Today I’ll be talking about:
I. Yerba Mate
IV. Links to previous posts
V. Coming Soon
I. Yerba Mate
If you’re thinking about coming to Argentina, something you’ve probably heard about by now and might be wondering about is yerba mate, the national drink. If you haven’t and you’re not, you should get on it. It’s kind of a big deal.
An Argentine is said to truly become a man the day he decides to prepare mate for himself of his own volition.
A big moment in the life of the student abroad is being offered mate for the first time, because that basically means your IN. They like you. Drinking mate is generally a group activity, representing friendship and solidarity and all that other good stuff. Everyone sits in a circle. The cebador (mate server) prepares the mate and passes it around to the circle to the left. Each time the mate is sucked dry, it is passed back to the cebador to refill.
A few tips to avoid mate faux pas:
1. Don’t say thank you unless you mean, “I’m done drinking mate now.”
2. Don’t move the bombilla. That’s a good way to suck up bits of yerba in your water, which doesn’t improve the experience.
3. If someone offers you mate, it’s in your best interest NOT to turn them down. Just do it.
4. That said, consider yourself warned, because it can have a strong effect on the digestive system. Drink with caution until you know how it’s going to affect your body, and try to eat beforehand/with your mate.
5. When you pass mate to someone else, make sure to do so with the bombilla pointing towards them so they can drink from it more easily.
Not all mate is created equal. It comes in a hodgepodge of flavors (grapefruit, orange, lemon, peppermint…), with or without palo (which makes is less or more concentrated), and of course there are about 80 gazillion different brand names. It’s all up to personal taste. There are also mate cocido tea packets…but that’s a completely different drinking experience!
Mate is the word for the yerba itself and for the container it goes in. Traditionally, they’re made out of calabaza or madera, but they come in all shapes and sizes, including this crazy, not-vegetarian-friendly one.
Mate is also known as the student’s drink. I’m sure this is partly because it’s loaded with mateina, a sister chemical to caffeine. It’ll keep you running through the night if you have a paper due. But I think it’s also the student’s drink because it’s the procrastinator’s drink just because preparing it is such a process. The thing about mate is that everyone has their own weird little rituals and superstitions about their preparation.
I put together a little video about preparing mate, but it’s not exactly the highest quality so I’ll give you some written notes here:
A thermos full of hot water
Optional: sugar (or honey, or milk, or coffee, or orange peel, or orange juice, or…)
- Fill your mate 2/3 of the way with yerba.
- Shake the mate a little to release excess powder. (Makes the first batch of mate less obnoxiously strong.)
- If you want sugar, now’s the time for it.
- Tip the mate to a 45 degree angle so that the yerba lies at a diagonal inside. Pour in not-quite-boiling water, taking care not to wet the uppermost section of the yerba. (You’ll lose the flavor faster if you wet all of it at once.)
- Give the yerba a moment to absorb the water, then add more if necessary.
- Cover the mouth of the bombilla with your thumb (not quite sure why. It’s just what you do) and insert it into the yerba.
- Sip from the straw until you can’t get any more water out of it, then pour more water. (Sugar may be added before pouring in more water if you want it sweeter.) After a while, if the yerba has lost its flavor, you can dump it out and start over with a fresh batch.
One of the coolest moment in my study abroad was when an Argentine, who had her hands full with something she was working on, asked me to serve her mate. High pressure situation: it’s one thing preparing mate for other Yankees who don’t care about traditions and protocol, another entirely preparing it for a real Argentine. I held my breath while she sipped from the straw. “Yes, thank you! Ah, and you didn’t even get the top wet—you’re amazing!” she cried. I died of happiness.
Mate is definitely an acquired taste for some, but I absolutely adore it. My favorite is yerba saborizado con peperina, amargo. I get random cravings for it. Drinking it has an instantly calming effect for me—I think I understand a little bit when Argentines are talking about when they say it has a “nostalgic” taste for them.
For other applications of yerba, you can also look for information about tereré, the hot-weather interpretation of yerba mate. I don’t know much about it because I’ve never had it—it’s more common in the north—but my sister, who’s from Corrientes, told me a bit.
1) With mate, you pour the water then put in the straw. With tereré, you put the straw and then the water.
2) Tereré is traditionally done in all-caña equipment: caña straw, caña straw, etc.
3) There’s a version of it with sprite instead of water—yuck.
I’ll leave you with this funny cross-cultural moment from the beginning of the program:
Yona: So, we’re still meeting on Las Heras around 6 to do some shopping, right?
Lorri: Yes. And I told Micah he could come too. He’s looking for a mate.
…What? Oh, wait, yerba mate. Right, got it.
Julian Mourin has a nice little song about mate. You can also download the entire CD free and legally from him on the same website.
Palo – stick
Yerba – herb
Bombilla – straw
Saborizado – flavored
Peperina – peppermint
Cedron – lemon verbena
Chupar – to suck
Cebar – to serve mate
Caña – cane
Calabaza – gourd
Madera – wood
Pomelo – grapefruit
Amargo – bitter (without sugar)
IV. Links to previous posts
I just noticed that these have been a bit off in the last couple of entries. Sorry about that! All the links are here now.
11. Road Trip!
V. Coming Soon
The Student’s Life
Rafting in San Rafael
Daily existence in Argentina continued
The split up and the return to BA
I’m running out of adventures here.