The calabash or pumpkin that we use to brew yerba mate traditionally is the fruit of a plant (Lagenaria siceraria) that has been cut, emptied and left to dry. Like all fruits, their size, shape and thickness may vary. If we decide to buy one, the question that immediately arises is which would be the best to enjoy an excellent yerba mate.
To start with, there are two things to consider; thickness and size. The shape is also important but it fulfills a more aesthetic function. The first two make the basic functionality of a mate gourd. Thickness is important because it determines the endurance and durability of our gourd. The wider the wall, the better. We pay a special attention to this matter. We simply do not deal with paper thin gourds.
Too thin gourds can break more easily. Size is also very important because it will determine what capacity the gourd has. In the image seen above, you can see different mate gourd sizes with their respective total capacities measured in milliliters.
Remember that you should always fill approximately 3/4 of the total capacity of the gourd with dry yerba mate. This golden rule is applicable to any other container (glass, wood, ceramic, plastic, etc.) that we use to brew yerba mate.
For size number 1 (tennis ball), we have a total capacity of 200 – 180 mL. This means that if we follow the 3/4 golden rule, we have a mate gourd that supports about 30 – 40 grams of dried yerba.
For size number 2 we have a total capacity of 250 – 230 mL, consequently we can put between 45 and 55 grams of dry yerba.
For size number 3, we have a total capacity of 320 – 280 mL, we can put between 55 and 65 grams of dry yerba.
For size number 4 (the size of a grapefruit), we have a total capacity of 420 – 350 mL, therefore we can put between 75 and 95 grams of dry yerba.
Why should it be filled to 3/4 full capacity? Because it’s the right measure of yerba we’re going to need so that the drink is well frothy, with good consistency and good duration between servings. If we put little yerba, we will get a kind of soup where the leaves will float along with the yerba sticks. It will not have much taste and the bombilla will move everywhere.
If we put too much yerba, we can not put the necessary amount of water to brew it properly.
It must also be taken into account that yerba “swells” in contact with water; that is, it hydrates and increases its volume. It is interesting to see how not all yerbas react equally to this fact. There are yerbas that “swell” more than others.
In that case, perhaps the “golden rule” can be slightly changed. We can put a little less than 3/4 of dry yerba capacity. Trial and error is the key to success.
In general, a good yerba mate brewing should be “creamy”, with some small air bubbles. The drinker should be able to sip 3 or 4 times until the gourd is refilled with water.
So … what is the ideal size?
This will depend on how intense we want the infusion, if we are going to share our mate with another person (s) and for how long we want to drink mate.
The greater the amount of yerba, the stronger our drink will be, even if we use a soft brand. This almost obvious detail many times it is overlooked. For example, if we have a size number 4 and we put 3/4 of the softest yerba on the market we will obtain a much stronger and more intense infusion than if we do it in a size number 1 or 2.
In return, a very strong yerba in a size number 1 can have a medium intensity.
Concerning the duration of the drink in good condition, the more yerba has our gourd, the longer it will last.
That is, the yerba will not be “washed” quickly. At this point it is good to remember that we should not wet all the yerba when we pour water neither stir the yerba with the bombilla. At the beginning we will put the water where the bombilla is firmly put. When that area gets completely wet and the yerba loses its strength, we will then pour water on the “dry zones” progressively.
It’s like watering a garden with a hose, we’re doing it in parts. By doing so, we can enjoy a long and yummy traditional yerba mate.
The sizes that we work the most are numbers 1 and 2 since they are the most popular. Especially number 2.
Of course there are also “intermediate measures”: 1.5 – 2.5. All mate gourds are different.
If you want a very specific size, we can get it for you but it can take extra time.
Today in the market we have the chance to have mates of all types and shapes; ceramic, glass, plastic, steel, wood, silicone, etc. While the traditional gourd requires some extra care to stay in good condition, the final result is worth it.
No other container but a natural gourd gives us those sparkling mates and that “creaminess” that is so enjoyable.