Yerba mate is a great hobby, not only because it is delicious and good for your health, but also because it has lots of unique accessories that can be fun to collect and that can be an interesting conversation starter that may lead to new acquaintances and friendships. It can also be scary for a person who wants to start drinking mate traditionally on a regular basis, because yerba mate accessories sometimes are quite exotic, and their purpose is not always clear from a first look, unlike your typical mugs and cups for tea and coffee. Luckily, you don’t need many accessories to start drinking mate traditionally, and you can always accumulate more later to make this new hobby more exciting and enjoyable. In this guide, we’ll go through must-have accessories for those who are just getting started, and the optional accessories for experienced materos that offer quality of life improvements and take yerba mate lifestyle to a whole new level.
My yerba mate journey was off to a rough start back in the day. I noticed football players drinking something out of a weird-looking vessel with a metal straw and sharing it with each other, googled it and discovered that they were enjoying yerba mate out of a traditional gourd. Quickly after discovering tons of evidence about health benefits, mental and physical effects, as well as the cultural significance of this drink, I decided that I need to try yerba mate as soon as possible. I don’t live in South America, so it took a while to get started, but I found that my local brick-and-mortar tea shop carried a yerba mate starter kit that included five 50g samplers of different Argentine yerba mates. I purchased it and went home, happy and excited to finally try mate! Only to become disappointed and frustrated an hour later.
I knew that I needed to get a gourd and bombilla for a “proper” mate, but since I didn’t know if I would like yerba mate, I did not yet want to commit to it and buy all the expensive equipment that I might not use in the future. So I decided to try mate the same way you would drink tea — by steeping leaves for a few minutes and drinking the infusion. I started with a teaspoon of yerba mate in a 200ml cup. It did not taste like anything. Fine, I’ll add more, I thought to myself. I added few more teaspoons, steeped it, and tried it again — disgusting! Super bitter and ashy, this certainly did not taste like anything that I read about yerba mate before.
I realized that these football players did not drink mate out of a gourd with bombilla for no reason. It must be more balanced that way, I thought. I decided that I need to try and prepare it in a traditional fashion to really give yerba mate a fair chance, so I went back to the tea shop and purchased a bombilla, thinking that I can use one of my mugs as a gourd. Preparing mate that way was certainly an improvement, although I still struggled with molding and maintaining the mountain of yerba — the shape of the mug and its smooth ceramic walls made yerba slide down, so my mates were still unbalanced and felt not right.
I gave up and got myself a calabash gourd the next day. And while it still took a few more weeks to get acquired to the taste of yerba mate, I was at least enjoying the preparation process and the ceremony which allowed me to stick with it. Thinking back to how I stared, I can’t help but smile at my silly first attempts, but also feel quite lucky that despite all those struggles I did not quit mate. There must be so many people who did quit it because they were not impressed by the taste of improperly prepared mate and thought that they don’t need those essential accessories, which left them with a wrong impression about this drink.
Learning from my mistakes, I want to help you understand what are the must-have accessories for an enjoyable mate and why you need them, as well as to navigate you through the vast world of optional accessories that you can get after you become more experienced at drinking mate to make it even more enjoyable and effortless.
While brewing yerba mate like tea is one of the way to prepare it, which is called mate cocido, I do firmly believe that traditionally prepared mate with a gourd and bombilla is not only the most authentic and unique way to do so, but also yields in the most balanced and tasty drink. To judge yerba mate fairly, you have to try it traditionally! If you’re like me, you will need a few weeks to get acquired to the taste of mate, and the least we can do to make this process less troublesome is to use these accessories that I consider a must-have for a traditional yerba mate preparation. In my experience, proper gourd and bombilla are absolutely necessary (they even have their own emoji 🧉), and the good part is that they don’t have to be expensive! Don’t worry that you have to spend a lot upfront to get started with yerba mate — the cheapest gourds and bombillas start just from a few bucks.
A traditional vessel for mate, gourd is a huge part of mate experience, it’s what makes it visually distinctive and recognizable. Save yourself some trouble and do not repeat my mistakes — leave ceramic cups and mugs for your teas and coffees. My favorite gourds are those that are made from an actual calabash plant. If price is your concern, calabash gourds are the cheapest ones you can get, but can also be the most expensive if you want to get a really beautiful work of an artisan. I wrote a much more in-depth guide on them that I encourage you to read later, but the gourd doesn’t have to be calabash — wood, steel, silicone and even horn make a good gourd as well, as long as you have a gourd-like shape for easier building of mountain of yerba.
Imperial Wrapped Leather Calabash Gourd + Bombilla
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You drink mate from the same vessel that you brew it in, so the best way of sipping infusion from the gourd without getting a mouthful of leaves is to use a metal straw with a filter at the end, otherwise known as bombilla. Bombillas can also range from the cheap mass-produced stainless steel ones to a more expensive artisanal items made from Alpaca silver, but also rare and cool bamboo ones. Make sure to match the length of bombilla to the size of the gourd! The average length of bombilla is about 20-22 cm; smallest gourds need bombilla that is about 16 cm long; giant Brazilian cuias usually need bombas that are longer than 25 cm.
For hot mate, as opposed to an ice-cold tereré, you’ll need a way to heat up the water, which is usually done in the kettle. And while you can heat up water in any pot, which makes kettle not 100% necessary, it is much easier to pour the water from the kettle’s neck. You probably already have a kettle at home, but if you want to up your yerba mate game, consider switching to a kettle with a built-in thermometer, be it a stovetop or electric one. If you’ll read our yerba mate reviews, you will learn that different yerbas shine at different water temperatures, so for the most enjoyable mates you’ll want to precisely control the temperature of the water that you are heating up.
If you already have a plain old kettle that you don’t want to change for a fancier one with a temperature control, you can use a separate tool for the job — a food thermometer. Actually, using a food thermometer may be an even more precise way of measuring the temperature of water, since, for example, most of the electric kettles just have temperature presets without letting you choose the exact temperature by a degree. A regular food thermometer that you use for meat or in the oven will do the trick, and I also find a great value in an infrared thermometer that allows you to not even touch the water and gives an instant value of the temperature.
To me, a thermos or a vacuum flask is an indispensable companion for my mate. Yes, you can simply refill your mate straight from the kettle, but constantly reheating the water or running dozens of time to the fridge for ice-cold water for tereré is pain in the ass, and the quality of life that thermos offers to the mate experience makes it a crucial accessory, albeit objectively not a must-have. Plus, vacuum flask frees you from your kitchen where you would usually have your kettle or your fridge, and allows you to transport your mate, be it to the other room or to another country. Any thermos will do its job just fine, but since vacuum flasks are so loved my materos all around the world, there is a special thermos with a precision spout made specifically for mate drinkers. Even though thermos is not technically a must-have accessory, I would still strongly recommend getting it because of how much less cumbersome it makes the whole traditional mate or tereré ceremony.
Have you already noticed how flimsy is the packaging of 99% of yerba mate brands? I constantly have to clean up my yerba mate shelf from accumulated dust and small leaves, and don’t even get me started on taking those bags on the go — it will guarantee to mess up your backpack! Luckily, the solution for that issue is yerbera, which is a container for storing yerba mate, usually made from tin with a spout on top for dispensing yerba mate into the gourd. If you take your mate outside the house or even travel with it, yerbera is a must — you’ll quickly forget about scattering yerba mate everywhere and solid tin walls of the container will protect yerba from bumping and popping on the road. Certain yerba mate brands are sometimes already being sold in yerbera, allowing you to reuse it after.
Speaking of travel — if you want to take your mate on the go, especially for a long trip, a regular backpack might be less convenient than a special bag for all your yerba mate accessories — a matera. Matera allows for a convenient transportation of your gourds, bombillas, yerbera and thermos by having special pockets and sections that are designed specifically for yerba mate accessories. Right now you can find both more traditional and old-school leather materas, but also a more modern and stylish ones that look like a regular backpack or a handbag.
After you start drinking mate regularly, at some point you will want to clean up your accessories, especially your bombillas. I like to do my bombilla cleaning once a month, and even though I rotate my large collection of bombillas, they still build up a lot of residue inside in that short period of time. Without the bombilla brush it would be nearly impossible to clean up the inside of a metal straw. They are very cheap, so I suggest you to get some and do not be afraid to throw it out and get a new one once its bristles start to wear down, the same way you do with your toothbrush.
If you already started to experiment with other regional types of yerba mate, such as Uruguayan and Brazilian, you definitely noticed how fine those are compared to a much coarser-cut Argentine and Paraguayan yerbas. Proper mountain molding and a good quality bombilla are a key to prevent clogging, but sometimes it may not be enough, especially for chimarrão. Filter bags for bombilla offer a cheap and easy way of increasing the filtering quality of any bombilla and reduce the risk of clogging it, making your Uruguayan mate and Brazilian chimarrão less frustrating and much more enjoyable.
I believe that things that involve all your senses are the ones that bring the most out of life and give you that passion and enjoyment that makes it all worth it. Yerba mate is one of those rare things — you not only enjoy its taste and smell, but also the unique look of your traditionally prepared mate, as well as the warm and comfortable feel of the calabash gourd in your hand and the sound of water pouring over the yerba. All these accessories play a huge part in the overall enjoyment that you get from mate.
If you’re just starting out with yerba mate, take my advice — get at least a gourd and bombilla. You’re likely already have a kettle or at least a pot to heat up water, so it won’t cost you much to give a traditionally prepared mate a shot. Drink mate, let your body and mind get accustomed to its taste, notice its effects and health benefits, and only then when you’ll know your needs and preferences start thinking about adding more accessories to your collection. A quality thermos would be my go-to choice for a first accessory to get after initial gourd and bombilla purchase.
If you are an experienced matero, you probably already have all those accessories, and maybe even more! If you think I missed something, and you have some other accessories to add to the list — share it with the world in the comments below!
Mountain of yerba