It seems like for a mainstream and non-artisanal Argentine yerba mate, Mate Rojo remains somewhat unknown to the general public. Which is a shame — inside the non-traditional (for traditional yerba mate) blue bag hides an extremely pleasant and underrated yerba. Rich and durable, with so many layers of flavors and a nice relaxing effect, Mate Rojo Tradicional can compete with more famous complex yerba mates. Aged for 18 months, Mate Rojo Tradicional is truly unique and is a great example of how epicurean Argentine yerba mate can be. An absolute treat for a yerba mate aficionado, although, it might be too overwhelming for a novice drinker.
If you got or decided to get yourself Mate Rojo Tradicional, please, take a couple of minutes to enjoy an aroma of a freshly opened bag of this yerba mate. It is extremely thick, rich and fragrant, showcasing the best example of what aging for 18 months can do to a yerba mate. Wood and cedar, dry fruits and berries, caramel and maple syrup, nutmeg and vanilla, tobacco and chocolate — the nose of Mate Rojo Tradicional is absolutely heady and intoxicating, in a good way. This yerba mate makes a great first impression and gets me even more excited each time I’m about to brew it.
I really like the cut of Mate Rojo Tradicional. It seems that it was very well-thought-out — the balance between leaves, stems and powder is almost perfect. The leaves ground quite uniformly, and their color is pleasantly even with darker inclusions here and there, indicating a standard drying method. Stems are present in just enough quantity not to pull the focus from the leaves and are ground not too fine and not too coarse. Binding them all together is the generous amount of powder, which adds fluffiness to the cut of Mate Rojo Tradicional and makes it pleasantly airy.
Being an Argentine con palo yerba mate, there is nothing particularly special about preparation of Mate Rojo Tradicional. The balanced cut allows me to use any bombilla that I want, although being slightly on the dusty side, I prefer bombillas with better filtration system, such as spoon bombilla. On the bright side, the powder makes it easier to maintain a mountain of yerba, and make this mate more balanced and last longer.
When it comes to temperature, Mate Rojo Tradicional again shows its traditionalism — I find that it has the best taste and durability with 70°C to 75°C / 160°F to 165°F water. Lower temperatures, in range between 60°C and 65°C / 140°F and 150°F , do not affect durability, but make this mate more mild and seem not enough to bring out the flavor that Mate Rojo Tradicional has to offer. 80°C / 175°F and hotter in my experience completely ruin this mate, making it absolutely unbalanced with overpowering bitterness at the start of the session with abrupt tasteless lavado at the end, not to mention an overall durability that is almost halved with such hot water.
Most convenient way to get ideal water temperature is to use an electric kettle or a stovetop kettle with temperature control. If you prefer traditional kettle you can use a infrared thermometer or a food thermometer .
Right from the first pour of water, Mate Rojo Tradicional gives me a lot to process. Straight up I get a very flavorful and potent sip — lots of bitterness, sweetness and even a little saltiness blend together very well and activate as many taste buds in my mouth as possible. Sip after sip, I slowly start to unravel this tightly-knit ball of flavors — tobacco, raisins, dark chocolate, rye bread crust are the first notes that are deciphered by my brain. This mate also has some properties of Uruguayan yerba mate flavors, presumably from the extra dustiness — I get leather, earth, wood, oak and cardboard. Think of it as those complex aged scotch whiskeys — not smoky Islays, but those salty coastal malts that successfully combine leathery and oaky notes with toffee and caramel flavors. Mate Rojo Tradicional is definitely a risky yerba mate for an unprepared palate. I am not saying that newbies will necessarily be put off by this mate, but seasoned materos will absolutely be delighted with such complexity and variety of flavors.
Subsequent refills allow me to put those bold and straightforward flavors a bit to the background and enjoy subtle notes that shyly come out and present themselves as I continue drinking Mate Rojo Tradicional. With a slight tartness that I haven’t noticed in the first few refills I am getting fruity and green notes — apple peel, cherry pit, woodland strawberry and fresh birch leaves. Combined with the aforementioned notes, it reminds me of a Finnish sauna with its distinctive pleasant fragrant smell from the wood and leafy whisks, and cozy comforting warm feel. Abundant powder also adds some syrupy and thick mouthfeel to Mate Rojo Tradicional — not quite as full as it is on most of Uruguayan brands, but a solid medium body that lets you feel the weight of the variety and multitude of flavors packed into this yerba mate.
Medium body combined with complexity and potency of flavors, make aftertaste of Mate Rojo Tradicional long-lasting and bright. This is definitely not the super drinkable mate — each sip of Mate Rojo Tradicional is to be pondered and analyzed. The significant bitterness stays with me long after I swallow the sip, and makes me think twice before going for another one. This is the perfect time to enjoy the subtlest and most volatile notes of Mate Rojo Tradicional — I get hints of buttered popcorn and salted caramel, as well as some black tea — pu-erh, to be specific. I would even go ahead and suggest clearing your palate with some still water every few sips — that’s how potent and strong is the finish of Mate Rojo Tradicional. Doing so will give you an option to increase the drinking cadence if you are short on time, and arguably will allow you to get more subtle flavors that might get lost as you get more and more accustomed the complexity of this mate.
As I mentioned earlier, the durability of Mate Rojo Tradicional will depend on the temperature of the water. Hotter than 80°C / 175°F will yield in a super short mate — I’m talking about less than 15 refills, about 13 on average. With lower temperatures I was able to get twice as many refills, although my experience was pretty scattered. Sometimes I got 23 refills, sometimes Mate Rojo Tradicional lasted up to 30 refills. In my book, the line between moderate and long mate is somewhere at 25 refills, so it is hard to unequivocally define it as one or the other, but I got Mate Rojo Tradicional past that mark often enough to consider it more of a long mate rather than a moderate one.
The last thing you want while drinking mate is to constantly re-heat your water or add more ice to it. No matter if it's hot mate or cold tereré, use a vacuum bottle or a very popular in South America mate thermos with spout.
Another notable thing about Mate Rojo Tradicional, is the effect it had on me. Majority of yerba mates are usually either energizing or neutral, and most people consider mate as an alternative to coffee and energy drink due to its high caffeine content. However, in my experience it does not simply come to the amount of caffeine — other compounds of yerba mate plant combined with caffeine create a whole different chemical reaction in human’s body that is completely different to what you usually experience with energy drinks or coffee. Although much less common, relaxing yerba mates do exist, and it is always a treat to be able to find one.
Mate Rojo Tradicional is one of such yerbas — every time I was drinking this mate I experienced calming, relaxing and grounding sensations, no matter the time of day. The effect Mate Rojo Tradicional had on me is not sedative though, so it is perfectly fine to drink it in the morning without fear of falling back to sleep, but my favorite time to enjoy this mate was in the second half of the day — either to relieve stresses of the day-to-day life, or to help me unwind after a long day of hard work.
What are your thoughts on Mate Rojo Tradicional? Comment below!