Mate is a traditional South American caffeine-rich infused drink, that was first consumed centuries ago before it became particularly popular in areas such as Argentina and Uruguay and Paraguay .
Wherever we have been the locals are carrying thermos flasks and mate cups to be able to enjoy a beverage on the run. Coffee to go cups are not really seen on the street here and in terms of being environmentally friendly we could all learn much from this age-old custom.
It is prepared by steeping dried leaves of yerba mate in hot water and is served with a metal straw from a shared hollow calabash gourd. The straw is called a bombilla in Spanish and is traditionally made of silver. The gourd is known as a mate and even if the water is supplied from a modern thermos, the infusion is traditionally drunk from the mate.
The mate leaves are dried, chopped, and ground into a powdery mixture called yerba, which means "herb" and there are heaps of sorts available packed both professionally and in small lots at craft markets here. Exactly like the range of herb teas we have access to. The bombilla functions as both a straw and a sieve. The submerged end is flared, with small holes or slots that allow the brewed liquid in and up the straw, but block the chunky matter that makes up much of the mixture.
You can buy the mate in tea bag form but I think it is much cooler to be able to use authentic stuff or you may as well just make yourself a cup of tea.
The air-hostess on our flight last week spoke really good English and when I asked her about the mate drinking habits of her fellow countrymen, she invited me up the front of the plane to watch how she prepared her own mate and then share it with here. Sharing mate with friends and family is what you do with it. A bit like smoking a joint in tea form it would seem! Lol
I watched the little ritual she carried out and she said to me that even when there is only her present she performs a ceremony which went something like this:
· Fill the mate vessel with the mate mixture
· Hold your hand over the top of the mate and make sure the dust and herbs are mixed well together
· Insert the bombilla to the bottom of the cup
· Pour from the thermos about 50ml of boiling water down the side of the bombilla and let it steep in the mixture.
· Then pour the same amount again and drink from the straw the hot tea. This will take the caffeine flavoured water from the mixture for you to enjoy.
· You then repeat the process yourself for every mouthful if you are alone or you pass the mate to your friend or family members to enjoy.
It’s a centuries old ritual and one that fascinates me. I hope to be able to enjoy it with my own family at home for a bit of fun so have purchased a beautiful mate to take back. I love pomp and ceremony.
Penny and I won’t be sharing any mate any time soon – unless she stops losing shit like her credit card and money and develops a desire to upskill in the IT department!
Our wonderful adventure continues, and we are about to board a plane to enjoy 6 days in Montevideo in Uruguay. Despite how it may appear to our friends following this, our friendship remains intact and we are travelling well together and enjoying the chance to see this fab place.