Truly Exemplary Yerba Mate From Paraguay April 01 2015, 4 Comments
Written by me, Jovald 'jovi' Henriksen
Many big brands in yerba mate industry take shortcuts in the production of their final product. Why? Well, they get higher production from less effort, and because almost all companies do it, the consumer doesn't know what they are missing out on in terms of product quality. Undoubtedly, the best yerba mate producers are the smaller scale artisanal ones like Meta Mate, and to my delight I also made contact with another high quality producer that has passion for the yerba they make, Yerba Mate Pajarito. It is extremely rare to find a big brand like Pajarito (pronounced, "pa-ha-ree-toe"), who pride themselves on maintaining the balance between large scale production and artisanal attention to detail...
PUTTING QUALITY INTO PERSPECTIVE
So, what is it that makes "bad yerba?" - the answer is, producers taking shortcuts. In the yerba mate industry these shortcuts are typically, (a) deforestation, in order to plant yerba mate in direct sunlight so that it grows faster; (b) overharvesting, i.e. harvesting from the tree multiple times a year; (c) using chemicals such as pesticides, chemical fertilizers and agro-poisons; (d) using extreme temperatures between 400-600°C or 750-1110°F in the industrial drying of yerba mate leaves; and (e) pumping artificial substances and heat into the dry warehouses where dried yerba mate is left to age in order to speed aging period from 12 months to 3 months. The more shortcuts they take, the more the yerba is starved of its natural character, flavour, aroma and nutrients.
On the other hand, what is it that makes "best yerba"?
The answer is, respect for natural processes. Yerba Mate Pajarito is the legacy of Señor Lauro Raatz of Bella Vista, Paraguay, a farmer who has done things the right way since 1950. Sr Raatz' daughter, Dr Mirian Raatz is now in charge of the company and hosted me as a yerba mate student in June 2014. I witnessed every step of their farming practices, production processes and export procedures. In short, I found exactly what I had envisioned to find on that trip at Yerba Mate Pajarito, and these are the reasons...
(1) Reforestation: the young yerba mate tree must grow in the shade of larger trees so that the plant can distribute and deposit nutrients properly.
(2) Respectful harvesting: yerba mate trees should be harvested a maximum of once per year during the coldest month of Winter. The less the tree is harvested the more wholesome its leaves become.
(3) No chemicals whatsoever: if yerba mate is grown in a habitat of diverse fauna and flora, the trees will be protected from sickness and the living organisms will produce plenty natural fertiliser.
(4) Low drying temperatures:The industrial drying of yerba mate should be done at a temperature no higher than 100 °C. An ideal temperature would be 65 °C.
(5) Natural aging: By leaving dried yerba to rest in clean dry rooms/warehouses, the flavour profile of the yerba develops character. Aging should be done for a minimum of 12 months, though the best yerbas are aged for 24 months naturally.
REVIEW: PAJARITO ORGÁNICA, A MUST-HAVE
Pajarito Orgánica is harvested from wild yerba mate trees that grow in their natural forest habitat, chemical free. The aromas of a maté brewed with this yerba is like the air after rain on the fertile red soils of the forest. It has a well rounded green taste thanks to natural aging, slightly bitter on the first sip, then gives way to smooth experience in the mouth with clear notes of sweet citrus, very much like our local suringtjies (Oxalis pes-caprae). The trees grow slowly in the shade of larger trees resulting in a wholesome nutrient-rich yerba. When the coldest month of the year comes (usually August), the trees are harvested. Before the fresh organic harvest enters the factory, Pajarito's entire production facility must be cleaned thoroughly without the use of any chemicals. All Pajarito's yerba mate gets dried over a period of 16-24 hours at a low temperature of 90-100 °C provided from the heat of wood fire which is channeled into a hot room with minimal smoke due to a unique self-sustainable smoke extraction system. The last step is leaving the yerba to be aged in large well ventilated maturation warehouses where the yerba is aged as loose tea naturally for 24 months. Thanks for reading - Jovi
* ...view this yerba in YMSA's Online Shop
Pajarito's website: http://www.pajarito.com.py/english/index.html
Where to buy yerba mate in South Africa: http://www.yerbamatesouthafrica.com/pages/local-yerbaterias