Mate is such a central and great part of the Argentine culture that it’s often a wonder as to why it’s never fully caught on in other non-Latin American countries. Boo hoo! This, on the other hand, makes the ritual all that much more special when you are in Argentina and get invited by a true Argentine to drink Mate with them. Or even better… buy your own Mate kit and learn to serve it criollo style!
Sharing the Mate with a group of people may surprise you at first, as sharing drinks in many countries back home is not that common, but you’ll soon find yourself drinking it with no problem at all.
What is “Mate”?
Mate is a typical infusion drink from South America, very popular in Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay. This tradition originally started in the countryside, but is now not only a common tea-like drink, but a great excuse to socialise.
The leaves and contents in the Yerba Mate are known to bring great health benefits and some even claim it helps to contribute towards weight loss.
4 Essential Items to Prepare Your Mate
1. The Mate
The mate is the item itself. It is traditionally made out of wood or a small pumpkin (“Calabaza”). In Uruguay the more classic ones are made from bone, from the cow’s hooves.
Nowadays Mates are made of all types of materials from glass, plastic and metal. They come in all shapes, sizes, materials and colours and the price ranges completely depending on the type you are looking to buy. But you can get hold of a great Mate for under $5 dollars!
2. Yerba Mate
The Yerba from the South American rainforest holly tree species. The Yerba Mate contains caffeine (though many specify to call it mateine). Yerba Mate can be bought in all supermarkets around the country. Talk to any Argentine and they’re sure to have it in their cupboards.
3. The Bombilla (Straw)
The “Bombilla” (or the straw) is the second part of the set. The bombilla is used to filter the hot water from the Yerba (herbal tea-like leaves). This is almost always made of a metallic element, but can vary in design and size.
4. Termo (Thermos)
The thermos, or “Termo”, is used to keep your water hot and take your mate out and about and serve mate to your friends. However, if you are in your house or homestay, this Termo is not always necessary as long as you have something to keep your water in. A teapot with tea-cosy or kettle will also do, if you havn’t managed to get your Termo.
- Cure the Mate first
To make the Mate last and not leak, it is covered on the inside with a special coating. This can have a not so pleasant taste if you try to drink your first Mate as soon as you’ve bought it. We know you’re anxious! But you need to cure it first!
- How to cure the Mate – this is quite simple. All you have to do is fill your Mate with the Yerba and pour hot water into it (as if you were serving a regular Mate) and leave it for one day like that. Then clean it out and you’re ready to go!
- Don’t boil the water
Boiling the water can burn the leaves and often take away the flavour. If you are using an electric kettle you can let the water cool for a bit before serving. If using a traditional kettle you just turn off the fire when the water is not but not yet broken the boil!
- Don’t play with the bombilla
If a friend invites you to meet up and drink Mate with them, moving the bombilla around won’t go down well in their books. Just let the bombilla do it’s thing and enjoy the Mate. 🙂
- You don’t need to wash the Mate with liquid soap each time
As you have most likely been sharing your Mate, it is a good idea to wash the bombilla afterwards. The Mate itself will absorb the flavour of soap (uck) and will only need to be washed with warm water.
- Use it as a great social excuse!
Just as many people in the United States, England or elsewhere in the world may say to you “Hey! We need to catch up, we should go out for a drink!”… In Argentina, they would say “Tenemos que juntarnos a tomar unos Mates”..(we should get together to share a few Mates). If you want to meet up with someone but not sure how to start the conversation, invite them to go to bosques de Palermo and drink a few Mates!
Differences with Neighbouring countries
Paraguay – In Paraguay the heat can reach very high temperatures. Here it is common to drink Tereré: mate with cold water, usually substituted for a juice such as orange juice. This makes the drink sweeter than the usual mate.
Uruguay – In Uruguay they often bring the water to a boil.
It is important to remember though that all these rules are there to guide you, but it all depends on your particular taste! As a Roadie you will be enjoying Mate in no time as we have Mate & Medialunas every Friday!