Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Let me tell you about mate (pronounced "mah-tay") by Ken

Mate is more than a drink. It is a lifestyle. It is a cultural ritual that we don´t really have in the United States (unless you grew up in the 70´s, and, if you did, you will understand the reference as you read on.)

Mate is a herbal tea made from the leaves of the Yerba Mate plant. It is a drink meant to be shared among friends--new and old. There is a ritual in drinking mate. This is what makes it different from simply having coffee or tea with friends or co-workers.

The ritual has its own procedure and etiquette. I have been here over two weeks and have not had the pleasure of being invited to drink mate with any of my new Argentine acquaintences, so I experimented on my own with the stuff.

The ritual I will describe comes from my reading. The experience is entirely my own.

There is a cebador whose job it is to fill and refill the mate cup. The cup is a gourd, also called a "mate." The cup is filled near to the top with the dried yeraba mate leaves. Hot water is poured over the top. The cebador passes the hot mixture to his (or her, I suppose) left. That person drinks the broth through a metal straw with a built-in filter called a bombilla (pronounced: bomb-bee-zsha). This person is exected to drain the vessel and return it to the cebador who refills it with hot water and passes it along to the next person.

OK, so, no invitation, I set out to try it for myself. Following the specific instructions given me when I purchased my mate at the Feria de Recoleta, I filled the mate to the top with yerba, poured in the hot water and, with gusto, sipped the steeped liquid through the bombilla.

This is a picture of me before I tasted it.

With all due respect to mis amigos porteños . . .

the stuff is vile.

Helen, sitting nearby, asked to try it for herself. "You won´t like it, I warned." "How bad could it be," she replied.

"Ahgttt, ptuhhh," she spatted as she reached for a towel to wipe it off her tongue.

If invited to share a mate with some of my new friends, I´ll certainly try again. Admittedly, I am a novice and could have made a bad batch. Helen, however, has probably tasted her last.

My homegrown mate experiments have, for now, come to an end.


miss tango in her eyes said...

Did you cure your gourd first for a couple of days? Also if you want you can add sugar.

Mia said...


It's been a month since this post. Did you give it up? I hope not. :)

First thing to know about "mate": it is never pronounced "mah-tay". This word only rhymes with "stay" when it comes out of an USAmerican's mouth. The English sound "ay" is never found in Latin-based languages. So, "mate", "café", "hombre", "chocolate", "paté", etc., all end with the sound "eh".

Mate = MAh-teh
Café = kah-FEH
Hombre = OM-breh
Chocolate = cho-co-LA-teh

Now about the actual drink:

By now your mah-teh is cured, even if you've only used it a few times.

This is how the locals make mate:

1. Heat sufficient water in the kettle, do not allow it to boil (boiling water ruins the yerba).

2. Rinse the mate (the vessel) with cold water.

3. Put 1/2 teaspoon of sugar in the mate.

4. Put the bombilla in the mate.

5. Fill the mate with yerba no more than 3/4 full. (If you want to add the dried orange peel, do it now. A 1-inch piece should be enough.)

6. Pour cold water in the mate, the yerba will start to bubble up a bit.

7. Without moving the bombilla (to avoid clogging) suck up all that cold yucky infusion and spit it out. Repeat this step one more time.

8. If you like sweet mate, add a bit of sugar now, about a 1/4 teaspoon and fill the mate with hot (never boiling, remember) water from the kettle. You need to add sugar every time (or every other time) you fill the mate with water. By the way, pour the water slowly and as close to the bombilla as you can.

The first sip won't be very hot because the yerba was cold, and it will be rather strong tasting. Some people spit this first mate out, as well (I do).

Your mate (the drink) should be somehow foamy while the yerba is still good. As it loses its strength, the mate will start to become "lavado" (washed out) and weak. If you prefer weak mate, continue "cebando" lavados otherwise dump the old yerba and start from step 1 all over again.

A thermos will save you trips to the kitchen to warm up the water.

When done "cebando mate", you may leave the vessel with the old yerba in it, this keeps the gourd from drying out and cracking.

Well, I hope I've been as clear as I think I have. I'll check back later in case you have any questions.

Oh, one more thing. The yerba you are using is "con palo" (meaning that it contains the leaves and stems of the yerba plant). It's a good thing you got that kind because yerba "sin palo" (no stem) tends to clog the bombilla.

Remember, the less you move the bombilla, the better.

Best luck,