Three years ago I traveled through South America (Argentina, Chile, Uruguay) for a month and half. We published last month my travel notebooks about this trip. Today, I wanted to share with you a curious and friendly habit I discovered in this area: drinking the mate
- Soundtrack of the report
- La Revancha Del Tango
- Gotan Project
Mate, pronounced “mat-hey”, is an herb infused drink that many people there drink all day. This beverage is prepared with a plant called llex paraguariensis, in Spanish yerba mate. The mate drink is served in a calabash gourd called “mate”. The liquor (non-alcoholic) is drunk using a metallic filtered straw called: la bombilla, (say “la bombisha” to look like a real Argentinian). To me the object was so unusual that it contributed to the appeal of this unique drinking ritual.
Don’t think the mate is just another local specialty you have to try. Mate is a social and a cultural habit. Mate is drunk by Gauchos (sort of very cool Argentinian cowboys), workers, old and young people. You can see every morning, bankers going to work carrying their mate cup in one hand and their suitcase in the other. The real mate addicts own a kind of leather messenger case with hot water in a thermos and a box with the plant. Mate is everywhere.
My first contact with it really represents its social aspect. I walked alone for an hour along the Lapataya Lake (west of Ushuaia). When I arrived to the little stone beach at the Chilian border, a couple was sitting enjoying the landscape. The man saw me and when I passed nearby, he invited me to share a mate with them. His name was Beco, and the girl’s was Karina. We drank it for an hour and half. Despite my poor Spanish, I enjoyed a really good and rich conversation with them. Mate in a wonderful social medium and an invitation to spend long relaxed afternoons with friendly people.
Here's a quick video I made with Ben to explain the grand art of preparing the mate as it was taught to me in Argentina:
Be aware, the mate drinking etiquette is quite strict:
- Someone has to be the mate master (also know as the the cebador). He will serve the mate for everyone.
- First he fills the gourd with hot water.
- Then drinks the first gourd entirely to avoid for the other to drink the thin particles.
- Once done he fills the mate again and gives it to the next person in the circle.
- The person enjoys the entire cup, and then passes it back to the master who will serve it to the next.
- This keeps going on until the infusion becomes tasteless.
- After, the cup is to be cleaned with a tea spoon and plain water (never use soap, because the taste will remains for the next usages).
Note for adventurous people who would like to try after reading this article. The mate calabash cup needs a long preparation before the first use. You must first put boiling water in the new cup and scrub the inside to clean it. Then you fill it with mate plant (2/3 of the gourd) and hot water. You leave it like that for 40 hours. Then you clean it and dry it. It is now ready to use.
To finish I just wanted to share with the original drawings from my notebooks about the mate recipe:
Enjoy mate with your friends!