Yerba mate is unique in the world of caffeinated beverages as it’s name actually refers to the vessel in which it is consumed – literally “herb cup”. Whereas “mate” is most çommonly used at home to describe the drinking vessel, outside of South America we have a tendency to use other terms when refering to specific types of cup. The most common of these is “gourd” which refers to the family of edible squashes. In the world of yerba mate, “gourd” means the calabash, a commonly occurring squash that was used as the original mate drinking cup by the native Guarani people of Paraguay.
In order to make it into a cup, the calabash first has to be hollowed out and dried. From here some are painted or patterned; some are carved, and others are wrapped in leather and topped with stinless steel or alpaca. Because the calabash grows in a variety of shapes and sizes a large range of differnet mates can be produced from the fruit.
CURING THE GOURD
One of theach most important things to do with a new mate, particularly if it is made from a natural material like calabash, is to cure it. Curing the cup seals it and prepares it for drinking, and if done properly allows the gourd to be used for a very long time. Over the years I have come across a few elaborate methods of curing gourds, but here at UruShop we recommend keeping the process simple. For myself following the steps below has always resulted in well cured calabash, but before you get started, here are a couple of things to look out for.
Firstly if you have encountered a gourd which looks like either of the pictures above or below do not worry! The gourd pictured above with extra fruit pith inside can be easily and carefully scooped out once the first part of the curing process is complete.
What at first seems to be the presence of mould in the second image is just some natural colouring, and this will become unnoticeable once the gourd is cured. If mould does grow in your calabash after curing then pass salt around the inside, rinse out and allow to dry naturally.
Step 1 – Take your new calabash gourd and fill it with some damp but not soaking wet yerba mate leaves. If you are new to yerba mate then I would recommend making some mate in a tea pot, cafetiere or infuser mug, and then using the leftover leaves for the curing. If you are adding a new gourd to your collection then simply use leaves from another mate you have finished.
Step 2 – Once your gourd is filled to the brim with yerba leaves use a tea spoon to compact them down so that no pockets of air remain in the cup. If the leaves feel a little dry at this stage consider adding a few drops of water.
Step 3 – Leave the full gourd for 24 hours. After the time has elapsed completely empty the gourd and rinse it well to remove any remaining leaves. At this stage you may also wish to remove any excess fruit pith that may be in the gourd, so do so gently with a small spoon. Be careful not to scrape too hard as this may cause the wall of the cup to become too thin. Once finished give the gourd a shake to remove any excess water and preferably allow to dry naturally for another 24 hours before using.
You will get many years of use out of a calabash gourd so long as some basic fundamentals are observed.
1. Never leave yerba leaves sitting inside the gourd for too long after the session has finished. Try and empty it as soon as possible.
2. Let your gourd dry properly in between uses. After rinsing them fully I tend to put mine on the kitchen windowsill. In the winter I sometimes use some kitchen paper to gently dab the walls of the cup to help quicken the drying process.
3. You may notice after a few uses that the inside of your gourd starts to take on a darker colour (see below). This is perfectly normal, and you may observe that the cup undergoes subtle alterations in colour over time. Green and black is fine, but do watch for fluffy-white mould. If this occurs carry out the steps noted above.