I often get a question from readers — why in my reviews I am measuring durability of yerba mate in refills instead of liters of water, like most other reviews? To answer that we’ll need to understand why the majority of reviewers decided to measure it in liters in the first place, pros and cons of that approach and how did I eventually decide to use the number of refills as the ultimate quantifier for yerba mate durability.
Each mate starts off with water preparation. If you want to make a traditional hot mate, first thing you’ll do is pour some water into kettle in order to heat it up. So the number one decision that you have to make is to determine how much water you’ll need. Longer mates will require more water than short mates. You’ll likely know how much water your thermos and kettle can hold. Probably, most of your gourds, if not every, are average-sized, about 150-200ml. In that case it is absolutely reasonably and practically to measure the durability of your favorite yerbas by the amount of water they require.
Want a shorter mate, like Liebig Original? You’ll heat up less than a liter of water and pour it in you standard 1L thermos. Are you in a mood for longer mate, like Cruz De Malta Tradicional? You’ll heat up more water and maybe even whip out a large 1.5L or 2L thermos for that occasion. No need for extra calculations. In the beginning of my mate journey I used the same logic and started to categorize yerbas by the amount of water they can last. However, after I started to build up my gourd collection I ran into a problem with that simple approach.
Let’s take this silly huge cuia as an extreme example - how many liters of water do you think it will require? Looks like it will take a whole thermos just for a single refill! Luckily, I didn’t need to get myself such a giant cuia to realize that size of the gourd must be taken into account when measuring yerba mate durability — it was actually the opposite.
Long time ago, shortly after I started drinking mate, I saw a cute little calabash gourd in an artisan store. I loved the quirky “Argentina” engraving as well as the overall look of it and the way in sat snugly in my hand, so I could not resist buying it. Excited by the novelty of a brand-new gourd, I used it almost every day for the first few weeks. However, I noticed that compared to mates that lasted precisely 1 liter of water in my average-sized gourd, after finishing drinking the same mate out of my new little gourd, I was constantly left with a noticeable amount of water in my thermos.
It made sense — smaller gourd holds less yerba mate, which needs less water for a balanced infusion. I found the difference in the amount of water to be quite significant to be ignored, otherwise I would have had a wrong impression about mates that I drank from my small gourd. I verified it again, this time in my biggest Brazilian cuia, which, as I expected required more water for the same yerba mate. That’s when I got the idea of measuring durability of yerba mate by number of refills, in order to classify it in a more precise and gourd-agnostic way.
I made the same mate again in my smallest, average and biggest gourd, this time counting refills. The result was obvious — the amount of refills was exactly the same in each scenario. Why is that? Well, for a traditional mate we need to fill about 2/3 of the gourd with yerba, leaving about 1/3 of the space inside for water. The ratio of yerba to water is always the same in any gourd, while amount of yerba and water change relatively to the size of the gourd. Thus, the amount of refills stays the same for different gourds, and the total amount of water needed for complete mate session will depend on the size of the gourd.
Bonus point is that to me as a reviewer it is really easy then to simply count refills for each yerba mate reviewed and then assign it a durability category based on the number of refills. In my relative experience with different yerba mate brands, less than 15 refills will classify as a short durability, 15 to 25 refills is considered to be a moderate durability, and more than 25 refills to me is a long mate. Precisely counting the amount of water on the other hand seems like a highly cumbersome task, especially if I have some water left in thermos after finishing drinking session.
Despite the fact that counting refills IMO is a more precise way of measuring yerba mate durability, I am fully aware that it is not a perfect solution. If you think about it, the number of refills in and of itself does not mean anything, and requires to be put into context, i.e. classifying it as a short or long durability, thus giving the reader an idea of the amount water such yerba mate can last, relatively speaking. Same as with not giving scores and ratings in my reviews, I rely on the reader to be smart and make their own decisions, including how much water will they need for a given yerba mate based on the size of their own gourd and experiences that they had with it in the past.
Who knows, maybe for the sake of clarity and practicality I should add to my reviews an approximate amount of water needed for a particular yerba mate in an average gourd, alongside with the number of refills — let me know in comments if that is a good idea. Anyway, I hope this article clears up why my reviews are a little different compared to the others. Do you personally care about yerba mate durability? How do you measure it, what to you is the most convenient and practical way?