Very frequently mate drinkers ask us this question. Although there are important factors that are necessary to produce a high quality yerba mate, the real answer for this question is this : there are as many “excellent” brands as yerba drinkers.
Does this mean that all yerbas are the same in the end? Of course not. Let´s begin with a general basic criteria a good yerba mate has to follow:
In the visual evaluation of the product, you should receive a light green, yellowish tone, never intense green, emerald or dark.
Grinding must be harmonious : a fair amount of sticks, a good amount of leaves and some dust. Yes, dust!. Dust has always been the “bad boy” when it comes to yerba.
The reason you do need dust is quite simple: it is what dissolves in water faster. The key (as in almost everything) is proportion, balance. Too much or almost none won´t make it.
The aroma is also important: it has to show no trace of moisture or foreign aromas.
Now we are ready to introduce the most important factors: aging and water temperature.
When yerba lacks aging, it has a strong green color, a remarkable bitter taste and a very strong “vegetable” note that in some cases resembles the taste of seaweed.
A high quality yerba mate should have at least 12 months of aging.
Organic brands and those yerbas commonly branded as “Selección Especial”, “Premium”, “Cosecha Seleccionada”, etc. follow this rule.
Small producers and cooperatives (generally organic) even let the yerba age for 24 months.
This is crucial if we consider that a yerba has to have an even and lasting taste.
With long aging, bitter features are dimmed, they appear slightly fruity notes and a subtle sweetness. Obviously this varies in different types of yerbas, according to climate and geographical location and the time of year that is harvested or the type of processing.
This is why many times the same brand can taste slightly differently.
Water temperature should not exceed 167 Fahrenheit (°F) / 75 Celsius (°C) This is the best temperature for mate´s compounds to dissolve gently and slowly.
So, if you have a well aged and grinded yerba plus the right water temperature, you should be able to refill your gourd 8-10 times without losing intensity and quality.
Another main aspect in your yerba mate experience is quantity. A soft yerba will become stronger if you have to fill (3/4) of a big gourd. On the contrary, a strong yerba can be felt milder in a rather small gourd.
This sounds pretty basic but it´s not generally taken into account.
If you happen to have a big gourd and you still want it soft, you may “break” the golden 3/4 rule by not considering the whole volumen of the gourd but half only.
This does not mean that you still have to take the water level right to the top. This will cause the leaves and twigs to “swim” in a deep ocean producing a bad taste experience (and visual!) as well.
A great yerba mate brewing must look creamy. Normally this is achieved when the water level barely exceeds the dry yerba line. You should follow this guideline with any recipient. Needless to say, the mixture between water and yerba should cover at least the bottom part of the bombilla.
If you like to eat while you drink, a medium intense or strong yerba could be a good choice.
Also, the external factors (your gourd, the environment, the bombilla) are influential in determining the perception of your yerba mate.
Different types of gourds and bombillas will produce different results.
Especially bombillas. A good filter is essential. If yours has not a good filtering system, you can always add a cloth filter to them.
We also recommend to have at least 2 gourds for your everyday brewings.
A mate gourd needs around 12- 24 hours to dry well (remember to always use a paper towel after you empty and rinse it).
In short, finding the “best” yerba for you will take some time and some tests.
After a while you will be able to tell what´s good for you.
Follow your instinct. It will be a fun and healthy experience to share!