According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), Brazil produced more than 527 thousand tons of yerba mate in 2020, with 520 thousand tons from its South Region alone. Among the states that stand out for yerba mate production in Brazil are Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Paraná, and Mato Grosso do Sul, with Rio Grande do Sul being the largest yerba mate consumer in the country.
Native to Brazil, yerba mate (“Ilex paraguariensis”) contains significant amounts of caffeine, saponins, polyphenols, xanthines, theophylline, theobromine, folic acid, tannins, minerals, and vitamins: A, B1, B2, C, and E. Its antioxidant, diuretic, and stimulant effects have been drawing the attention of consumers around the world. But it is probably in the South of Brazil that it is most appreciated.
This appreciation for yerba mate, especially in the South, comes from a relevant heritage of the Indigenous Guarani people. The tradition of drinking mate in a circle with family members and friends has been passed down through generations, becoming a national symbol and extremely important in family ties.
For the “gaúchos,” as people born in the state of Rio Grande do Sul are known, drinking mate is a cultural tradition and a way of preserving their identity. No matter whether it is warm or cold outside, wherever two or more people are gathered, a gourd of hot chimarrão will be passed from hand to hand, and conversations will flow freely, symbolizing friendship and the keeping of traditions.
This is chimarrão’s culture. According to Luiz Carlos Barbosa Lessa, a famous folklorist and creator of the Movimento Tradicionalista Gaúcho (Gaucho Traditionalist Movement, MTG), this culture encompasses a series of techniques that, since childhood, instruct people on how to behave in a group, conveying it from one generation to the next.
Young Alice Lauene Maciel de Souza, from MTG in Brasília, helps us unveil the secrets of good chimarrão. “The right way of preparing it is what ensures a tasty drink and keeps our tradition alive,” she explains. The first major lesson is known to tea lovers: the water that comes in contact with the herb cannot be boiled. “This can burn the plant and make the drink bitter,” Alice explains.
Prepare your “chimarrão”
Made up of a gourd (known as “cuia”), a metal straw (a “bomba”), ground yerba mate, and hot water (64ºC is the ideal temperature), chimarrão is prepared in the following order:
- Put 2/3 of green yerba mate in your wooden gourd.
- Cover the top of the gourd with your hand and tilt it. The yerba mate should be all on one side only.
- Lift the gourd a little, but not completely. Pour a little boiling water into it, so that the powder can settle. Wait for the water to be absorbed.
- Cover the top of your pump with your finger and place it at the bottom of the gourd, buried in the mate.
- Now just serve! When the infusion is over you can pour more water into the gourd.
As traditional as chimarrão is the gauchos’ acid humor. Of course, the etiquette of enjoying a good round of yerba mate is accompanied by 10 commandments to prevent outsiders from making gaffes. For instance, the gourd should be passed and received with the right hand and should be drunk first by the person in charge of the preparation. Also, it is essential to drink the whole content of the gourd before returning it, as this is seen as a sign of respect to the person who prepared the chimarrão.
- Don’t ask for sugar in your yerba mate. A gaúcho learns from a young age why chimarrão is also called “mate amargo,” or simply bitter.
- Don’t say that chimarrão is unhygienic. Sharing a chimarrão gourd is a habit that requires participants to be selfless.
- Don’t say that the mate is too hot. A good habit requires high temperatures!
- Don’t leave a half-finished mate. You must drink all the water served until you hear the sound of an empty gourd. By the way, read the commandment below.
- Don’t be ashamed of the slurp while finishing the mate. If, when finishing the mate, you accidentally slurp, don’t be ashamed. This is a sign that you understand the rules.
- Don’t touch the straw. The chimarrão straw can easily become clogged. If this happens, you have every right to complain. But please, do not touch it. Talk to the person who passed you the gourd or the person serving the chimarrão.
- Don’t change the order in which the mate is served. The gourd is passed from hand to hand, always in the same order. You can join the circle at any time, but once you’re in, always wait your turn, and don’t try to favor anyone when you pass the gourd.
- Don’t criticize the homeowner for taking the first sip. If you believe the homeowner to be rude for preparing the chimarrão and taking the first sip, know that you are the rude one. The worst mate is the first one to be tasted, and the person who drinks it is doing you a favor.
- Don’t fall asleep holding the gourd. The point is not to meditate but to bond with the group. In a chimarrão circle, you may talk, laugh, swear, etc. but your participation cannot go so far as to make you forget about the gourd in your hand.
- Don’t say that chimarrão is bad for your health. It won’t be you, who is holding a gourd for the first time, who will say with a knowing look that chimarrão is carcinogenic or something like that.