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Tradition, friendship, and connection: Drinking yerba mate through the centuries

Updated: Mar 12

In the heart of South America lies a rich cultural tradition with a revered drink at its center: yerba mate. Cherished among communities in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and beyond, yerba mate is more than a beverage; it’s a symbol of friendship, hospitality, and social connection.

Naturally rich in antioxidants and nutrients, yerba mate also boasts a variety of health benefits, from promoting improved focus and mood to better appetite control. Yerba mate’s popularity has spread throughout the world, but in South America, its cultural heritage remains at the heart of its identity. 

Where it all began

Our record of yerba mate starts in ancient times. The Guarani people, an Indigenous group that settled alongside the Paraguay and Uruguay rivers, were the first to discover the invigorating properties of the yerba mate plant. Legend says yerba mate was a gift from the gods, given to the people as a token of gratitude for their kindness and unity. Before long, yerba mate was a regular part of everyday life.

How to drink yerba mate

Traditionally, yerba mate is prepared in a gourd and sipped through a metal straw. The gourd, or “mate,” can come in any size or color, and is often adorned with phrases or symbols. 

First, fill the gourd about three-quarters full with yerba mate. Cover the top of the gourd with your hand and shake it gently. This helps settle the finer particles of the yerba mate to one side. Then insert the straw into an empty space in the gourd.

Next, pour hot water into the empty space, over the yerba mate, and fill until the gourd is nearly full. 

The person who prepares the mate usually takes the first sip, and from there it is passed around until everyone in the group has had a chance to drink, refilling with more water as needed. The same yerba mate leaves can be used until they start to lose their flavor.

The great equalizer

Once yerba mate was discovered, it didn’t take long for it to become a focal point for social gatherings of all kinds. It didn’t matter if you were rich or poor, native or foreign—yerba mate brought people from all walks of life together. 

Often people gather in the mornings or late afternoons in their homes to drink yerba mate and socialize, but you’ll also see people drinking yerba mate at parks, the beach, or on the road. Where there are people, there will be yerba mate.

Drinking yerba mate is also an important part of rituals steeped in mindfulness and living in the moment. Friends and family gather in a circle to share the mate, tell stories, and forge lasting connections. Simply passing the gourd from one person to the next fosters a sense of unity and reciprocity, transcending language and cultural barriers.

How yerba mate is harvested 

For something that is so central to daily life for entire populations of people, how yerba mate is made is just as important as how it’s consumed. 

Yerba mate is mainly grown in South America, as it grows best in subtropical climates. The best-quality yerba mate is hand-picked to reduce wilting and fermenting of the leaves. The leaves then go through a fire-roasted drying process to preserve the nutrients. From there, it is cured and packaged to be sold. Unicity has perfected the process of extracting, concentrating, and purifying key compounds to enhance yerba mate’s benefits, resulting in one of the most powerful yerba mate products in the world: Unimate.

Yerba mate today

Yerba mate maintains strong roots in South American culture, but its reach touches every corner of the globe today. People all over the world have been captivated by the traditions associated with yerba mate and its unique, earthy flavor, and the plant’s popularity has only grown as people have learned more about its benefits. Rich in chlorogenic acids, mate saponins, theobromine, and naturally occurring caffeine, yerba mate is known for its calming effects, energy support, and improved focus, providing support for people living in a world that never sleeps. 

As the drink has modernized for a global audience, it is now readily available in a wide variety of flavors and preparations—hot or cold, sweetened or unsweetened—and is a beloved staple for millions. Much about the world has changed since yerba mate was first discovered, but its staying power stands as a testament to the enduring power of tradition, community, and health. 

Visit Unicity Shop today to explore Unicity’s bold, unique yerba mate flavors—and share a drink with a friend.

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