Val, a friend from Buenos Aires, taught me how to drink mate. She barely knew me, invited me over, got everything ready, and we sat on her patio in the middle of Buenos Aires passing the mate back and forth under the moon. It was one of those moments that makes you feel perfectly at home somewhere you have never been.
Once Val introduced me to mate I’ve always wanted to share the tradition with everyone – and didn’t leave Argentina until I packed a mate gourd in my suitcase for every person in my family.
In Argentina and Uruguay it’s delightfully common that strangers offer to share their mate with you, drinking from the same cup and straw. I was surprised and touched when a park worker at Igazu National Park offered to share mate with me because he was getting it ready and I happened to be there. Mate is not a fast drink to share, it has a ceremony and is meant to go slowly and is ideally shared between two or more people.
Drinking your mate
You will need –
a mate cup
a bombilla straw [pronounced ‘bomb-ee-shah]
Yes, both the cup and the tea are called ‘mate.’ The traditional mate cup may be made out of a gourd or wood. If you do not have a mate cup I recommend using a small, shallow coffee cup.
Step 1. Fill your mate with the yerba, filling ¾ of the cup.
Step 2. Cover the mate top with your hand and turning it upside down, shake it vigorously. When you turn it right side up, clean off the dust from your hand.
This dust can’clog up’ the special straw and is known to upset stomachs
Step 3. When you tilt your mate back up, let the mate slant a little, so that one side of the yerba is lower than the other.
Step 4. Wet the lower side with a little water. You can use cold water or cold juice (my favourite), but the most common is hot water. When you wet the lower side with the water the ‘higher’ side will slowly go up, until it reaches the brim.
*Your water should be at 80º C (right before it boils) or it will burn the yerba
Step 5. Place your bombilla in the space left after pouring your liquid. Your yerba is now wet and will not clog your bombilla.If you want a sweet mate, place a small spoonful of sugar on the bombilla and then pour the hot water on the bombilla bottom (where the ‘filter’ is).
Step 6. Drink the first mate serving. This one always has the strongest flavour, and sometimes is a little cold, because the yerba is not completely warmed up yet.
Step 7. From then on, always pour the water on the bombilla section, not on the dry part. Eventually, even the dry portion will get wet.
Step 8. You can add a little sugar on the bombilla after each serving, or you can enjoy the slightly bitter taste of the mate.
Make sure you rinse your mate and bombilla well after use.
If you are already a common mate drinker try adding a lemon, grapefruit or orange peel to the top of your mate, for added flavour.
Some mate drinkers will use hot milk instead of water, this is called ‘mate de leche’ (pronounced ‘mah-teh the le-cheh’)
Sharing Mate with Friends
When at a gas station in Uruguay, Jay and I saw our first mate vending machine, ‘Mate Amigo.’ The moto “En Todo Momento en todo lugar” means, “at any time in any place.” It was then that we realized how seriously this part of the world loved mate!
If you are sharing mate in a group it typically goes like this – one person always pours, and has the first drink (as the first one is always a bit cold and very strong). The pourer will always fill up the mate cup with water and pass to the next person who passes it back to the pourer once finished.
Traditionally, you can say thank you (‘gracias’) when you are given the mate, but if you return it to the person serving saying ‘thank you’ you are telling them that you’ve had enough and they can let you out of the round.
These techniques will help you with the basics of drinking mate. Enjoy discovering how you like your mate best, and don’t forget to share with those around you!