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.