Maté, or tea?
Le maté – or rather “yerba maté,” with “maté” referring to the recipient in which it is served – is made using a plant from the holly family. This shrub certainly does not look like a tea bush, but infusing its leaves still creates a delicious drink! Curiously, it only grows in South America, and more specifically in northeast Argentina near the borders with Paraguay and southern Brazil. Historically, the native Guarani people consumed maté by chewing it or soaking it in cold water to bring out its typical, slightly bitter, vegetal flavor. Back then it grew in the wild, before being planted and sold in fields as it is today. Maté leaves are harvested and dried before being ground up into a rough powder.
Ritualized preparation for this particular beverage
The Argentinians and several neighboring countries drink maté throughout the day at home, at work, or in the street. A beverage to be enjoyed with family, friends, and colleagues. But whatever the context, everyone carefully prepares and consumes their maté according to an age-old ritual. And here is how…
First put a sizeable serving of yerba maté into a maté – a recipient shaped like a gourd with a narrow base and a wide top. This form allows the aromas to fully develop. There are countless maté containers in metal, enamel, and wood, with a variety of colors and decorations. You can then also add sugar, honey, mint, citrus peel, or spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and aniseed. Next, tilt the recipient to create a sort of well in which you insert the bombilla. This metallic cylinder is used as both a straw and a filter. Now pour in the hot water to let the maté infuse. Remember not to touch the bombilla after adding the water! Simply take a drink and pass it to the next person.
A moment of sharing
Maté is rarely enjoyed alone. This is a social beverage that unites people whatever the time or place. From morning until night, all generations and classes in Argentina savor their favorite drink in the cities and the countryside alike. The gourde is passed from one person to another, and regularly topped up with hot water by the master of the ceremony. Every now and then, more yerba maté is also added.
As part of the promotion of this cultural heritage, tourists are even invited to follow the “Ruta de la Yerba Maté.” This route leads across yerba maté-producing regions to meet growers who share their know-how and traditions. A unique, gastronomical, and cultural adventure through the heart of nature. A must-try experience as part of any trip to Argentina.
Simply take your yerba maté, maté, and bombilla, and enjoy it with your friends!