How to Drink Yerba Mate: The Tea of Argentina

By Mark Wiens 3 Comments

Little did I know the wonderful health benefits that the detoxifying tea provided, until returning to the United States and shopping at an organic health crazed grocery store. Mate is consumed from a traditional gourd, or cup. Mate herb is filled into the gourd and a metal straw is placed into the leaves. Hot water is then poured into the gourd and sucked up. The gourd is filled with water multiple times before having to replenish the herb, therefore extracting all the herbal benefits.

It took about a month before I started enjoying this popular form of herbal tea. I was living in Buenos Aires, Argentina at the time and had observed the drinking of mate as a very common practice, especially in the later afternoon or early evening. My curiosity arose and eventually my craving for the beverage grew. At a student housing that I was living in for a month, a friend offered me my first gourd of mate. The bitter, grassy, and herbal, plant taste immediately filled my mouth and I couldn’t decipher if it was appreciable, or not such an appreciable sensation on my taste buds.

A few weeks later, I took a trip to Uruguay. From observation, I could see that people in Uruguay drank mate almost as an obsession. It was everywhere, people walking down the sidewalk, gourd and thermos in hand, people driving in their cars, gourd in hand, and people sitting in the park, of course with a gourd in hand. The drinking of mate was so prevelent that it was reminiscent of the amount of cell phones one sees while walking down the streets of Manhattan. It was at this moment that I decided it was a necessity for me to indulge in mate.

It wasn’t long before I started walking the streets with the mate gourd and hot water in hand, slowly sipping at my discretion. Without a thermos, I had to make do with a water bottle of hot water, which didn’t last hot for long enough, but sufficed for the time being. My friend and I would aimlessly walk around the streets of Montevideo, feeding ourselves through the metal straws and gaining a non shaky stimulating jolt of energy, and heightening of our personal senses. The more I began to sip, the more the earthy, branchy, and natural flavors began to grow into a lovable delight.

The culture is such that within a group there is usually one gourd, and one person designated to pour the hot water from the thermos into the gourd. That person then passes it to the first person, who drinks the entire portion before returning the gourd to the pourer who refills the water and passes it to the next person. The mate rotation continues around the social group as conversation enthralls the participants.

As I continued to travel with a friend, mate continued to accompany us and we loved it more and more. We traveled through Patagonia repeatedly drinking mate. We bought a thermos which was used so frequently that within a month, it had exploded, yet the drinking lived on.

I not only reaped the health benefits, but also was able to meet people, and gain a better understanding of the culture in Uruguay and Argentina while drinking mate. Not only was it a drink that satisfied, it was a drink that opened the doors to a number of social connections, enriching the cultural experience all the more.