The average Argentine consumes roughly five kilograms of yerba mate (pronounced mah-tay) per year. Argentines from Pope Francis to post office workers drink the stuff all day, every day, and as you walk the streets of Buenos Aires, you’ll see the locals sipping this herbal concoction from their own personal mate gourds. But what exactly is yerba mate, and how should you prepare it? We give you the lowdown on Argentina’s favorite herbal infusion.
| What the Hell is Mate? |
Mate is a herbal drink made from the plant yerba mate, and is grown in northern Argentina, southern Brazil, and in Paraguay and Uruguay. The plant’s leaves are placed in a gourd (confusingly, also called a mate), often made of a hollowed out squash, and then hot water is added. The drink is sipped through a straw, called a bombilla, and is shared between a group. Sound simple? Strict cultural codes dictate drinking mate tea and breaking them is a serious faux-pas. Follow these rules to fit in:
1. Some like it hot
The ideal temperature for the water used in mate tea is 158-176 degrees Fahrenheit. The water needs to be hot, but not boiling. Some kettles in Argentina even have a special mate tea setting to help mate-lovers achieve this perfect temperature.
2. Perfect powder
Make sure that the yerba fills your mate gourd about three-quarters full, no more, no less. Then place one hand over the mate and shake the yerba gently so that its fine powder goes to the top of the mate. Tilt the mate to one side so that the yerba is leaning along one side of the gourd and pour a small amount of cold or warm water into the empty space. Then place the straw diagonally into your mate before slowly adding hot water.
3. Pass it on
The person who made the mate tea should drink first, and is by default the server. The server refills the mate with hot water before passing it to the person on their right. When that person finishes drinking the mate, they pass the mate back to the server, who then refills the mate and passes it on. This continues until there is no water left. Don’t panic about making slurping noises as you drink from the straw, that’s all part of it, but don’t move the bombilla unless you want to shock (and possibly offend) the locals.
4. When enough’s enough
Many foreigner find mate’s herby taste too bitter, but it’s an acquired taste, so don’t give up too soon. When you’ve had enough, say “gracias”, and the server won’t pass the mate to you again. Saying “gracias” too soon will mean you won’t get anymore mate, so mind your manners.
| Health Benefits of Mate |
Caffeine-rich mate has numerous health benefits. It is full of antioxidants, contains vitamins B and C, aids digestion and is said to suppress the appetite. Some say that mate is the reason porteños manage to stay so slim.
| Mate in Buenos Aires |
Mate isn’t available in most restaurants (and why would it be, when everyone carries it around with them?), but you can try it at La Hormiga and Las Cabras, or as part of The Argentine Experience, where you’ll also sample other typical Argentine foods. To buy your own mate, bombilla, and even a handy little bag to carry your mate set in, try one of Buenos Aires’ many outdoor markets – San Telmo’s Sunday market along calle Defensa, or the weekend fair at Plaza Francia are both good bets. You can also get colorful and stylish mates at Nobrand and Autoria BsAs.
If you, like so many before you, have become obsessed with Argentina’s tea than head to the mate museum in Tigre to learn all about the drink. You can see over 2,000 mates from all over the world, and sip some herby goodness amongst fellow addicts in the mate bar.Buenos Aires, Experiential Travel, Gastronomía en Buenos Aires, Luxury Buenos Aires apartment rental, Restaurantes en Buenos Aires, Traveler's New Local Obsession