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  • From Seed to Drink: Everything about Yerba Mate production.

    The Mate ritual has been part of South American culture for hundreds - if not thousands - of years. Along the way, the different communities have developed different techniques to grow, harvest and process yerba mate. While technology has contributed to the efficiency of the whole production process, historian Javier Ricca has stated that mate’s taste, aroma, and quality has not necessarily improved. According to him, we're probably drinking a mate that is as tasteful as the indigenous communities' in the 16th century and earlier. Yerba Mate Planting In Spanish, ‘yerba’ sounds very similar to ‘hierba’, which means ‘herb’. However, yerba is actually the dry, toasted and shredded leaf of a tree that reaches 10 m high. Ilex paraguariensis naturally grows in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay at the latitudes 10°-30° in an area of approximately 540.000 km² (247 acres). Regular high humidity, warm and constant temperature, as well as rich, well-drained soil, are some of the requirements for its growth. Nowadays, small Illex paraguariensis are kept in nursery gardens for their first 9 to 12 month. Then, they are transferred directly to the soil. The plants cannot be harvested until their 4th year, and it is not until the 7th or 8th year that they produce enough leaves to have a satisfactory performance from a commercial point of view. Harvesting Different conditions of humidity, altitude, temperature, etc., influence directly on the best time to harvest. According to Gustavo Peckolz, that time is from March to September in Paraguay and the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso; from January to September in the states of Paraná y Santa Catharina; from April to June in the Argentinian region of Misiones; and from March to July in the rest of Argentina and the Rio Grande do Sul. The harvest is usually done manually by hand, with handsaws, machetes, scissors or electric scissors, which make the process less tiring and faster. The leaves are collected into nylon tarps and then selected for its size and quality. The bigger ones are discarded, and then the smaller ones are quickly sent to the next stage. Drying 'Sapecado' and 'fogueado' are the two stages of drying and toasting yerba mate leaves. The first one, sapecado, is a crucial step that needs to be done within the 24h of the harvest to avoid biological degradation. Right after the harvest, the leaves start to oxidize, losing their color, aroma, and taste. To avoid that, the leaves quickly need to be dried by exposing them to a very high temperature for a short time. Direct fire needs to be carefully controlled as too much heat can burn the leaves, and the smoke can affect the taste and smell of the leaves. The product of a faulty sapecado is a brown and yellow yerba, that was marketed as a lower quality, cheaper alternative, and used for 'mate cocido'. In contrast, the best quality - and strongest - yerba is that with a deep, uniform green color and characteristic aroma. After the sapecado, the leaves go through another drying stage, called fogueado. At this point, the leaves are either put onto conveyor belts or spread on stationary racks and exposed to hot air -of between 80°C-100°C (176°F-212°F)- for a period of 2 to 12 hours. After the double drying process, which is nowadays done with gas or electricity, the yerba mate has lost 80% of moisture. Canchado Canchado refers to both the process and the product of grinding the dried leaves. In this first stage of milling, the leaves are coarsely cut into squares of 1 cm² to bag and transport them more efficiently. Yerba Mate Aging or Maturation The bags of yerba mate are then stored in chambers where temperature, humidity, and light can be regulated. As it happens with wine and other products, yerba mate needs a controlled environment to be properly aged and develop a richer blend. This maturation also helps ensure the characteristics and properties of yerba will be kept until it is bought and consumed. Sources differ on the minimum time necessary for this process. From 9 months to 2 years, they all agree that the longer, the better. Second Grinding and Design The Blend In the final stage, the yerba mate is grinded again, but this time to considerably smaller pieces that range from dust to a couple of millimeters. The leaves are classified by type, age, size, etc. and mixed with dried stems and sometimes with dried herbs, to create different blends. At the beginning of the 20th Century, shop keepers had up to 18 different categories for yerba mate, based on how dry they were and the size of the leaves. Today, every brand mix and labels different blends, according to the proportion of stems, yerba dust, leaves and additives (such as herbs, citrus peel, spices), which will define the taste, aroma, and color of the mate. Yerba mate can be classified following different criteria, but the most basic one is the presence or absence of stems. With stems, it contains at least 65% of dry, toasted and shredded leaves and no more than 35% of stems. Without stems (called in Spanish ‘despalillada’ or ‘despalada’) contains at least 90% of dry, toasted and shredded leaves and no more than 10% of stems. Testing The yerba mate is regularly checked at the lab throughout the process. Each country has its own policies to control the production and export of yerba mate. As part of the internal testing, all companies have tasters. A tasters job is to make sure the blends have a well-balanced flavor and that the yerba mate has aged enough to maintain their quality over time. Yerba mate production is a process that may take at least 5 years from seed to drink. It's tested and controlled, and it requires great skill and precision.

  • ARGENTINIAN GAUCHO: Culture and History

    What is a Gaucho? He's a mysterious loner, wandering the open plains with an equine companion. He lives off the land, sleeps under the stars, knows everything there is to know about horses and cattle. He likes to drink, hunt, dance and woo women, but he'll never be tamed. The -romanticized and damn photogenic- Argentinian Gaucho answers to no one except himself (and that's the way he likes it). In this post, we'll dive into the fascinating world of gauchos, from their humble origins to their modern-day counterparts. Read on to learn everything you need to know about the gaucho: the myths, the legends, and the reality. ORIGINS The original Gauchos were nomadic horsemen on the grasslands - or La Pampa - of Argentina and Uruguay in the early 1800s. Most Gauchos were "mestizos," meaning they had both European and Indian ancestry; there were white, black and mulato Gauchos. They shared many traits with American cowboys from the same time period and are romanticized the same way. No one is sure exactly where the word "gaucho" was originated. A few popular theories include: The Quechua word for "orphan" or "homeless" The Portuguese word for "vagabond" The Guaran-Indian word for "drinker" The Latin word for "thieves" Regardless of where their name come from, certain traits of the gaucho are unmistakable. They were renowned for their horse riding skills and ability to work with cattle. They lived off the land—hunting, foraging and drinking vast quantities of yerba mate. HSTORY What gave rise to this South American "cowboy?" Spanish failed attempts to found Buenos Aires in the 1500s left scores of horses and cattle wandering the fertile countryside. The first emerging "gauchos" were men who could tame a horse, hunt their own cattle and generally live however they pleased. In the 1800s, governmental powers were shifting across Europe, sending powerful shock waves rippling through the Spanish empire in South America. The colonized land of Argentina was then fighting off a British invasion; this organized defense would later on become a decade-long War of Independence. Argentine forces often fought battles with the Spanish in rural areas, where they were outnumbered and outgunned. Nomadic men of mixed Spanish and Indian blood began assisting them, offering valuable insight into the land. This men worked mostly as guides and scouts, using their horsemanship skills to provide support to the troops. By the time the war ended in 1818, the "gaucho" was born in both legend and namesake. GAUCHO CULTURE EMERGES After the war ended, many gauchos migrated to the grassy fertile Pampa's region. Hunting and trading became their way of life, along with a rustic lifestyle of living off the land. Some found work caring for cattle and performing odd jobs for estate (estancia) owners, although their overall lifestyle remained much the same. Most gauchos lived in tiny mud huts with grass rooves. After a day of hunting or working on an estancia, the gaucho would come home to a bed of soft cattle hides. Their diet consisted mostly of beef, wine and yerba mate. Gauchos were the free spirits of the time, rarely legalizing their marriages, if they chose to marry at all. Many came from a Roman Catholic background, although their beliefs were often tinted by local superstitions. Their pastimes of choice included drinking, gambling, dancing and playing the guitar. THE DECLINE OF THE GAUCHO As the 19th century drew to a close, gaucho culture began a slow and steady decline. Private owners began acquiring livestock that had previously lived wild on the Pampas. Soon the land was fenced off into huge estancias, leaving little room for wandering nomads. The Industrial Revolution also sparked this shift, as many began to view the gaucho lifestyle as wild and uncivilized. With no more room to roam and fewer employment options, many gauchos were forced into the city. Gauchos who wanted to continue their agrarian way of life were forced to take more permanent work on the newly founded estancias. Purebred livestock replaced the feral herds while large tracts of alfalfa were planted to feed them. In one generation, the free-spirited gaucho was forced to become a ranch hand. MODERN DAY GAUCHOS Does this mean the gaucho culture disappeared altogether? By no means! The spirit of the gaucho lives on in the hardworking ranch hands on today's estancias. In recent years, there's also been a huge boom in tourists seeking the traditional "gaucho" experience. Estancias across Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil now offer visitors the chance to experience gaucho culture firsthand. Thanks to tourism, today's generation of gauchos has the privilege of sharing their rich history with the rest of the world. Events like the "Feria de Mataderos" and "La Rural" Expositions are a chance for gauchos to showcase their culture and skills. ELEMENTS OF GAUCHO CULTURE TRADITIONAL DRESS As you might expect of minimalists living off the land, gaucho dress developed to be more functional than fashionable. Baggy trousers called "bombachas" were their pants of choice, especially for long days in the saddle. They were designed to gather at the ankles and cover the tops of their boots. Gauchos usually wore a woolen "poncho" that could also double as a saddle pad or sleeping bag. They'd switch out a lightweight poncho for a heavier version during the wintertime. Other traditional gaucho fashion items include a wide-brimmed hat, spurs, and a vest. Others wear a handkerchief tied around their neck or a belt decorated with a silver buckle and coins. FOOD & DRINK The early gauchos lived off the land, so their diet was limited to what was available. The majority of gauchos lived on a diet almost exclusively of beef and yerba mate. What makes this fact so noteworthy? You would think that a diet limited to two items would result in malnutrition or poor health, but that wasn't the case for the gauchos. The secret was in yerba mate's amazing health benefits. Aside from the energy boost from the caffeine, yerba mate also supplied a steady stream of vital nutrients. Wandering gauchos would have been able to get all the vitamins, potassium, and magnesium they needed from sipping their daily brew. Bonus: Yerba mate can also act as an appetite suppresant. This was surely helpful for the gauchos and their limited dining options! MUSIC & LITERATURE Just like Americans have tall tales and legends about their cowboys, the gauchos have also been immortalized in fiction and prose. The majority of songs and stories about gauchos began with the gauchos themselves. They were written and sung by wandering gaucho minstrels, accompanied by a guitar, of course! If you get a group of gauchos together around a campfire, there's sure to be plenty of singing and dancing. Traditional dances include the gato, the cielito, and the mediacana. They're especially proud of the Malambo, a dance featuring very fast (and very complex) footwork. Gaucho lore and legend became a vital part of 19th-century South American literature: Rafael Obligado wrote three famous poems about the legendary gaucho Santos Vega, who was only defeated by the Devil himself. After his death, his ghost inhabits the Pampas. Domingo Faustino Sarmiento had a more serious take on gaucho life in his book Facundo. It explores the cultural clash that occurred between the nomadic gauchos and the city dwellers during the time of the Industrial Revolution. Each year, the annual television awards in Argentina are named the Martin Fierros. This is a direct homage to the title character in Jose Hernandez's beloved gaucho poem. GAUCHOS & YERBA MATE As deeply ingrained as gaucho culture is into South American life, so is the tradition of drinking yerba mate. It's an old Guarani tradition from the native Indians in South America, who many of the gauchos were descended from. The gauchos of old would have found the herb growing wild across the Pampas, allowing them to drink it to their hearts' content. Today we can easily order and enjoy yerba mate, but back then, they would have a little more work to do. First, a gaucho would need to build a campfire and secure his kettle, or "pava", above the flames. Next, he would take the dried yerba leaves and pour them into the mate (gourd) to about half-full. The gaucho would cover the mouth of the gourd and turn it upside-down, shaking out the fine powdered dust. It was important for the yerba to settle on only one side and leave the other side of the gourd empty. Next, he'd pour a bit of hot water down the empty side and let the yerba soak it up for a minute or so. This would allow the leaves to bloom and release their wonderful flavor. Once the rest of the water is nearly boiling, he'd pour in the rest and get ready to drink his favorite beverage. Gauchos living on the plains would have enjoyed their yerba mate "amargo," or bitter. Gauchos (and many others) today often add some sugar to make mate dulce, or "sweet" yerba mate. Are You Ready to Drink Like a True Gaucho? Well, there you have it. After reading this article, you'll have the perfect answer the next time someone asks you, "What is a gaucho?" Gauchos are hard-working men who love their land and the animals that live on it. The history of their culture spans hundreds of years. They've been romanticized and immortalized in songs, poetry, and novels. And while the original "gaucho" lifestyle may be gone, their spirit lives on in the ranching culture of today. If you're lucky enough to visit an estancia, you can get a glimpse of gaucho culture for yourself. Speaking of gaucho culture, has all this reading made you thirsty? Until you get the chance to sit around a campfire with a real-life gaucho, you'll have to be content with a sip of yerba mate at home.

  • Full Guide: Let's prepare your first Mate!

    Everything you need to know -and will need- to get started: MATE CUPS Mate cups come in all shapes, sizes and materials: from bone to silicone, wood to ceramic, glass, metal and gourd. There are basically four styles of mate cups: 1. Mate Gourd Let's talk about the Argentinian -and my personal- favourite; the gourd. Also called 'calabaza' or 'porongo', gourds are natural cups from the plant Lagenaria Vulgaris, which come in a variety of shapes and sizes. It can also be decorated with silver or alpaca, engraved or lined with leather or autochthonous fabrics. They need to be ‘cured’ before its first use. These are the most typical types of mate cups in Argentina, Uruguay and the south of Brazil. 2. Wood Mate cups can be made out of different types of wood, which of course affects its flavor. Algarrobo, orange tree, cinnamon, cocobolo, rosewood, quebracho and oak are the most popular woods used to make mate cups. They are dyed, carved and decorated in various ways. 3. Guampa Guampa cups are made out of cow horns. It was very common among argentinian gauchos in the old days and is still very popular in Paraguay. Much like mate gourds, they need to be ‘cured’ before its first use. These are most commonly used for cold mate, also known as "tereré¨. 4. Non-organic materials: Metal, glass, ceramic and silicone. These cups are easy to clean and they don't need to be ‘cured’ before using. They do not absorb the flavor of the yerba, which can be considered a pro or a con, as the mate will not be as tasteful. Some metal cups can transfer some of the heat from the water, so you must be careful. Cups made with ceramic or glass are often covered with leather, keeping the heat for a longer period of time. Silicone mate cups are one of the latest additions to the mate market; they are particularly handy to travel as they are flexible and easy to clean. The downside is that due to the flexibility of the material they require some practice getting used to. 'BOMBILLAS' - FILTER STRAWS In terms of material, you should aim for metal bombillas, made of stainless steel or alpaca. We advise against using glass (because they are very fragile), cane or even wood bombillas (because they are hard to clean and they are prone to mold formation). In terms of shape, there are two main types, and the difference lies in the type of strainer: 1. Curva The most common one has a shape that resembles a covered spoon, or a flat bulb, with small holes. It is the best option when drinking mate without stems as it strains most of the yerba. As a con, it can get clogged and it is not the easiest one to clean. 2. Chata The other type of bombilla looks more like a metal straw with a flexible spring or flat filter on the bottom end. It is the spring that acts as a strainer and in some cases it can be removed for a faster clean. Don't stress; we can help you find your perfect match! YERBA The flavor and performance of the yerba will depend on the whereabouts it has been produced, its drying and toasting process and the proportion of stems versus leaves. Each brand and blend of yerba has a different taste, so you will need to do some trying and testing to find your favorite. 1. Yerba without stems If you want a strong and more bitter flavor, this must be your choice. It holds the flavor longer and is the most popular type of yerba in Uruguay and South of Brazil. 2.Yerba with stems If you are a beginner or if you prefer a more mild flavor, yerba with stems is the way to go. It is also the best option to drink tereré. It’s popular in Paraguay and Argentina. 3. Flavored This type of yerba can have a variable but usually have a higher content of stems. The flavor comes usually from essences, citrus peel or zest. It is usually labeled in Spanish as ‘yerba compuesta’ and it refers to a mate blend that is formed by at least 60% of yerba and a maximum of 40% of other herbs such as, mint, thyme, sage, pennyroyal and rosemary. You can also make it yourself by adding your favourite herbs, fruits and spices. 4. Organic Yerba It can have a variable percentage of stems. Grown without using insecticides, pesticides or additives, organic yerba is made without rushing its natural processes. Ok, let's do it. HOW TO PREPARE MATE Mate is a versatile drink and there are many ways of preparing it. There is a huge variety of yerba in the market: with or without stems, finely ground or roughly cut, flavored, sweetened, blended with other herbs; so you gotta try them out and choose your favourite (we can help with that). Mate can be drunk with water - hot or cold -, milk or even juice. However, the most popular and traditional way of preparing mate is plain, with hot water. Here's how to prepare MATE: What You'll Need YERBA MATE: We always recommend yerba with stems. If you want a strong, more toasted and bitter flavor, go for the one without stems. BOMBILLA: metal straw (stainless steel or alpaca). MATE CUP: Gourd is highly recommended, but you can also drink from a regular cup. HOT WATER: around 80°C. THERMO: Optional but very useful to keep your water at perfect temperature. Instructions Fill gourd with yerba - Fill 2/3 to 3/4 of the gourd with yerba and slant it at 45-degree angle. If you are using yerba without stems, cover the top of the gourd and shake it up and down, to remove the small particles of the yerba before slanting it (45 degrees angle) Add lukewarm water - Pour lukewarm water as close as the wall of the gourd on the lower half of the slant of yerba. Looking at the mate from above, you will see a half-filled with water, and half dry. Wait until the water is absorbed by the yerba (1 minute). Repeat but with hot water - Repeat this process but this time with hot water - around 80 Celsius / 176 Fahrenheit or lower. It is not recommended to use water at a higher temperature than that because it could burn the yerba, affecting its taste and performance. Put the bombilla (covering the top with thumb) on the same lower side of the yerba, on a digging motion, and pressing until you reach the bottom of the gourd. Press the yerba with the bombilla, creating two differentiated levels: one higher and dry, and other lower and wet. Add hot water to the lower side, aiming as close as possible to the bombilla to avoid the higher (and dry) part of the yerba slant to get wet. Your mate is ready - Just drink it using the bombilla and repeat step 6 as many times as you want. Watch video: At some point, which varies depending on the type of yerba mate, you will start noticing the mate is losing its taste - if you burn the yerba or if you accidentally wet the whole yerba this will happen sooner, so be careful! When you get to that point, carefully remove the bombilla and repeat steps 4 and 5, but this time on the ‘dry side’ - opposite from where it was. Continue with step 6 and ENJOY.

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