Monday, January 12, 2009


My mate gourd was from a company called Guayaki, which sells sustainably-grown yerba mate from a 20,000-acre rain forest preserve in Paraguay.

I was a little nervous about the gourd because the box looks like it was created by someone hopped up on caffeine. There's tiny print everywhere, even on the bottom, and the instructions are so detailed and complicated it seems like they should be labeled "How to Fly the Space Shuttle."

Clegg has tried the gourd experience already, and warned me that it is "definitely tricky."

"What I've been doing so far is sucking up a lot of stems through it," he said.

The instructions say to pack the gourd just over half full with mate leaves. Then, covering the opening with your hand, you're supposed to turn the gourd upside down and shake it with several flicks of the wrist. This motion supposedly brings the more powdery leaves to the top.

Then you turn the gourd on its side and shake it back and forth to bring the stems to the surface.

Then you do the hokey-pokey and you turn yourself around . . . just kidding.

Next comes the insertion of the bombilla - the metal, straw-like filter that allows you to drink the tea without getting a mouthful of leaves. You gently roll the gourd over until the mate levels off inside and some of the larger stems are covering the bottom of the filter.


"With the straw having those slits on the side of it, you're trying to get as many of the big pieces (of mate) next to those slits," Clegg said. "I wasn't very good at it. I tried it three times, then my 6-year-old was like, 'What's this Dad?' and she just pulled it out."

Come Saturday morning, I padded downstairs and did a surprisingly good job, I think, of packing the gourd. The next step was to add cool water and let it sit for a few minutes.

"The cool water protects the nutrients and flavor of the mate," the package explained.

The mate was supposed to absorb the water and swell. I didn't notice much swelling, so after a few minutes I went ahead and added the hot water. After 20 minutes, the leaves had absorbed almost all the water, and I could have added more. I decided instead to take my first sip. It was at least two to three times stronger than the beverage I had tried at Maine Coffee Roasters.

All the yerba mate was gone in about two sips - there couldn't have been more than a quarter-cup of liquid left in the gourd - so I added more hot water. By the time I got to the third round, the leaves had absorbed all the liquid they could and there was more tea for me.

I kept filling the gourd all day, going through a total of seven or eight rounds. (The instructions say you can refill it 15 to 20 times.) I must have done something right because I got almost 100 percent liquid through the straw. I think the trick is to not move the bombilla around.

The verdict? Drinking out of the gourd was fun, but a lot of work.

Even after eight gourds, there were no coffee-like jitters.

But I'm a little disappointed I haven't heard any jungle birds yet.