If you are traveling through Argentina, you will most likely come across someone sipping through a metal straw out of a gourd-shaped cup. This is yerba mate – the tea that is said to be preferred over coffee by Argentinians 6:1. In fact, yerba mate is the national drink of Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and southern Brazil. It is made from steeping the dried leaves of the South American holly plant and is chock full of antioxidants, vitamins, and a healthy dose of caffeine.
Preparing yerba mate (or just mate for short) the traditional way isn’t like making any old tea. First off, drinking mate is a group activity that is shared with friends. You’ll need a gourd (which is sometimes cast in metal like the one we have pictured) and a bombilla or metal straw with a filter at the end. This will be a communal cup that gets passed around to everyone in the group.
To make your mate, check out Cebador‘s instructional video:
Once you have the mate ready, there are a few etiquette rules to keep in mind. Traditionally, people will sit in a circle while the person prepares the mate, sometimes adding sugar for those with a sweet tooth. The gourd is then passed around the circle to the right. One of the most important rules to remember is to NEVER touch the bombilla or straw with your hand. Only hold the gourd while drinking.
When it is your turn, you will drink the mate until there is no more liquid left in the gourd. You certainly don’t have to chug it but make sure you aren’t lingering too long either as others are waiting to drink it too. When you are finished, pass the gourd back to the person who prepared the mate to refill it with hot water for the next person.
In Argentina, groups of friends can hang out and go for rounds and rounds of mate, even at night when you think the caffeine would hinder them going to sleep. Saying “thank you” when you hand the gourd back to the pourer signifies that you are finished drinking completely. This will exempt you from further rounds.
This may seem complicated but don’t let that intimidate you from participating. You’ll quickly get the hang of it and enjoy a great tradition of Argentine culture!