What is Tereré Tea?

Picture of Terere Tea

Herbal tea, also referred to as a tisane or herbal infusion, is a popular caffeine-free beverage that can be enjoyed both hot and cold. Commonly regarded for its aroma, flavor, and highly customizable nature, many herbal teas have also been utilized for medicinal purposes for thousands of years.

Made from edible plant parts, such as herbs, spices, flowers, seeds, stems, fruit, bark, and roots, there are many varieties of herbal teas available today. One popular tisane in South America is tereré. Also referred to as “iced herbal tea,” this beverage was dubbed the national drink of Paraguay. Originally enjoyed by the indigenous people who inhabited South America, this herbal tea is popular in Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina.

Plant Basics

Tereré tea is made by infusing yerba mate leaves and twigs with cold water, ice cubes, and various herbs or juices. Yerba mate, a flowering tree belonging to the holly (Ilex) genus, is native to South America. 

When mature, the tree can reach up to 49 feet tall. It produces evergreen leaves just over four inches long and a little over two inchees wide. The leaves of this tree, referred to as “yerba,” are naturally caffeinated.

Historical Footprint

Yerba mate leaves were first used by a group of indigenous people known as Guaraní. The Guaraní lived in parts of present day Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Bolivia. From this group, the knowledge surrounding the infusion of yerba mate spread to another indigenous group, the Tupí people. 

From the late 16th to the mid-17th century, between the rise in Spanish settlers and presence of Jesuits, yerba mate plantations were established in South America. From here, there were many rises and falls in the economy surrouding the production and commercialization of this plant. It wasn’t until the late 19th century, after the the Paraguayan War, that stable plantations were established.

Today, yerba mate is commercially produced in Paraguay, northern Argentina, Uruguay, and southern Brazil, and both wild and plantation-grown yerba mate are cultivated. Due to exportation, it is also enjoyed in Syria and Lebanon. It can also be purchased online from select vendors.

A Social Beverage

Traditionally, tereré tea was created so that it could be shared with many people. It was used during rituals as a way to represent trust and to share with others. It was also heavily relied upon to quench thirst and to rehydrate during the hottest parts of the year.

Guampa & Bombilla

When the Guaraní made tereré tea, it was enjoyed out of a larger container called a guampa. Traditionally made from a hollowed bull’s horn, today’s guampas are also made from stainless steel, wood, and even silver. 

Since the 16th century, and even today, is common to enjoy tereré tea out of a guampa with a special filtrating straw, known as a bombilla. This tube structure was originally constructed out of silver, bronze, or metal alloys. Today, it can be found made out of stainless steel.

Preparing Tereré

Whether you are infusing with loose leaves or tea bags, the process is easy. There are also many different varieties and additions that you can choose from to enhance the tereré tea taste. 

For the most basic traditional recipe, you will need ice cubes, water, tereré leaves, a guampa, and a bombilla.

  1. Fill your guampa half full with loose tereré leaves.
  2. Cover the top of the guampa with your hand and tip the large container on its side. The object here is to get the leaves all to one side of the container, so that you can place the bombilla on the side of the container that does not contain any leaves.
  3. Once you have shifted the leaves over and placed your special straw into the empty side of the guampa, place some ice cubes into the container.
  4. Pour some cold water into the container, but do not fill it up entirely. (You will want to leave some room for other additions if you choose to use them.) Allow the leaves to infuse for a few minutes.
  5. Once the concotion has set for a few minutes, you can enjoy the tereré tea. It should be noted that, in order to not drink any of the debris in the cup, you need to keep the bombilla still. Once the beverage is finished, the guampa can be refilled. Just allow it to set for a few minutes until it has infused and the brew is flavorful.

Additives & Flavor Enhancers

Many choose to add different herbs and juices to this infusion to jazz it up. Some of the popular choices include:

  • Fennel
  • Lemon Balm
  • Orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime, and pineapple juice- some variations, which call for juice instead of water, is referred to as tereré ruso Coriander
  • Chamomile
  • Mint

Nutritional Values & Caffeine

When looking at the nutritional value of traditional tereré (without any additives), one serving has 5 calories and less than 1 gram of fat, sugar, and protein. Since the yerba mate leaves contain caffeine, tereré tea is a caffeinated drink. One guampa of tereré tea, which holds roughly 16 fl oz (500 ml), contains approximately 85 mg of caffeine.

A Flavorful Experience

Tereré tea has a strong flavor. Described as being smoky and bitter, many prefer the taste after the leaves have been used a few times. This allows the taste to mellow out. 

Traditionally, this beverage was shared among a circle of people. While they all shared the guampa and bombilla, they each drank the entire contents of the container before it was refilled and passed to the next person. This is what causes the flavor to fluctuate.

This tisane is also enjoyed by individuals, especially during the sweltering summer months in South America when temperatures average 95°F and can reach up to 110°F. This is one of the reasons it has become Paraguay’s national beverage.

Terere Tea

This popular South American tisane has been infused and enjoyed for hundreds of years. Considered to be a social drink, it was (and still is) utilized to declare trust and communion between people. With many variations and additions, such as herbs and juices, the flavor of tereré can range greatly. 

Be on the lookout for this intriguing concoction if you ever find yourself in Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Syria, or Lebanon. Although it can be purchased online and infused at home, there is something magical and remarkable about enjoying this iced herbal tisane in a traditional setting.