Photo above by Dominic Degrazier. Feature photo by juanpol.
Also enjoyed in parts of Brazil, Bolivia, and Chile, mate is a tea-like beverage derived from Yerba Mate tree leaves.
Some say mate contains caffeine, others say mateine, but either way, after some sips you will feel more awake and not as hungry. And most agree mate has healthy attributes, such as easing digestion and reducing blood pressure.
Here are six tips for drinking mate:
Share with People
The tradition of mate is about sharing time with others as much as anything else. Friends, family, and/or acquaintances form a loose circle while drinking, talking, and enjoying the relaxing session.
Understand the server’s role.
In a group of drinkers, one person is appointed the server and holds the thermos full of hot water. This person fills up the gourd (possibly with cold water if in Paraguay), drinks the first cup himself, refills and then passes the next full cup clockwise to the next drinker. So on and so on.
Saying Thanks – Don’t
If the receiver of the mate says, “Thanks,” he or she is understood to be having their last turn. Some places adhere to this rule more than others, but it is a safe bet not to say “Thanks” if you are looking to drink another round.
Touching the Straw
Some servers take offense to having their bombilla touched. They are serving the mate in the way they believe the recipient will best enjoy the flavor. This rule is observed in some places more than others, but in general, if something is wrong with the mate or the straw–pass it back to the server.
Addressing the Subject of Sugar
Customs vary throughout South America. Some people add sugar, taking their mate dulce. Others prefer it straight-up, or amargo. And still others add herbs such as mint.
Many people find mate bitter the first time they drink it, especially in early rounds when the yerba is freshest. Wait for the mate to make a couple more rounds, and it will be more lavado.
Drink with Caution
Be aware of the water’s temperature. Feel the bombilla’s stem before taking a sip and notice the heat (as at least the server should have drunk one gourd before you). No mate is a good mate when it scalds your mouth.
Curing a New Mate Gourd
If you have bought your own gourd and are ready to start drinking on your own, don’t do it – not immediately, anyway. First, fill the mate with yerba leaves about ¾ full and pour in warm water. Let it sit for at least 12 hours in this state. Then, rinse out and begin your sessions.
Also, never clean your gourd with soap. It ruins the flavor. Simply rinse out the spent yerba each time after using.
Interested in learning more customs of the region? Check out Benny Lewis’s video on Learning to Dance Tango.
To read one Matador member’s story about mate, trout, and a perfect valley in Patagonia, check out Tim Patterson’s blog, Sharing One Trout with 23 Argentine Hippies.
Goods: Feel like knocking back some mate? Get your starter kit