Yerba mate (Spanish) or erva mate (Portuguese) (Ilex paraguariensis) is a species of holly (family Aquifoliaceae) native to subtropical South America in Argentina, southern Paraguay, western Uruguay and southern Brazil.
The infusion called mate is prepared by steeping the dry leaves (and twigs) in hot water rather than boiling water like black tea or coffee. It is slightly less potent than coffee and much gentler on the stomach. Drinking mate with friends from a shared hollow gourd (also called a mate in Spanish, or cabaça or cuia in Portuguese) with a metal straw (a bombilla in Spanish, bomba or canudo in Portuguese) is an extremely common social practice in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, eastern Chile and southern Bolivia and Brazil.
Its use has also been introduced into Lebanon and Syria, particularly among the Alawi, Druze and Ismaili minorities. It's a very popular social drink in Salamiyah, Syria.
The flavor of brewed yerba mate is strongly vegetal, herbal, and grassy, reminiscent of some varieties of green tea. Many consider the flavor to be very agreeable, however, it is generally bitter if steeped in boiling water, so is made using hot but not boiling water. Unlike most teas, it does not become bitter and astringent when steeped for extended periods, and the leaves may be infused several times. Additionally, one can purchase flavored mate in many varieties.
In Brazil, a toasted version of mate, known as chá mate or "mate tea", is sold in teabag and loose form, and served, sweetened, in specialized shops, either hot or iced with fruit juice or milk. An iced, sweetened version of toasted mate is sold as an uncarbonated soft drink, with or without fruit flavoring. The toasted variety of mate has less of a bitter flavor and more of a spicy fragrance. It is more popular in the coastal cities of Brazil, as opposed to the far southern states where it is consumed in the traditional way (green, drunk with a silver straw from a shared gourd).
Similarly a form of mate is sold in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay in tea bags to be drunk in a similar way to tea. This is known in Spanish as 'Mate cocido' or more commonly 'Cocido'. In Argentina this is commonly drunk with breakfast or 'la merienda' (afternoon tea) often with a selection of 'facturas' (sweet pastries). It is also made by heating yerba in water and straining it as it cools.
The yerba mate plant is a shrub or small tree growing up to 15 meters tall. The leaves are evergreen, 7–11 cm long and 3–5.5 cm wide, with a serrated margin. The flowers are small, greenish-white, with four petals. The fruit is a red berry 4–6 mm diameter.
This information was taken from wikipedia.org 19.02.2007