The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
Yerba Mate Tea - the Manufacturing and
Processing Methods
Argentina's national drink comes from the yerba mate plant, a member of the
holly family (Ilex paraguariensis), that's native to sub-tropical South America
and is grown primarily in Brazil and Argentina.  Prior to European colonization
yerba mate was first used by Gurani and Tupi colonies in Southern Brazil.  It is
prepared by steeping the dried leaves and twigs in hot water, producing a plea-
asant tasting
herbal drink.  Mate comes in either green or roasted.
There are three main methods for cultivat-
ing  and harvesting
yerba mate.  The first
method, wild harvesting, is to gather wild
indigenous mate plants from the forest.
There are two main types of yerba mate:  
male and female. Mate can vary in strength,
flavor, amount of
caffeine, and level of
antioxidants and other minerals and
compounds depending on whether it is a
male or female plant.

Female plants are more prevalent in the
wild and are more scarce in planted and
cultivated gardens. Female yerba mate is
milder in flavor and lower in caffeine than
male mate plants.
The second method of yerba mate cultivation and harvesting is a mix-
ture of both wild and indigenous plants that combines forest growth
with modern cultivation techniques, increasing production amounts
and plant quality.

Lastly, there are cultivated plantations, which is the primary method
used in
Argentina, one of the largest producers of mate next to Brazil.

Yerba mate undergoes several processing steps before it becomes a finished product ready for
consumption.  The manufacturing process begins, as all tea processing, with the gathering of
fresh leaf (and stems in this instance).  Those who cultivate and harvest mate are known as      
yerbateros in Spanish, or ervamateiros in
Brazilian Portugese.  Both leaves and stems
are gathered with the leaves providing a
more intense, brisk flavor, and the stems
maintaining a balance, adding a milder, soft-
er, more subtle taste.

The type of processing varies, just as with
tea, depending on the producer and the
style and flavor profile required, whether a
more robust flavor or a softer, milder finish-
ed product.

         The first step in the manufacturing
         process is blanching.  The stems and
         leaves are flash heated (similar to
         
Japan's steaming process for green
         tea), anywhere from ten seconds
         to three minutes.  This step breaks the epidermis and stomata, halting oxidation and
         deactivating the leaf enzymes.

         Next the blanced leaves are placed into drying chambers where they receive either
         filtered or unfiltered smoke.  The mate is dried at 212F, for eight to twenty-four hours
         until the moisture content is reduced to 4.5%.

         After drying the yerba mate is placed in special bags and is ready for
         aging.  The dried and bagged mate is placed in cement or cedar ag-
         ing chambers where it can remain for up to twenty-four months, a
         process called stationing.

         During stationing mate acquires a milder, more mellow flavor.  The
         longer it's aged the more mellow it becomes.  Even though the sta-
         tioning can last up to twenty-four months, the average time for best
         flavor is approximately eighteen months.

         As part of the curing/aging process, mate may be smoked and/or roasted during
         stationing.  This also affects the flavor and aroma of finished mate, because the
         concentration of volatile com- pounds is changed.  One example is of roasted mate
         where the green-
floral aroma is significantly less, and the methyl furfural and furfural,
         giving mate the smoky characteristics is increased.

         After the aging/stationing step the mate is milled, an important step as the type and
         style of the cut affects the taste of the infusion.  Lastly the mate is packaged and ready
         to ship to the consumer.

         When
buying mate attention should be paid to the length of
         stationing along with other taste specifications that deter-
         mine the type and brand you choose, i.e., roasted or green.
         Mate that has been stationed for twenty-four months is con-
         sidered to be
Especial.

         Fresh yerba mate is very green and considerably bitter, con-
         sidered by many to be of low or inferior quality.  Dried and aged yerba mate is much
         
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milder in flavor.  There are approximately 200 brands of yerba mate on the market, with about ten sold worldwide.  
The most popular mate in Argentina is Las Marias, and their Taragui brand.

If you're new to yerba mate you may want to try several different kinds before making a choice.  With the many
different kinds available it should be fun and easy finding and making one your favorite "cup of mate tea."  
Enjoy.
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