Some people call me insane for thinking this way, but not too long after I started drinking mate, I realized that this herb wasn’t so different than any other food or drink that has complexity, depth, richness, and subtle flavors so faint that you’d miss them if you weren’t embracing the experience.
Think of fine wine, cheese, scotch, or whatever food that you appreciate beyond just purchasing and consuming. For some people, that’s coffee or chocolate or a luxurious cigar. For me, drinking mate — especially with friends — is a magical experience.
Welcome to our Yebra Mate Tasting Guide where we’ll discuss some ways to help you appreciate the profundity of yerba mate. We’ll focus on flavors, textures, cuts, and bodies of mate and how to capture them across different types.
Keep an open mind and try as many mates as you possibly can. There are many types to try, from Argentina and Brazil to Paraguay and Uruguay. Each country has their own style and sub-styles, so continue exploring. Persist on fine-tuning your palate and sharpening your mate senses.
One way to begin getting a feel for the true tastes of mate is to try some of the powder in the bag, allowing you to experience the raw characteristics of the herb. Rub the dust around your mouth and determine the strength of the mate. You’ll usually be able to distinguish a Gaucho cut (strong and malty) from an Argentine cut (grassy and herbaceous) at this stage, by determining the mate’s body. Keep a mate journal to record your observations.
As you take those first few sips (from a gourd or cup), don’t think about anything—just experience the mate. Taste it with a totally open mind. Your subconscious is storing all the information, so don’t think about not thinking—you aren’t missing anything.
Now Start to Focus on…
Like wine, cigars, and whisky, mate has a body. The body is mainly determined by the strength of the herb. Within the first few sips, you should establish the mate’s body.
Generally speaking, Argentine mates are light-to-medium bodied; Gauchos, full-bodied; Paraguayans, medium-to-full-bodied; Clean cuts (with no stems or powder), light-bodied. Nobleza Gaucha is a good example of a smooth mate with a light-to-medium body (mild body).
Try to keep your mind relaxed and taste beyond the “grassiness.” There’s a rainbow of taste profiles in mate, from chocolate and cherry to vanilla and honey.
The mate’s texture is the way that it feels in your mouth. Some mates are very light, producing a watery texture; some are thick, producing a pasty and doughy sensation; others produce a syrupy feeling.
My way for smelling mate is to empty the entire bag into a clean, sanitized tin box that’s wide enough to really stick your face into and take a big whiff.
Open the tin and take a long sniff, deeply drawing the aroma into your chest, then close it back. Now think about the smells. Do you smell honey, grass, tea, coffee, tobacco, chocolate, or perhaps almost nothing at all? Take your time and let the thoughts come to you. Now reopen the tin and repeat. Do this three or four times.
The reason for the intervals is to prevent something called habituation, which occurs when you habitually smell something to the point that you can no longer smell it—you become too accustomed and your brain starts to fill in the gaps by diluting and blending the scents. So take your time.
Note: Increase your ability to recognize scents by tasting as many foods as possible. And if really want to sharpen you palate, learn, through experience, what a rock, soil, and grass truly taste like. Licking a stone never killed anyone, right?
After you take a sip and swallow the mate, whatever tastes and textures, if any, remaining in your mouth is the “finish”—the final phase.
If a mate is truly bitter and astringent, you’ll feel its bite in the finish. If it’s creamy and light, the finish will reveal smooth, milky characteristics. Some mates will harmonize well in the finish, others will scream with sharp, unruly zips and zaps of lemon, tart, and sourness. Some will fail miserably with harsh, acrid tones.
A good mate has a nice solid, consistent taste throughout all the stages. A great mate is multidimensional, showing kaleidoscopic swirls of flavors, unfolding and enfolding throughout the experience. A horrible mate is without balance and harmony, aggressively inundating your palate with overpowering tastes; or, conversely, barely sparking a single taste bud, with a flat, insipid, watery experience.
The cycle is determined by how long the mate’s taste can endure. I determine a mate’s cycle length by how far the taste lasts through 1 liter of water, as you continue to refill the gourd after each time you finish it — each turn is called a “cycle”.
If the mate becomes flat and tasteless within the first ⅓ of of the liter, then it’s a short cycle.
If the mate maintains its strength up to ½ or ⅔ into the liter, then it’s considered to have a medium cycle.
If the mate, and this is usually rare, can maintain a good, steady, strong flavor presence for the entire liter, then it’s considered to have a long cycle. With some Gaucho and Paraguayan mates, you can find long cycles (Canarias is a good example); with some lighter Argentine mates, it’s unlikely have have long cycles.
Below are some flavors, textures, and scents to consider when tasting different yerbas. They are to used for inspiration and to help initiate your mate tasting senses.
Remember to relax and have fun when drinking mate. You need not learn how to distingush every minute taste, but it can add the the experience. Either way, just drink mate and feel good. This herb has a way of making world just a bit brighter!
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