Drinking mate is a great hobby. It is delicious, it is healthy, and you get so many cool accessories to choose from! Gourd is probably the most important of them all — vessel that holds yerba mate, water and bombilla, it looks unique, mysterious and welcoming. There are an infinite number of combinations of materials, sizes, decorations, shapes and other features available to us these days, and it is hard to limit yourself to just one gourd! However, if I had to choose one for all of my mate drinking for the rest of my life, the first thing I would take into the consideration is its shape, before anything else. If you are tight on the budget or consider yourself a minimalist — this would be your first clue to get yourself the most versatile gourd for any yerba mate.
Being a passionate matero, my gourd collection continues to grow since the day I had my first sip of mate. No matter how many gourds I bought, there are always some that I cannot simply pass by! It’s no secret that I prefer calabash gourds, but I enjoy and use all of them, be it a sturdy stainless steel gourd that travels with me, small calabash gourd for short sessions when I’m pressed for time, or a heavenly smelling palo santo gourd for my regular mate sessions.
Material, however, is not the most important thing in my opinion. Some people may find calabash gourds too much upkeep and will go with steel one, others may prefer the natural soft touch of wooden gourds that lend fragrance and sweet taste to their mate. What is important for me is the shape of the gourd. And the most versatile is the one that I call the tulip shape, similar to tulip glasses commonly used for beer, wine and some other spirits — wide bowl, narrow neck and wide rim. It is one of the traditional shapes of the yerba mate gourds, since it comes from the natural curvature of the calabash plant that was the first vessel used for mate by Guaraní people.
The reason for why I think the tulip shape is the most versatile one, is because it allows you to easily enjoy any regional type of yerba mate. As we know, there are four regional types of yerba mate — Argentine, Brazilian, Paraguayan and Uruguayan. Argentine and Paraguayan yerba mates are known for a rougher cut with presence of coarse cut stems (except for despalada kinds), while Brazilian erva mate and Uruguayan yerba mate are ground very finely, almost to the point of powdery, with generally lesser stem content (also with some exceptions). The fine dusty cut of Brazilian and Uruguayan yerba mate makes it necessary to build the proper mountain of yerba in order to enjoy them — otherwise it will clog your bombilla and prevent you from taking even one sip. The ability to create and maintain the mountain of yerba is crucial for those regional types of yerba mate, and the more space you have to operate as a cebador, the easier and more effective drinking Uruguayan mate or Brazilian chimarrão will be. Tulip-shaped gourds with their wide rim offer that space to maneuver the bombilla and make sure that it stays unclogged. That’s why you’ll see predominantly tulip-shaped gourds in Brazil and Uruguay, and that’s why this shape is often called by the name of these gourds — cuia and porongo respectively.
Argentine and Paraguayan yerba mates are more forgiving due to their coarser cut, so maintenance of mountain is not as pivotal as for Uruguayan yerba or Brazilian erva. However, I still believe that properly built mountain of yerba yields in a more balanced mate no matter the regional variety, which does not exclude Argentine and Paraguayan yerbas from being enjoyed in the same cuias and porongos!
You can get tulip-shaped gourds of any material and size you prefer — in fact, let me share some of them that you can get right now.
Traditional material for mate gourds, calabash has a natural curvature and is soft and warm to touch, making it my favorite. As I mentioned earlier, the best variety of calabash gourds that have wide rim is found in Brazil and Uruguay. Brazilian cuia is a great candidate for a versatile and good-looking gourd.
In Uruguay, camionero porongo gourds are a very popular choice among local materos. They also typically wrap them in leather to offer a more solid look, better durability and grip.
Torpedo gourds, also popular in Uruguay, offer a good compromise between wide rim of porongo and a snug feel of poro gourds.
My second favorite choice is another natural and soft to touch material — wood. With wood, a master artisan can carve pretty much any kind of shape for the gourd, and yet still you’ll find the vast majority of wooden gourds to be of a tulip shape with wide rim.
Wooden gourds for mate are usually made from either palo santo or algarrobo wood, although sometimes you will find other woods, such as cedar or mango wood. Palo santo and algarrobo are a popular choice as those are fragrant woods that lend some sweet woodsy taste to mate and make it even more delicious!
For a palo santo gourd, I like to go safe with a metal-wrapped one, as palo santo is a hard wood and is prone to cracking.
Algarrobo on the other hand is a soft wood, which is less durable, but is much less prone to cracks due to being elastic and flexible, so with algarrobo you can go “nude” and get a gourd with no wrapping.
For those who need the ultimate durability and zero chance of mold, stainless steel gourds offer all of that and more. The modern minimalist look of a steel gourd is also a nice bonus, making it blend in well with other kitchenware.
Stainless steel gourds come almost exclusively in the tulip shape. They are not my favorite though, as they are only curvy on the outside, and the smooth metal walls make building and maintaining mountain of yerba really hard, basically cancelling the main selling point of the gourds with wide rim. However, I still use steel gourd for travels as it allows me to not be stressed about accidentally destroying my gourd by dropping it or crushing it in my luggage.
As I said earlier, tulip-shaped gourds are made out of various materials. I shared my favorite, but if you still want something different — here are some examples of gourds with wide rim made out of clay, plastic and glass. I was never a fan of smooth walls and brittleness that all of these materials provide, however, they are a viable alternative, as you do not need to cure them or take any care at all.
Glass and ceramic gourds are usually styled to look like calabash gourds, and sometimes even wrapped in leather for a more authentic look and increased durability.
Plastic gourds are made out of the BPA-free food grade plastic that does not leak any harmful chemicals to mate and are safe to use. One of the biggest appeals of plastic gourds is the sheer variety of designs that are limited only by the imagination of the manufacturer.
Gourds with narrow rim still have place in my collection and I use them often for coarser yerbas. For instance, I really enjoy the snug feel that my poro calabash gourd offers with its narrow rim, however, most of my collection consists of tulip-shaped gourds, they simply get more use as I often try yerbas with different cuts. The gourd with wide rim is even present on the Matexperience logo!
What is your favorite shape for the gourd? Do you have a tulip-shaped gourd? What is your most used gourd? Share it in the comments below!
Mountain of yerba