The mate ritual

Mate (pronounced mattay) is the essential drink of Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil and Uruguay. All over the region, whenever groups of people get together, they share a mate. It’s an essential part of your trip to this part of South America, so give it a go, at least once. 

It’s a slightly bitter green tea made from the leaves of the yerba mate plant, ilex paraguaiensis, and is mildly stimulating, and effective at ridding the body of toxins. It was encouraged by the Jesuits as an alternative to alcohol, and grown in their plantations in the northeast of Argentina. This inspired one of the drink's names: té de jesuitas. Also used has been té de Paraguay, but now just mate or yerba will do. In southern Brazil it is called ximarão; in Paraguay tereré, when drunk cold with digestive herbs. Traditionally associated with the gauchos, the modern mate paraphernalia is common sight: the gourd in which the leaves are steeped, the straw (usually silver) and a thermos of hot water to top up the gourd.

The mate container is traditionally made from a hollowed gourd, but can be made of wood or tin. There are also ornate varieties made to traditional gaucho patterns by the best silversmiths. Dried yerba leaves are placed in the mate to just over half full, and then the whole container is shaken upside down using a hand to prevent spillage. This makes sure that any excess powder is removed from the leaves before drinking. Hot water is added to create the infusion, which is then sipped through the bombilla, a perforated metal straw. One person in the group acts as cebador, trickling fresh hot water into the mate, having the first sip (which is the most bitter) and passing it to each person in turn to sip. The water must be at 80-82°C (just as the kettle starts to ‘sing’) and generally mate is drunk amargo – without sugar. When you’ve had enough, simply say gracias as you hand the mate back to the cebador, and you’ll be missed out on the next round.

If you’re invited to drink mate on your visit to the region, always accept, as it’s rude not to. To share a mate is to be part of a very special custom, and you’ll delight your hosts by giving it a go.
This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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