Gourds

If you are new to drinking yerba mate, then you must have noticed that the recipients for drinking come in a variety of colors, materials and shapes.  While the aesthetics of he recipient has absolutely no effect over your drink; material and shape do play an important and traditional role.

The first recipients for drinking mate were developed by the Guaraní people of South America. Originally called mate, the recipient was made by cutting open a gourd.  A gourd is a plant of the family Cucurbitaceae which is round in shape and possesses a very  hard shell.  There are several types of mates, and they can be classified according to the format of the gourd and the finish. The most traditional is the “neck” or “lip” mate.

Go for a walk around Montevideo or Assunción and you will be led to believe that just about anything can be used as a gourd: soda cans without a top, plastic bottles sawed in half and what not. In these cities the passion for drinking mate is so strong, that people will come up with just about anything in order to enjoy their daily mate.  Maybe in the future we will show you how to make your own gourd, but in this post we will stick to the conventional and well-known mate shapes and materials.

Shapes

Mate gourds usually come in 3 distinct shapes:  round , “neck” or cylindrical.

Round gourds are usually very small and commonly used by solito drinkers. Due to their size, these gourds cannot hold enough Mate to be shared abundantly in a circle. Lately, the small Uruguayan-style gourds have been very popular among young mate drinkers and newcomers to the world of yerba mate.

 

mate gourds
Uruguay-Style Mate gourds

While the small round gourds can be a real stylish way to enjoy your Mate, traditional materos tend to prefer the larger “neck” gourds, which are also often passed around in mate circles. These larger gourds may present a flat bottom (allowing them to stand on their own) or  a curved bottom , in which case a “tripod” is required to keep them standing.

Cylindrical recipients made of bamboo also exist, but they are less traditional and mostly used to drink tereré (cold mate).

Popular gourd materials

The mostly widely used material is, of course, the gourd which is a plant. It is also common to find recipients made of wood, ceramics and plastic. Wooden mates are sometimes coated in some type of metal or leather in order to prevent it from cracking. Some people claim that yerba mate drunk from a wooden or gourd recipient tastes better than form a plastic or ceramic recipient. Depending on the type of wood, it can add to the flavor of the beverage, making it less bitter. Before a gourd or wooden recipient may be used, it must first be cured. Click here to find out how to cure your mate.

Ceramic mates are easier to rinse and maintain and since ceramics are great insulants, they can usually preserve the heat longer. Vitrified ceramics do not absorb nor add to the taste of your beverage. Due to this, some materos claim that mate drunk from a glass recipient will present a more bitter taste.  Plastic recipients exist, but they should really only be used in an exceptional situation. It is not only ridiculous, but completely incompatible with the tradition. We South Americans believe that there is not such thing as  drinking mate (or beer) beer out of a plastic cup (or bottle!)