Chimarrão: What is Brazilian Mate and How to Drink it?
Some of the most popular and widely exported brands of yerba mate come from Argentina or Paraguay. It is this strong, slightly bitter and smoky infusion most people have in mind when they hear the words ‘yerba mate’.
Traditional Argentinean mate, however, has a Brazilian relative – mate that is green, smooth, buttery in texture and fresh in flavor. This type of mate is called chimarrão, and at first glance it looks nothing like the yerba you’re most likely used to: bright neon-green dust with a fresh, grassy smell.
What is chimarrão?
It is important to say that chimarrão comes from the exact same plant, Ilex paraguayensis. Brazilian yerba (called erva mate) grows in the southern regions of the country: Parana, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul.
Portuguese word ‘chimarrão’ refers to the name the settlers gave to the drink, and it means ‘barbarian’ or ‘brute’. The colonizers used the term to describe the strong, overly bitter infusion the natives drunk, without other ingredients that would make the drink more appealing. The history of chimarrão in Brazil is just as longstanding and rich as the history of yerba mate in Argentina, and the chimarrão social etiquette is very similar to the mate etiquette.
Chimarrão vs. Yerba Mate
But if yerba mate and chimarrão come from the same plant, why are the final products so dissimilar? The key difference between the two comes from the processes yerba undergoes after harvest.
In order to achieve its bold smoky flavor, harvested Argentinean yerba must be dried with smoke for several hours. After drying it is left to age for another 1-2 years before finally getting milled, packaged and sold. Chimarrão, on the other hand, is dried only briefly and without smoke. It is then ground into fine powder and immediately packaged to keep it as fresh as possible.
The product that comes out as a result is so different from Argentinean yerba that it is almost impossible to tell that these two drinks originate from the same source. Without having to go through the process of ageing, chimarrão yerba retains higher levels of chlorophyll, giving erva mate its signature bright green color.
The flavor of Brazilian mate is just as unique: light and fresh, buttery smooth and creamy, with noticeable notes of grass and subtle sweetness. Chimarrão is much more beginner-friendly in terms of flavor since it lacks the smoky bitterness and intensity characteristic of Argentinean or Paraguayan yerba.
How to prepare chimarrão?
We’ve already mentioned that chimarrão has a very fine cut, best described as powder or dust. This makes the preparation process a bit tricky, especially for novice drinkers; however, there are a few tips that will help you when starting out with Brazilian yerba.
First of all, there’s only one type of bombilla you can use with fine chimarrão: spoon-shaped bombilla. Designed specifically for chimarrão, it provides the best filtration necessary for this powdery yerba.
When it comes to the drinking vessel, the traditional way to drink Brazilian mate is from a cuia. Cuias are also calabash gourds, made from the other half of the plant, with a wide-brimmed, curvy silhouette. The vessels are generally larger in size to hold enough chimarrão for drinking. We also recommend to cure them before first use.
Otherwise, you can prepare chimarrão the same way as yerba mate (click here for a step-by-step guide). It takes a bit of patience at first, but with enough practice you will master this art and enjoy a cuia of fresh, grassy, sweet chimarrão in no time.
Where to start?
If you are curious about chimarrão and want to give it a try, there are many Brazilian brands to start with. Some of the most popular ones include Barao, Rei Verde or Parana. Smaller brands like Ximango or Regina, however, are just as flavorful and reliable.
Another great way to explore the world of Brazilian yerba is through our Brazil Yerbox sets. The Brazil Starter Pack will help you get started if you have never even tried yerba before. It contains two bags of our favorite chimarrão, as well as a gourd and a spoon bombilla. The Degustation set is designed for more experienced materos, who want to sample the diversity of Brazilian yerba. It includes four chimarrão brands that will give you an idea of how complex and flavorful erva mate can be.