Tuesday, January 6, 2009

what's with the thermos?

And the answer is...Yerba Mate (pronounced yair-ba mah-tay).

For all of you who have been wondering why a green thermos...and a sippy cup...show up on my photos on frequent occasions, today I am letting you in on the secret.

It is a well-known fact that my beverage of choice is coffee...that and water and I'm a happy camper. When my son-in-law, Tim, arrived on the scene some years back...though very polite about it, he didn't seem overly enthused with the coffee I generously poured for him. Before long he was bringing his favorite beverage with him....in the signature thermos that still travels with him wherever he goes.

So what exactly is yerba mate? I did a little research these last few days...and I am quite willing to share my newly acquired information.

Yerba mate is a shade subtropical tree of the holly family with evergreen leaves...grown in South America, and most widely cultivated in Paraguay. The infusion called mate is prepared by steeping the crushed dry leaves and stems of yerba mate in hot water, rather than in boiling water like black tea. Known as 'the drink of the gods', it possesses a multitude of health benefits...it boosts immunity, controls the appetite, reduces stress and eliminates insomnia...to name a few! It is a slightly more potent stimulant than coffee and much gentler on the stomach (so says wikipedia). Drinking mate with friends from a shared hollow gourd or bull's horn (called a guampa in Spanish) is a common social practise.

I'm not really up on the fine art of making a perfect infusion of mate...but it seems one fills the guampa about half full of yerba leaves...adds hot water and allows several minutes for the brewing process. The mate is then sipped through a bombilla (silver straw), which has a sieve on the bottom to strain out the loose leaves. The entire drinking apparatus looks a little suspicious to me! I think I would prefer my yerba leaves in a tea bag...steeped in my favorite teapot and served in a mug.

It seems Tim began this social ritual of sipping mate in college...with his buddies. Despite his best efforts, he hasn't had much luck in finding that social mate-drinking companionship in our household...although Kris joins him on occasion. I just have never seen anything that appealing about a drink that smells like baled alfalfa...and definitely can't get exciting about drinking from a shared gourd. But now that I have all this new information about Tim's healthy drink of choice...I might even be convinced to try it. (Did I mention that it is used to boost metabolism...and that it increases vitality and longevity?) Maybe a little sip...just once...and out of nice coffee mug!

So, there you have it...Yerbe Mate 101! And since it is becoming increasingly popular in North America, a little information might not be a bad thing.

Have a great day...


  1. No pressure, but I said to myself as your blog came up on my roll this morning..."Yeah, and this better be good!" LOL!

    And it was...this is fascinating. Now all that's missing is an interview with your dear sil who might further explain in details how this beverage has helped him. I do see that he has no weight problem.

    Believe me, I'm on day three of "the diet" and I am starving. John's already lost three pounds and I've only lost three days so I can tell that dieting with him is going to be no fun. Perhaps I need a secret!

  2. That took me back to our South American trip of this time last year! Everywhere people were drinking mate - many from little silver-decorated gourds. I'm with you on the smell, and I wasn't too keen on the sharing bit - unless it's the Great Dane, I don't like to share my drinks. I was also a little put off by the fact that the mixture just sat and was sipped at over a long period of time - too much like a science experiment gone wrong for me!!!
    I caught up on your belated Christmas service post this morning too. How lovely that must have been with all the candles and voices!

  3. .. .thanks Judy, and here I always thought it was very addictive and that is why it came with the mate lovers. . .instead, they are just incresing their longevity.

    Oh Vee, . . .poor Vee, did she watch Oprah yesterday? I was rolling out noodles and watching. . .it seems she is in good company.

  4. I'm with you Judy..does not look appealing at all! I tried it once long ago and it tasted just like I thought alfalfa smelled..really! LOL
    But since it has all those health benefits I might be tempted to try it again. (in my own mug)
    Waiting to hear a comment from Char!

  5. How about a comment from someone who drinks Mate every morning with her husband?
    I understand that many people do not find this drink appealing, but if you know the culture behind it and the benefits from the drink, maybe you will change your mind. It does take some getting used to at first, but many people add honey or some sugar to make it taste better.
    And if you´re dieting you will definitely notice that it helps keep those hunger pangs away.
    I did a post about this a while back. If you´re interested you can read it here:


  6. This reminded me of times long ago when our former neighbor and his friends (who all emigrated from Paraguay) would sit in their back yard sipping something which they passed around from one to the other. It seemed like a strange custom to us...we later learned it was mate.

  7. Well this does look rather interesting. I agree with you. My first exposure to this drink was years back and I too, thought it smelled like a baled hay.
    Well I hope I can you are not introducing us to something new at your home, because I do prefer your lovely coffees.
    I'm with you. Let's not share cups.

  8. Hi Judy,
    We also have family members who pass around this drink . . although they never bring it to our house. I've never thought about that. I had a few sips when I was a couple of months pregnant (the fam didn't know yet) and my brother-in-law insisted later that's why we finally had a boy!
    I've heard it said that the gold tip on the bombilla keeps it sanitary. I don't know . . . but I know it's a harmless choice of a social drink.

  9. My son introduced yierba mate to our house - the packages are labeled in Spanish but the tea is in bags. I can't see him EVER sharing a cup with someone else! Maybe if he switches to the loose herb, he'll be so un-stressed that sharing a cup won't be a problem??? Thanks for the interesting lesson!

  10. I can only say one thing after viewing this concoction...ew. I'm sure it is an acquired taste and more power to the fine folks who are able to sip this apparently very healthy drink! I'm stickin' with my Earl Gray! LOL!

  11. well, if you don't mind, I will certainly add more than my two cents worth.
    growing up in canada this drink was not common in our home.
    my husband is from paraguay and this is a daily ritual for him. it took me years to acquire the drink, especially hot, it is easier to drink the terere cold.
    by the way if you are in a circle drinking, don't ever say thankyou as you pass the guampa back to the server, it is telling him that you are done, so you better make sure that you are done before you say thankyou..politness does not apply here til the end. our first trip to paraguay i was parched and we drank the terere and i said thankyou because it felt so cold and refreshing, it felt like more, so out of politeness i said thankyou and never got one again. what the ... why am i not getting one any more? i am dying of thirst here! lol i learned pretty quick not to say thankyou til i meant i was done.
    it really is a drink of fellowship.
    it is a time of bonding and relaxing, no matter who you drink it with. you drink it slow and take turns and it really makes you slow down.
    we drink it with a slice of lime or lemon in it and when i can't have it with him i really miss it, maybe my time with him more than the drink.
    it does have health properties, however it is no magic cure, i am not thin and i can't sleep if i drink it at night. my dh on the other hand is thin and loves a little matesito before bed.
    maybe you have to be paraguayan to get the true benefits and me being canadian doesn't qualify...;-)
    i love the tradition, i love what it represents, i love that i get to drink it with my husband, the health benefits are good too.

  12. Very interesting ~ I have never heard of this before. I think I would have to stick to coffee too.

  13. Ohh Judy .. you had me smiling .. Mate is mate no matter what it is served in ! I was enticed by a friend to try it in a local coffe shop... and yes it was my first and last try. I agree.. dried alfalfa perfectly identifies the smell.

    So Judy .. please pour me a cup of your coffee !!

  14. Judy, this is very interesting. I want to thank you for your sweet words to my blog. I love your snowy porch. It's so pretty

  15. Oh my goodness Judy...how interesting. I've never heard of this stuff. Looks kind of nasty to me girlfriend...but I'm always open to try something once. I don't like the sharing tradition at all, so I'll take mine in a fine bone china cup, thank you very much!


  16. That is amazing!

    Come on Judy I bet you and your Mennonite girls could probably come up with something delicious made from that drink.

    Thanks for solving the mystery, I was so intrigued =]

    ...and I do feel more informed by your post today.

  17. What an interesting drink. There are so many native herb drinks from around the world that have been shown to be healthy. Where would we all be if South America did not introduce drinking hot chocolate and coffee to the world?

    I'd love to try the Mate but I think I'd have a hard time giving up coffee! :-)

  18. If you want something delicious made from the yerba try cocido
    It's a typical Paraguayan breakfast drink that is eaten often with kokito.

    Melt 1/2 cup sugar cane sugar (dont'try other sugar it stinks and will just burn) in a pot till it's liquid and starting to turn brown, then add 3 TBSP loose yerba tea leaves and 2 cups of water.
    The sugar will harden just keep stirring till it dissolves again, and strain to remove yerba leaves.

    Add 1 cup of milk, heat up again and sweeten to taste.

    Note: Traditionally the sugar is melted by pouring sugar over red hot coals in a pan, but DON"T try this inside the house due to smoke

  19. I grew up with yerba as my family is from paraguay. I do enjoy it (not much different taste than tea) but I do like it better than tea bags as it has a much stronger flavor. My husband is from canada and has figured out a way to drink it from a mug through the coffee maker. I would like to have the traditional mate sessions with him but he prefers this so I drink it anyways with friends and such. He puts some into a filter makes it the same way coffee is made and adds a flavored creamer such as butter pecan to it. It's not too bad but I like the original better!


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