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Choosing your yerba mate
Understand the different types, options, and considerations
Learn how to choose a good yerba mate to drink and how they are different based on your preferences. Sin palo, con palo, blends, caffeine content, common terms, and more are covered here!
A friend asks which yerba mate they should try first....
1. Start light
I recommend a lighter (less bitter) flavor first and then it's like a decision tree from there.
I usually recommend Cruz de Malta because of its smooth, more subtle taste that is least likely to scare someone completely away from yerba mate. This is my baseline.
2. Taste preference
I ask how people drink their coffee (black or with sweetener). It's almost a guarantee that if someone drinks their coffee black, they will love yerba mate.
If they add sweeteners, they may lean towards more subtle yerba mate flavors or may want to add sugar or honey at first.
3. Give it 5 Days
I tell them they should try drinking yerba mate for 5 days in a row to get used to the routine, flavor, and feeling of yerba mate.
For me personally, the actual flavor of yerba mate is maybe 30% of the reason I drink it. The other 70% is the routine, feeling, healthiness, community, and tradition behind it.
4. The Check In
I check how they like the bitterness level. I either get "I love the kick" or a "Can I add something else to lower the bitterness?".
If they "love the kick" and want to know what stronger options are out there, I usually tell them to try Playadito next. If they want to lower the bitterness, I suggest Anna Park or one of the blended yerbas like CBSe mint & herbs.
My friend now wants to know more details
My friend now has been drinking yerba mate for a few days and they are starting to feel these indescribable effects. They start to ask me more about it. What are the ranges of flavors and what do all the other descriptions like "sin palo" or "suave" mean? So now I start to explain how the composition and process affect the flavor of the yerba mate.
What is in Yerba Mate?
When you pour yerba mate, you'll see something like this. A mix of mostly leaves, stems, and a little "dust". Different yerba flavors have different proportions of each of the components.
Hoja - The Leaf
The leaves are cut and are at the core of the yerba mate flavor. Exposure to the weather, production processes, and aging all impact the flavor in the leaves.
Palo - The Stem
The more stems, the lighter the flavor. They aren't bad and aren't just filler. They just have a more subtle flavor to them. Snoop Dog's "no stems, no sticks, " lyric doesn't apply to yerba mate.
Polvo - The "Dust"
The Polvo, also known as the "Dust" is just the finely ground leaves and stems. It can add more "kick" to the yerba because there is less air and more yerba per square inch.
In a traditional yerba mate (con palo or "elaborada"), there will be about 65% hoja (leaves), 25% palo (stems), and 10% polvo ("dust"). These are just estimates to give an idea of proportions however this will change from brand to brand and bag to bag.
Sin Palo (without stems), also known as "Despalada" yerba mate has an absolute minimal amount of palo (stems). There will be about 90% hoja (leaves), 5% palo (stems), and 5% polvo ("dust"). These are just estimates of proportions however this will change from brand to brand and bag to bag.
People that enjoy stronger yerba mate tend to be the purchasers of "sin palo" yerba mate because the larger proportion of leaves produce a stronger kick and flavor.
Yerba mate blends contain yerba mate plus additional ingredients like dried fruit or herbs. The usual proportions of ingredients are around 60% yerba mate and 40% fruit/herbs. The amount of of leaf/stem/dust within that yerba mate proportion varies across bags and brands.
These are good for people that want to cut down on the full kick of traditional yerba mate. Also these blends are good for cold brewed yerba mate like tereré.
Example: CBSe Herbs and Mint. CBSe has many popular blends.
Common Yerba Mate Label Terms
Also called "Elaborada", contains less than 10% palo (stems). Indicates a stronger flavor.
Contains palo (stems) also called "Despalada". This is the traditional blend.
Indicates the yerba is gluten free. Almost all yerba mate is gluten free. You may also see "Libre de Gluten".
You may see “USDA Organic”, “Certified Organic in Argentina”, or other verbiage indicating which organic certification was achieved.
Smoked/Toasted yerba mate. The producer applied smoke to the yerba mate to dry it but also to give a smoky flavor.
Indicates a smoother, gentle flavor. Contains a higher proportion of palo (stems) to ease the strength.
Hierbas, Naranja, etc
For blended yerba mate, you’ll see an indication of the added ingredients. "Hierbas" usually indicates a mix of herbs including mint. "Naranja" indicates orange flavors.
These are small tea bags that can be used to brew yerba mate in a similar fashion to typical English tea.
How much caffeine is in yerba mate?
The most well known and agreed upon answer is that there is about 80mg (NIH article) of caffeine in yerba mate. Coffee has about 95mg and green tea has about 45mg. Yerba mate is known for not giving the jitters or the post consumption energy drop you get from coffee but everyone is different, so each person may react slightly different.
If you have any health conditions linked to caffeine, please talk to a doctor first if you have any hesitation or concerns. I personally am sensitive to caffeine so I've learned over time which yerba mate types are perfect for me and which are a bit too strong.
It is a bit difficult to do a direct comparison with coffee or tea because the traditional method of drinking yerba mate is very different from the typical coffee or green tea methods. With yerba mate, you are drinking small amounts over a longer period of time and the caffeine impact may feel different when consumed over a 2 hour period rather than a 30 minute period.
Yerba mate is similar to wine or whiskey as far as taste preference is concerned. I suggest you try a light, a strong, and a middleground yerba mate. This will give you the range of options. You should also try a flavored blend because these taste very different and are good options for adding variety to your routine. Most people end up landing on 2 or 3 yerba mate brands they rotate between over the long term.
Below are the options we sell and recommend. They are very popular and well established yerba mate brands.
Keep Learning about Yerba Mate
Choosing a Mate Gourd
Learn the different options for mate gourds along with the pros and cons of each. Many options, many opportunities.