Yerba mate is something very distinct to Argentina, I thought it deserved its own blog post. During my time here, I’ve come to understand what it is and what it means to people. To start with, la yerba is an herb that comes from Misiones, the northeastern part of Argentina where the cataratas of Iguazu are. To “tomar mate”, one places this herb in a small bowl-like contraption, called the mate. Mates can be made of wood, metal, glass, or really anything else- I’ve even seen some made out of the foot of a llama, although I don’t think I’d ever use this particular brand… There’s a whole method to prepare mate, but basically after putting the yerba in, you add hot water and then put in a special straw called the bombilla. To actually drink the stuff, you sip the hot water though the straw, which filters the yerba through and you end up with a bitter but delicious tea-like drink. You can have mate sweet, bitter, cold, hot, or even pre-packaged in a tea bag! The yerba contains a substance called mateína, which is a stimulant very similar to caffeine. So, although it’s still somewhat common to have coffee, most people prefer mate to get their day going.
The point of mate, however, is far from giving yourself a burst of energy. “Tomando” mate is, above all else, a social experience. Although people often have it solo in the mornings, it’s generally not something you drink by yourself. For example, one of the most popular ways to hang out here is going somewhere to have mate and spend time chatting together. Whether it be in a park, in someone’s house, even in class, you can always think of an excuse to have mate and hang out with others.
There’s also a whole method to having mate when you’re in a group. One person takes the role of server, or cebador. This person prepares the mate, takes the first taste, and after drinking one mate’s worth, fills it up again with hot water and passes it to the next person. Germaphobes beware- everyone sips from the same straw! This ritual continues, going from one person in the circle, back to the cebador, and then to the next person and repeating.
I’ve come to really love mate and all the social implications that come with it. It’s something distinct to Argentina and a few bordering parts of other countries, and there’s definitely an art to it. So next time y’all come to Argentina, you’ll be well prepared 😉