Drinking mate

By Brooke Hisrich — Mate is THE traditional beverage of Argentina. For the Argentinians the mate drink is a fundamental part of their culture and their life. To simply describe mate, it is a strongly caffeinated tea drunk from a hollow gourd about the size of an orange. The gourd is filled with the herb and hot water and then drunk through a metal straw with strainer at the end that allows the liquid to pass without the herb.

Upon first glance, a mate “session” could appear as sort of a tribal drug ritual but it is simply a way to relax and socialize. Mate can also be used similar to coffee or tea; it helps one wake up. However it is more commonly used with friends to enjoy and pass the time.

It should be understood that mate is both the drink and the gourd of which it is drunk. The actual herb placed inside the gourd is yerba. Yerba is grown in the tropical provinces of Northern Argentina. Mate customs can vary from person to person and place to place but there are many common practices. There is always only one “server” of mate who first prepares the mate then refills the gourd with water after each person has drank their serving. The server must begin by heating the water in a kettle and filling the gourd with an appropriate amount of yerba. Once the water is properly heated, the server will pour himself the first serving to ensure that it is suitable for consumption. Some servers will add a teaspoon of sugar because mate tends to be quite bitter but it is dependent on one’s personal preference.

The mate is then passed person to person. Each person must drink the entire contents of the mate and then passes it back to the server to refill the water and pass it on to the next person. One should not say “gracias” or thank you until one does not wish to have anymore mate. Depending on the size of the group, each person will drink two or three gourds of mate. Eventually, the mate will become diluted and it will be necessary to replace the yerba in the mate. The entire process can be repeated a few times.

The session of mate is a wonderfully new experience than one that is offered at home. The mate “session” can last for the good part of the afternoon and can take place almost anywhere. I am often walking through town and I see a few elderly couples sitting outside of their house sharing mate or and group of high school students sitting in the park in a circle enjoying the Argentinian drink. One cannot truly know Argentina without becoming adapted to this beverage. It is one of the many cultural differences that continues to intrigue me… although I may be saying this hypocritically because I do not prefer the taste of mate myself. Hasta luego! Besos!

[Updated Aug. 7, 2017: This article has been reformatted for consistency.]