Types of Yerba Mate
All yerba mate come from the same plant (Ilex Paraguariensis) and starts out the same way, but that is where all of the similarities end. There are various climatic and soil factors that affect that overall flavour of the leaves. Moreover, from harvest to packaging there are several steps in the process that vary from country to country and from each manufacturer, resulting in a plethora of flavours which make yerba mate so enjoyable.
Type of cut
Yerba mate can be categorized in several ways. One way to categorize yerba mate is by the cut of the leaves. There are five main types of cut: Argentine, Brazilian, Paraguayan, Gaucho, and North American.
Argentine yerba mate in the most popular style of yerba. It has a fluffy composition that is made up of broad cut leaves, lots of palos (stems), and a low amount of polvo (yerba powder). Argentine yerba is aged anywhere from 8 months up to 3 years and has a light to medium intensity flavor.
Brazilian yerba mate or chimarrão is not aged which gives it a much greener appearance and leafy taste. It does not have a very fluffy composition and tends to cake together when moistened. The intensity of the flavor can be classified as medium to bold bodied.
Chimarrão can be classified into three main types of cut:
Moida grossa - Coarse cut leaves with stems and powder similar to Argentine yerba
Pura Fohla - Containing only leaves without any stems or powder
Traditional Brazilian - Made up of medium grain powder, stems, and low leaf content.
Paraguayan yerba mate seems to incorporate characteristics from all the various styles. It is composed of a good amount of powder, ground leaves, and pulverized stems; with the addition of medium size stems and leaves. Of all the yerba styles it has the longest aging period averaging 2-3 years. The combination of a long aging period and the unique composition of the yerba creates an aromatic, well-balanced flavor; ranging from light to medium in intensity.
Gaucho style yerba is a robust yerba composed of fine cut leaves, moderate to heavy amounts of powder and pulverized stems. Like espresso, gaucho style yerba is full bodied and ranges from medium to bold in flavor.
This yerba mate gets its name from the countries that import it (US and Canada). It is a strictly clean, broadcut leaves (some have stems) without any powder and it is not aged. While visually appealing, the lack powder, aging and sometimes stems creates a yerba with a flavor that has less dimension and intensity. This style of yerba is mild to medium bodied in flavor.
Another way to categorize yerba mate is con palo (with stems) and despalada (without stems).
Con Palo (with stems)
Stems prevent clogging the bombilla (the metal straw) by creating space between the leaves and making the yerba fluffier. Up to 30% of the yerba can be composed of stems which also reduces the intensity of the yerba and the duration of the flavor. Traditional and mild flavored yerbas will generally contain stems.
Depalada (Without stems)
Yerbas without stems are composed of ground leaves, powder, and some may contain pulverized stems. This type of yerba tends to be more robust in flavor and lasts longer before it loses flavor or becomes lavada (literally “washed” of its flavor). It also becomes more compact when drunk from a mate (gourd) and can clog the bombilla if not prepared correctly. For those that love the full, robust flavor of yerba mate, yerba despalada is a great choice.
Flavored yerba mate
Yerba mate can be flavored by adding herbs, fruits, or natural flavors. Yerba containing added herbs or fruits is known as yerba compuesta (infused). Infused yerba mate comes in a wide variety of flavors by adding herbs such as peppermint, mint, and lime blossoms.
Yerba saborizada (flavored) is most popular among the Argentine styles and it has a wider selection of flavors than infused yerba. Some of the natural added flavors include various types of citrus, maracuya, berries, and other fruits.
These infused and flavored yerba mate varieties tend to be milder in flavor making it a good choice for beginners. They are also great for those who enjoy blending flavors or a cold version known as tereré.
Barbacúa yerba mate has a smokey flavor that comes from the drying process known as secado. Traditionally, green yerba mate branches were heat dried by fanning them over a fire. Today they are dried in large cylinders at high temperatures (1100°F) and smoked with various types of wood including yerba mate wood.
The smoked flavor in the yerba is not overwhelmingly strong, but rather mild and pleasant, enhancing the natural flavors of the leaves. Many types of fine quality yerbas will be smoked or Barbacúa.
The region where the yerba is produced determines the intensity and complexity of the flavor. There are two main growth regions that are used to categorize yerba mate, Campo (Country), previously known as mild or Brazilian and Monte (Scrubland), previously known as strong or Paraguayan.
Country yerba grows in fields found in the southern regions of Misiones and northeast of Corrientes, Argentina. This particular yerba generally has a soft, pleasant, and well balanced taste shaped by the iron and magnesium found in the red soil where it grows.
Scrubland yerba grows in the subtropical jungle of Misiones, Argentina where there is very fertile ground, high precipitation and elevated temperatures. This type of yerba has a stronger aroma and a higher tannin content resulting in a wilder, greener, and more exotic taste.
It is very common to blend the two types of yerba to create a variety of more complex and balanced flavors that appeal to a variety of pallets.