Water is important, it is the single most needed thing for our existence. It’s not only crucial to understand what kind of water you put in your body, but the taste of mate depends on what kind of water you are infusing it with. Bad quality water that has been prepared incorrectly will definitely ruin your mate experience.
Just like tea or coffee, mate is essentially an infusion of herb in water. And while it’s easy to focus on different kinds of yerba mate, its taste and effects, it is also easy to forget that mate is 99% water. Water makes yerba mate alive, encourages it to give off its delicious flavor and healthy microelements; water satisfies your thirst while delivering a clarity to your mind and energy to your body.
I keep hearing from people who try mate for the first time that it’s too bitter, or that it upsets their stomach. My first questions are always the same. What water did you use? What temperature are you making mate with? In this article you will find out everything you need to know about what makes a quality water for mate, the best temperature of water, how to measure it and how to keep it hot or cold during drinking sessions.
Water quality is often overlooked and dismissed when it comes to mate preparation. It seems not important for some people and obvious for others, but in my experience a quality water is a game-changer and takes health benefits and the overall enjoyment from drinking mate to a whole new level.
Aim for using water with low hardness (no more than 70 ppm) that has neutral pH (6 to 8), as it noticeably diminishes the flavors of mate. I find that bad water can make even a complex yerba mate taste bland and poor, while a quality water makes simple and mainstream yerba much more drinkable and enjoyable.
When we’re talking about the most popular way of preparing yerba mate, which is a traditional hot mate, the temperature of water ranges from 60°C to 85°C / 140°F to 185°F . These temperatures provide the best balance between quickly extracting flavors from yerba mate and not burning the leaf or your mouth and tongue.
While this range is quite broad, in my experience the single best temperature for the majority of yerba mates or erva mates is 75°C / 165°F . When I’m preparing a certain yerba mate for the first time I always aim for that temperature as a starting point from which I experiment in my latter drinking sessions to see which is the best for particular yerba mate.
Quick word of caution: I highly encourage you not to try drinking mate with water over 85°C / 185°F ! Not only will it ruin the taste of mate and make it too bitter and acidic, but most importantly it will burn your mouth which may lead to much more serious consequences for your health, like cancer.
One of the great things about yerba mate is that it can be also prepared using cold water, which is a life-saver in hot weather. Mate prepared with ice-cold water is also called tereré and is a very popular way of enjoying yerba mate all year round in Paraguay, its homeland, and as a seasonal summer drink in the rest of the world.
Tereré is prepared by pouring ice-cold water into the gourd or guampa filled with yerba mate. As you may guess, cold water is not as good at extracting flavors from yerba mate. For that reason not all yerba mates turn out to be equally suitable for tereré as most of them are designed to be brewed in hot water.
As a leader in tereré consumption, Paraguay produces most of their yerba mate designed to be able to be quickly infused by cold water, so the average Paraguayan yerba mate is more strong and bold compared to, say, average Argentine. For that reason not all Paraguayan yerba mates taste good in a traditional mate where hot water may extract too much of those overwhelming smoky flavors, making it less drinkable and enjoyable.
Since tereré is growing in popularity and is recognized on an international level, manufacturers from outside of Paraguay are starting to make special versions of their yerba mate or erva mate specifically designed for cold water. Usually they are branded as such and include extra flavoring, like mint or lemon.
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The key takeaway from the last few paragraphs is that you should consciously choose water temperature for your mate, taking into account the regional type of yerba mate, its branding and your personal experience and preference, along with experiences and advice from other people.
If you’re trying new yerba mate it’s always good to experiment with different temperatures and find how it changes the flavor, durability and effect that mate has on you. My yerba mate reviews can be a good starting point for your own experimentation, as I try every yerba mate with every possible temperature to find what kind of water in my opinion allows that yerba mate to shine the most.
For instance, during my review of Sara Tradicional I found that this yerba mate surprisingly tasted more complex and balanced with water that is more on the colder side, around 60°C - 65°C / 140°F - 150°F , while Piporé Sin Palo was too bleak in such temperature range and gave off its flavors in a much hotter water — around 80°C - 85°C / 175°F - 185°F .
I am a huge believer in precisely measuring water for mate. Some people will think that it’s an overkill and approximate temperature is enough, but in my experience knowing the perfect water for a particular yerba mate totaly pays off and yields maximum enjoyment. You don’t have to be precise to a single degree — I find that using water within 5 degree range results virtually in the same mate. Some yerbas are more “picky” than others when it comes to temperature and some allow you to be more liberal with your water, yet even approximate temperature requires some form of measuring.
This method is the most obvious one — just heat the water until desired temperature. The trick, however, is to know when to stop so you won’t have water that is too cold or too hot for your liking.
If you don’t have any temperature measuring devices you can either order them online or try to eyeball it. My favorite way to prepare perfect mate water is to use a kettle with a built-in thermometer which is as straightforward as it can be and completely effortless. Food thermometer is another great option, just make sure that it’s not the infrared one — in my experience they are great and convenient for measuring temperature of solid things, but very inaccurate when it comes to transparent liquids, such as plain water.
Using a food thermometer or a kettle with temperature control is undeniably precise and easy way of preparing water, but sometimes you will find yourself in a situation or a place with no access to any measuring devices, so it is always useful to know how to get preferred water temperature without one. One way to do so is to simply stick your finger into the water. Your mileage may vary, but for me when the water is around 70°C - 75°C / 160°F - 165°F I can spend approximately half a second in the water before I have to pull my finger off so it won’t burn. I would suggest trying it for yourself first to see how a certain temperature feels so you would be more precise next time you’ll have to measure it that way.
Another way of measuring temperature without a thermometer is to use an ancient Chinese tea master technique of observing the water while it is heating up. When the water reaches about 70°C / 160°F it starts to become loud and little bubbles of oxygen, so called “shrimp eyes” start to form up at the bottom of the kettle. If you want your water to be hotter simply wait until “shrimp eyes” turn into larger “fish eyes” and steam starts to come up from the surface — that means that you reached 80°C / 175°F . If the water becomes quiet then you overdone it — it passed the 90°C / 195°F mark and is about to start boiling.
The next option of getting desired water is to boil it first and then dilute it with colder water. This technique is particularly convenient when you’re boiling water anyways, for example when one of your family members wants to make coffee. You would still want to measure the temperature of the final water in some way, be it a more convenient and precise food thermometer or again, eyeballing it. Observation method is inapplicable in this situation, so you can either use your finger to measure the temperature, or fill about 3/4 of a thermos with boiling water and top the rest of it with room temperature water, which in my experience will end up at approximately 70°C - 75°C / 160°F - 165°F .
Personally I am not a big fan of the boiling and diluting method. Some say that boiled water is “dead” and is not beneficial to your body, but for me it’s just a hassle to clean my kettle after it inevitably gunks up from released calcium. However boiling is a cheap and effective way to make water of suspicious quality softer and safer for consumption, which renders it as a viable option if your water sources are limited.
The last thing you want while drinking mate is to constantly re-heat your water or add more ice to it. No matter if you’re enjoying cold tereré or hot mate, drinking sessions may last up to a few hours, and thermos or vacuum flask is a very convenient way of keeping your water at desired temperature.
Thermos became an essential mate accessory, a trusty companion and an integral part of matero’s image. And since it is really popular to drink mate on the go and take it on the road, thermos becomes your only source of hot water. Especially in countries like Argentina and Uruguay, it is so common to take mate with you wherever you go, that there are vending machines selling hot water for a few pesos at gas stations and grocery stores, so you can refill your car and your thermos and continue your commute in complete happiness!
Water is what turns yerba mate into a magical drink that brings you health and joy, so it is important to treat it with the proper respect it deserves. How do you prepare and measure water? What is your go-to temperature for mate?