A group of indigenous South Americans known as the Guarani people were already gathering together to drink yerba mate when early European explorers made contact with them. Some of the first European settlers in present day Paraguay and southern Brazil were Jesuit priests tasked with introducing Christianity to the indigenous population.
These priests were quickly exposed to yerba mate and they immediately recognized its potential. In addition to its nutritional and rejuvenating benefits, the custom of gathering to drink yerba mate proved to be an excellent way to bond and learn from the locals. Yerba mate has been bringing different groups of people together since the earliest historical accounts of its existence.
Drinking yerba mate from a gourd and bombilla takes some practice but it’s an excellent way to consume healthy nutrients and connect with others.
To prepare traditional yerba mate, fill a gourd or cup with .5 ounces of loose yerba mate leaves. Shake the gourd gently to filter out dusty leaves, if so desired. Place the filtered end of the bombilla into the gourd and leaves.
Fill the gourd with cool water and allow the leaves to soak for several minutes. This prevents the leaves from being burned or damaged upon exposure to hot water. Once the leaves have soaked, they are ready to steep in hot or cold water.
When yerba mate is served with hot water it is commonly referred to as simply “mate.” In certain areas, like the country of Paraguay, cold yerba mate is very popular and is called terere. It is also common to add other herbs to the yerba mate leaves or water.
Once you have prepared some traditional yerba mate, you are ready to start a yerba mate circle. Yerba mate circles function much like they have for centuries. The basic principle is to gather together a group of people and share a single gourd of yerba mate. It is a casual ritual with specific customs and procedures. One person is the designated pourer, called the cebador. The cebador is responsible for distributing the yerba mate evenly to all the members of the group.
After preparing the yerba mate, the cebador fills up the gourd and hands it to the first awaiting member. Their turn ends once they finish drinking the entire gourd and hand it back to the cebador. The cebador refills the gourd and hands it to the next in line so the cycle can continue. The cycle proceeds at a slow pace until the water or the yerba mate leaves are exhausted. They are often replenished quickly so the cycle can continue. A typical yerba mate session can go on for quite some time.