Yerba Mate – An Argentine Rite!

13 12 2011

Mate (pronounced mah-tey) is nothing less than a national passion in Argentina! What is Yerba Mate? Physically, is like a primitive tea. It has stimulant properties. Yet consumption of this beverage is a ritualized affair! Young and old, all demographics in Argentina consume this beverage which transcends ethnicity and class. Sharing the beverage is its purpose.

Argentina is the world’s largest producer and consumer of Yerba Mate. It’s a “tea” made from the plant ilex paraguayensis. Argentines consume more mate than coffee. It is definitely a stimulant. It has been swilled for generations, being hailed for health benefits. Yerba Mate may promote weight loss, reduce fatigue, pain and headaches, and has even been claimed to alleviate health problems caused by the Argentine diet, which is very meat-based.

But simply drinking mate is not something Argentinians do alone. Mate is a social ritual. It’s a high social affair. Something to be shared. Sometimes between a woman and her husband. Most times, it is a group ritual. It’s rarely served in restaurants, except in mate “tea bags.” It can be prepared flavored, though most often it’s brewed plain. Some say a good wife is one that can make good mate for her husband.

Sharing mate!

Mate is consumed from a small cup, like a gourd. The gourd itself is the subject of much attention. A brand new mate gourd will not do. It must be prepared. The gourd should be filled with near-boiling water and mate and soaked for at least a day. How does one drink mate? Another essential tool is the mate straw. It’s a metal straw, called a bombilla, with a filter at the bottom, to the participant does not imbibe the leaves. The hot water for the mate is heated to just under boiling-and kept in a thermos.

So, get the picture? To even begin to indulge in this cultural treat, you’ll need 1) a properly prepared gourd; 2) your bombilla; 3) your yerba mate; 4) a thermos filled with hot water and 5) some thirsty participants! Now you can begin!

In a mate ritual, one person, called the cebador, makes the mate and everyone else drinks from the gourd. They fill the gourd with mate, and then pour piping hot water over the herbs.

The gourd is passed to the first participant, who is expected to finish the entire gourd dry. It’s then passed back to the cebador, where it’s recharged with water and passed on to the next participant. This continues until the thermos is empty.

Out in Patagonia, gas stations often have hot water heaters for travelers needing to fill thermoses for their mate!

Nobody wants to be out on the highway driving without mate by their side, right? This guy in Patagonia has two thermoses!

And these young portenos in Buenos Aires are sharing some mate on a nice 85-degree Saturday afternoon!


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