In 1767, when the Jesuits were driven back from South America, they took with them the secret of Yerba mate cultivation. For several centuries, no one knew how to germinate the very hard seeds of this tree. The first large Yerba maté plantations were established at the beginning of the 20th century.
Fritz Neumann discovered that yerba mate grows in places inhabited by certain species of birds. He observed that the seeds passed through the intestinal system of these birds and that was what softened them and allowed them to germinate. This is what is reproduced today. The seeds are softened by immersing them in water for several days. When the seed coat has detached, the seeds are cleaned and planted in greenhouse nurseries.
After spending about 6 months in a greenhouse, the Yerba mate plants are removed from the greenhouses to be planted in the ground.
There are several types of plantations: They range from sunny industrial plantations to shady forests.
Industrial plantations make it possible to produce much larger quantities of Yerba mate, but this is done to the detriment of the preservation of the forest. Plantations in the forest are environmentally friendly and allow for an infusion with a milder taste.
3. The harvest
The first harvest of yerba mate can usually be done 4 years after the start of planting. This consists of cutting the branches every year. The harvest is generally done between April and August. The quality of the Yerba depends on the duration of regrowth of the branches. The quality of the Yerba improves with the regeneration time of the tree. Branches with flowers or fruits should not be harvested. The transformation of the green leaves into mate must be done within 24 hours in order to avoid their fermentation.
4. Pre-drying (El sapecado)
For this step, the leaves are heated over high heat for 20 to 30 seconds in order to deactivate polyphenol oxidase enzymes. This allows the leaves to retain their green color by oxidizing the tannic substances they contain. During this stage, the leaves do not turn brown and they can develop all their aromas.
5. Drying (El secado)
Maximum 24 hours after pre-drying, the leaves are placed on a grid above a current of air at a temperature between 80 ° and 100 °. When the leaves are completely dry, they are allowed to cool for 24 hours. This step, depending on how it is performed, changes the taste, properties and appearance of the mate.
Maturation is the step that determines the color, taste and aroma of Yerba mate. This stage generally lasts a year in Argentina and Paraguay but it lasts less in Brazil or Uruguay where mate is preferred "fresh".
Each brand has a very specific way of shredding the leaves. Some brands prefer to grind them into very small pieces like the Canarias brand while others do not. It is also possible to add stems to the Yerba (Con Palo) or not to add (Sin Palo). All these elements allow you to play on the taste of Yerba.