. Yerba can be brewed up to 7 times.
3. When harvesting yerba mate, the whole branches are cut off, not just the leaves, as is the case with regular tea.
4. There are about 200 species of yerba in the world.
5. In Russia, dried yerba is poured over with juice instead of water.
6. Yerba can be brewed with hot milk.

What is bombilla

To be able to enjoy yerba infusions, we will need a bombilla. While the name might sound intriguing, it’s simply a yerba mate filter straw. Due to the large number of fine coffee grounds in the infusion, it’s an essential accessory. Most often it takes the form of an oblong tube made of a metal alloy or, less often, wood. Its upper part ends with a profiled mouthpiece. There is a filter at the bottom which, depending on the model, can take various forms.

Flat filters, also known as spoon filters, are the most popular. They will work well with most types of drought. In the case of mixtures with a fine grammage, triple filter bombillas are a better choice. They usually also have two more layers under the outer “casing”. Thanks to them, even the smallest coffee grounds will not get into your mouth. There are also yerba mate tubes with a spiral spring on the market. Unfortunately, they are not that accurate.

Yerba mate vessels

Calabash and bombilla with yerba mate.Traditional yerba mate tea

Other essential accessories are yerba mate vessels and the choice here is huge. And so, depending on its shape and material, you can distinguish several types. “Matero” is the most general term use for any type of vessel.

Guampa – an oblong vessel for an infusion from a real cow’s horn. It often has a special handle that allows it to be hung around the neck. There are also alternatives in the form of guampas made of wood.

Palo Santo – the mythical palo santo is a South American tree belonging to the plum family. It owes its unusual name (Spanish for “sacred wood”) to the release of a fragrant resin with an unusual, soothing smell. Palo santo is used in folk medicine and is a popular ingredient in incense. It is also used to produce yerba mate vessels.

Traditional calabash – tropical dry and hollow pumpkin. Its first users were the Guarani Indians long before the arrival of Europeans. It’s often used to this day, although it is gradually being replaced by more practical ceramic materials and palo santo. Like the term “matero”, the word “calabash” is often used in the context of all yerba mate dishes.

Ceramic calabash – ceramic yerba mate vessels are some of the most popular choices. Their great advantage is the low price and high resistance to mechanical damage. Also, ceramic calabashes do not mold and are easy to keep clean. As a rule, they will contain the most infusion.

Cuia – the sister of the classic calabash. Another part of the tropical pumpkin is used to make it – the one closer to the peduncle. As a result, the vessel takes a different shape. Besides that, it has rather similar characteristics. It’s very popular, especially in the south of Brazil. The local specialty – green and dusty chimarrao – is most often served in it.

Types of yerba mate

The world of yerba mate is impressive in its abundance and different types and benefits are related to several factors. The taste and properties are influenced by, for example, the nature and location of the plantation, the type of soil, cultivation technology, and methods of subsequent processing, drying method, and packaging. 

Elaborada / Elaborada con palo 

Traditional yerba mate with sticks and some dust. After harvesting, it is dried with hot smoke and then aged in cold stores for several months. You will most often find it in Argentina and Paraguay. Also, dried leaves from Paraguay are generally considered to be slightly more intense in taste.

Despalada / Sin palo

Spanish for “no sticks”. The process of its formation is analogous to the traditional elaborada. The only difference is that at some stage of its production, they remove pieces of a twig. As a result, we obtain yerba consisting of leaves and dust in various proportions. Because the sticks do not contain caffeine, despalada is considered more stimulating.


Traditional yerba mate with a slightly milder taste and a consistently high caffeine content. Delicate notes are achieved by maturing the herbs for a long time under strictly defined conditions.

Sin humo / Air-dried / Yerba mate green

A type of yerba mate that has been dried with air instead of smoke during processing (as in traditional varieties). As a result, it has a vivid green color, its taste is milder, and the bitterness is significantly neutralized. Nevertheless, the caffeine content is at a similar level as in the case of “smoky” products. Green yerba mate goes well with fruit and herbal additions. It’s a great option for beginners.

Con hierbas / herbal 

Yerba mate with herbal additives. In the form of dried herbs, oils, or aromas. Depending on the type of composition, they may have health-promoting benefits.

Con frutas / fruit 

Yerba mate with the addition of fruit or fruity aromas. They work great not only as a warm infusion but also in a chilled form.

Organica / Organic 

The category does not refer to the taste, but to the technique of growing and processing the dried fruit. When buying organic yerba mate, we can be sure that they were created following the principles of organic farming. 

How to brew Yerba Mate

If you’re about to drink mate for the first time, be prepared for a good dose of emotions – the taste is not associated with our traditional drinks. Needless to say, Yerba Mate is generally bitter, so there’s a high chance it will twist your face in a grimace! Especially when we are newbies who are not used to sugar-free drinks and we are making our first brew.

Take it easy, though, with time you’ll get more experienced and the taste buds get used to the specific, bitter aftertaste. Then the wonderful world of yerba opens up to you. And it is a world as large as it is diverse!

When it comes to preparing yerba mate, there are no strict rules. The only important thing is the water temperature, which should be between 70 and 80 degrees Celsius. Ideally, you should measure it with a food thermometer. However, if you don’t have one, you can pour water over the infusion about 10 minutes after boiling it or feel the moment when the water becomes slightly white during cooking and air bubbles are visible.

You can also prepare it in the traditional way using bombilla and a calabash:

1. Pour dry yerba mate into a calabash. For the infusion not to be too bitter, in the beginning, you should suffice from about ¼ of the cup (2-3 tablespoons). 

2. Cover the top of the vessel with your hand, turn it upside down and shake it several times. Thanks to this, the coarsest pieces of dried herbs will end up at the bottom. This is important because they will come into contact with the bombilla strainer. This way it won’t get clogged.

3. Tilt the vessel so that the herbs are placed diagonally (45 degrees angle). Place the bombilla along with the resulting mound.

4. Carefully pour a little cold water into the dish to moisten the dried fruit. In this way, the brew will not lose its taste and health and stimulating properties too quickly.

Top up with hot water (its temperature should not exceed 80 degrees Celsius). Wait for a while and enjoy the infusion!

Depending on the type of herb, you can have a few refills of water. Keep doing this until the yerba loses its flavor. To diversify the taste, you can enrich the infusion with herbs, honey, lemon, or other additives.

Tereré – for when it’s hot

Wildly high temperatures are nothing unusual when it’s summer in Paraguay. That’s probably the reason why they don’t really enjoy a hot yerba mate… yeah, that’s got to be it.

Paraguayans have a proven way to cool down, though – tereré!

Its preparation does not differ much from the traditional one. In fact, it’s enough to replace warm, chilled water and add a few ice cubes to the vessel. After just a few minutes, we can enjoy a drink that not only refreshes but also stimulates, providing a solid dose of natural caffeine. Your favorite frozen fruit juice can also be a delicious alternative to water! This solution is sometimes called – and I fool you not – a Russian tereré. Reportedly, it was developed by Soviet volunteers fighting in the Paraguayan army in the early 20th century.

Bottom line

If you made it this far after my wall of text, thank you! Yerba mate and its incredible health benefits are dear to my heart, as you can see after this long article. My biggest goal is to share this knowledge with people like you, so we can all enjoy a long and healthy life.  

Until you drink your own, traditionally prepared yerba, its taste, and effect will remain a pure theory. So, it’s time for your own experience!

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I'm Lucas, a 30-year-old guy from Poland who's passionate about natural ways to fight aging and staying healthy for as long as possible.