Crazy for Mate

Spend any amount of time in Argentina, and you’re going to become familiar with mate, a drink deeply ingrained into the country’s psyche. We first encountered it in Spain, when we saw a group of kids passing around a round container with a metal straw sticking out of it. “Argentinians”, our Spanish friend explained. “That’s all they do. Drink mate”.

Crazy for Mate in Buenos Aires

He wasn’t exaggerating. Mate is a way of life here. It’s consumed at all times of day, at work, at home, on the street, in the park. Traditionally, the mate is served in a hollowed-out gourd, but we’ve seen people drink from metal and even plastic containers. A desperate Argentinian would probably sip it from his friend’s cupped hands.

We educated ourselves about mate immediately upon arriving in Buenos Aires. The gourd the mate is served in is also called a mate or matecito. The caffeinated drink is prepared by partially filling the mate with yerba leaf, and then pouring hot water into it. Sugar can be added, and the steeped drink is then sipped through a silver straw called a bombilla.

Mate Hot Water Vending Machine

Sound easy? Well, there are a whole lot of rules to follow if you want to do it correctly. The water must not be boiling, otherwise the mate will be bitter. The dry yerba should be arranged in a slope, which allows each serving to retain flavor. The bombilla is thrust into the leaves, which are then dampened with cool water, releasing desirable nutrients. While sipping, the bombilla shouldn’t be used to stir or agitate the leaves. When in a group, the cebador is the person who prepares the mate. He or she will drink the first mate to test its flavor, then refill and pass it around. When it’s your turn, you drink the entire mate, not just one or two sips, before passing it back.

Yerba mate contains powerful antioxidants and has been shown to fight cancer in some studies, by strengthening defense systems and preventing cell loss. It works as a mild laxative and diuretic, helps regulate heart rate and curbs hunger, which is great for people trying to lose weight. In short, mate is a wonder drink; a mild stimulant without the negative side effects of coffee.

Our own mate was one of the first purchases we made while here. A simple gourd costs no more than $2.50 (US), and the yerba leaf is also freakishly cheap, at about a buck for a large bag. Let us know if we’re missing any of the steps in preparing and drinking mate. I want to learn and practice daily, so that I don’t make any mistakes when it’s my turn to be the cebador

More Mate Photos:

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Maite

    Hey! You are just professionals of the Mate!! haha! It’s ease when you get used to it, and yes, is something we drink everywhere at any time of the day.
    One thing to say: When you buy a new Mate (object) you have to “curar”(heal) it. “Heal a mate” not only let you avoid the classic cracks, but also help prevent mold and bad odors.
    Mates to be healed are the pumpkin and wood. With metal, aluminum, plastic or glass is not necessary to accomplish this task, to wash them before using them will suffice.
    How to do it? Some people tend to smear it with a layer of oil or butter to seal the pores and extend its life. Another technique is to wash it and fill it with wet yerba (used for an old mate) and go constantly wetting it with warm water, without allowing it to dry in no time. This process is carried out for 24 hours or even the yerba can be changed and subsequently for several days.
    A good Yerba is “La Merced”. It’s very tasty! 🙂
    You can find orange, mint and lemon flavored yerba. Do you know that? I don’t prefer flavored yerba, they have an artificial flavor that I don’t like so much..

    Hope that helps you!!

  2. Gabriela

    Well, I confess: I’m a mate addict. I have some mates for breakfast, lunch and after dinner. I think that you must find your own way to “cebar” mate first (practising a lot!).
    A good “cebador” pass the mate just in order of taste or sweetness. If the cebador doesn’t know other people that wants a mate, just ask: “¿dulce o amargo?” (sweet or bitter?)
    I agree with Maite: a good yerba is “La Merced”. There’s also a good one: “La Tranquera” or “Rosamonte”.
    Stay getting fun! 🙂

  3. Juergen

    Thank you both for the tips. We still have to watch someone from here to prepare and need to taste some proper mate so we can compare it to ours. We want to try yerba with additional other herbs. I think by the end of the 91 days we have our mate preparing down 😉 We are practicing every single day, hehe 😉

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