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Seeing someone drinking mate for the first time can be particularly confusing for someone not from Argentina or the surrounding area. To get the obvious out of the way, it can bear a striking resemblance to a far less legal substance. But, mate is a tea-like beverage (not drug-related beyond caffeine)! However, it’s not something you simply prepare by heating up some water and dropping a tea bag into a cup. Oh, no, there’s a whole process and social code to follow when drinking/preparing mate!
What is Mate?
If you’ve been following my blog for the past month, I’ve been bringing up mate pretty frequently. It’s a big part of life in Argentina! So what is it exactly? Mate (pronounced “mah-tay”) is made from yerba mate, which is green, chopped leaves. (How finely chopped they are depends on how “strong” the mate will be.) It tastes similar to a bitter black tea, in my opinion, and is a bit of an acquired taste. The smell reminds me of freshly bailed hay, and your breath will smell similar to horse’s breath after you drink it. Haha.
It’s used in social gatherings (more on that in a moment) or in place of coffee during the work day. Some folks drink a lot of mate!
How do you prepare Mate?
As I mentioned before, mate is a bit of a process to make. You first need to get your mate cup (which is a hollowed out gourd) to prepare it in and also a bombilla, which is the straw to drink it with that also filters out the mate leaves (pictured below).
You can purchase your mate gourds just about anywhere in Argentina. For us in Rosario, I would recommend going to the flea market down by the Paraná River on Sunday mornings.
After you get your gourd, it will need to go through a 3-day curing process (so it doesn’t get moldy). My husband’s friend cured his for him, and told us the secret to his process was using a bit of bleach throughout the process.
Once it is cured, you can get many different yerba flavors and levels of “strongness,” as I’m learning. (Apparently my first try at buying yerba I bought very strong leaves, not recommended for beginners. Haha.)
You will then warm your water up to the point just before boiling. Boiling is too hot! (This is a bit of an art that we still have some practice to get right!) You will then put the hot water into a big thermos (so you can get a “direct” pour).
Then, you will put the yerba in your little gourd and pour your hot water directly above your bombilla. Each “cup” only gives you about 4-6 good sips. (Hence, the great big thermos!)
How to Drink Mate in a Social Setting
While plenty of people drink it as a coffee replacement, mate is very commonly used as a social drink. It is also isn’t something you will typically find at a restaurant or cafe. Here’s how it’s done….
*One person is the server. This is usually the person who owns the gourd and also prepares the mate. (In my case, this is typically my husband.) He will also fill it for each person drinking.
*The 1st “wash” (or cup) will go to the server. He will drink the full cup and then pass it to the next person. Each person drinks the full serving before passing it back to the server.
*Everyone uses the same cup and straw….so, sorry, there will be some germs getting passed around too!
We brought our mate back to the US with us this week so our family could get in on the fun too (pictured above). They all enjoyed sharing the mate with us!
And thank you for reading this post and learning more Argentina and its customs with me! It’s been such a fun learning experience, and I am so excited so many readers have been interested in learning more too, especially about mate! 🙂
Has anyone else tried/prepared mate? Would this be a custom you would be interested in trying? Let me know in the comments!