If you have read any review here at Matexperience, you may have noticed that there are no scores or points that are given, nor there are any ratings or rankings. Perhaps, this is something that you’re used to and expect from a review, especially if you are familiar with 100-point wine rating system that is becoming more and more widely adopted even for things like tea and coffee.
This is all intentional — I think that there are many reasons why any type of scores or points are harmful to gourmet things, and I want to explain my point of view here, so that you have a better understanding of my review style, motivation behind writing a review and hopefully at the end — better understanding and appreciation of gourmet things, yerba mate included.
My love for finer things in life does not end at yerba mate. I enjoy and admire aged whiskeys, quality teas and coffees, nice cigars and pipe tobaccos, and especially good wines. One of my go-to websites for everything wine-related is Wine Folly. They greatly summed up the drawbacks of wine rating system, and I felt like much of their points could be applied to other gourmet drinks, like mate.
Using numbers and scores is a great way to visualize and describe physics, statistics and other exact sciences, but when we’re talking about tasting experiences, which are highly subjective, it is really hard, if not impossible to create a standard around that. How can you measure taste? In case of yerba mate, flavor notes, preparation nuances, durability, effects are all impossible to measure and to reduce to just a plain number. Furthermore, even if there would be, say, a 100-point system for rating yerba mate, different people would weigh the rating scale differently. For one person, 80 points may seem like a good score, but for another it will mean average yerba mate that is not good enough.
All people have opinions and preferences, and it is perfectly ok to have them. Opinions may polarize people, but they also allow us to relate to each other. Sharing opinion is a part of writing review, there is no way around that, but there is a difference between describing what you taste or smell and giving your opinion on that, versus giving a score based on your opinion. For instance, one reviewer may enjoy lighter and more subtle mate and will give such yerba a better score than a more bold and strong one.
When there are no scores or points to be given, the actual body of the review becomes more meaningful. By reading the whole review and detailed descriptions of the review’s subject, the reader can better understand what that subject is about, what aspects of it will the reader enjoy or not, which in turn will help the reader to become more aware of his or her preferences and in general enjoy yerba mate much more.
No ratings or scores also allows reviewers to share their own unique perspective and authentic voice more easily as their hands are not tied by some arbitrary rating system. Readers will also enjoy and benefit from distinctive review from different reviewers and critics.
Imagine a world where all yerba mate is rated on a 100-point scale. If one manufacturer produces yerba mate that becomes universally acclaimed and gets an average score of, say, 90 points, then other manufacturers will try to mimic their formula, copy the processes in attempt to recreate a similar yerba mate, which will inevitably lead to homogeny in the region, if not the whole yerba mate industry. Without the scores, manufacturers are free to experiment and produce their own special style of yerba mate, and us materos are able to enjoy a better variety of different styles and types of yerba mate.
Personally, when I’m looking for a new wine/coffee/whiskey/beer/etc. to try, I don’t look at the score in review even if it is provided. What I’m interested in is the actual description that I try to match to my preferences to determine if I would enjoy it.
What if I don’t have any preferences yet, you might ask? That’s a good question, and this might be an argument for scores as they will at least tell you the quality of the product, but I personally find that price is a good indicator of the quality. What I did when I had no preferences in wines, for example, is that I avoided the cheapest ones and tried as much different types of wines from different grapes. I took mental, and sometimes even physical notes on what I liked and disliked about particular wine and after a short time I was fairly confident in my wine preferences.
The same approach I used when I became interested in yerba mate. By the way, I’ve yet to have a bad yerba mate, so this process becomes even more streamlined — you’re free to start with pretty much any yerba mate in terms of taste (preparation is a whole different story though). Still, keep in mind that mate is a more “foreign” and acquired taste than wine, so I would advise sticking to yerbas that I picked as best for beginners.
So far, yerba mate, globally speaking, is an unexplored field and mate is exotic drink for the majority of people around the world, especially compared to other industries like tea and coffee, which pretty much adopted some kind of rating system. In a sense, yerba mate industry still remains untouched and there are not a lot of resources yet that are doing comprehensive yerba mate reviews, but the ones that I see I absolutely enjoy reading or watching. Yerbamatelab.com, Circle of Drink and Sudamerican Mate YouTube channels — I love their passion and authenticity, I love that they are not giving scores or doing rankings; they emphasize on the actual content and share a similar mindset towards yerba mate reviews.
As I said before, I honestly think that there is no “bad” yerba mate — I had nasty coffees, gnarly cigars, disgusting wines, but never have I ever had a mate that tasted so bad that I wanted to throw it away. One mate can be good for rare peaceful evening ceremonies, another mate can be good for daily morning drinking — it doesn’t mean that one mate is good and other is bad.
For instance, Liebig Original was such a delicious mate that at first I was disappointed that it became lavado so quickly — I just wanted to sip it all day long! But is it necessarily a bad thing? Arguably not — sometimes you don’t have time or desire for long drinking session, and mate with short durability comes in handy.
Before writing the review I spend few weeks digging deep into the core of specific yerba mate and trying to understand what did manufacturer want to say, for whom this yerba mate was designed for. I experiment with different temperatures and gourds to be able to accurately describe the aroma and taste of mate, its cut and specifics of preparation. I give my opinions and let the readers decide what’s better for them according to their own tastes and preferences.
Some yerba mate brands that I tried have really impressed me in one way or another — usually such yerba mate has its own distinctive nature, character, that is unique and stands out from other yerba mate brands.
In that case, I mark those yerba mate brands as a Matexperience Choice, which indicates a mate that is memorable and in my opinion is a must-try for any matero out there. The more such yerba mate brands you have tried, the more you’ll see how different, complex and truly gourmet this drink can be. That is the solid yerba mate that is very unlikely to disappoint you and would make you get some more after you finished your first bag.
Do you find scores useful? What are you looking for in a review? Share your feedback and suggestions for review format in the comments.