Sometimes when I go abroad, people ask me about mate. Then I decided to write a brief explanation of it including some images which clarify some issues otherwise hard to define.
Mate is the name of a kind of beberage which is commonly drunk in Argentina. It is also the national drink in others south american countries like Uruguay and Paraguay and very common at the south of Brazil.
The right pronunciation of the word mate by English-speakers could be guided by the following examples. The m is pronounced as in "mountain". The a is pronunced as in "bat". The t and e are pronounced as in "technical".
It was presumably discovered by the Guaranies. They are aborigins living in an area which mostly occupies Paraguay, S.W. of Brazil and N.E. of Argentina.
Basically, it is an infusion based on an herb called Yerba Mate. Usually it is taken with hot water. This water is carried on a tea kettle, pava in spanish, or in a thermo bottle. The name Mate is also given to the place where the infusion is put and taken from. You can see below several kinds of mates:
Those shiny mates are made with wood and veneered. Some mates are made with wood from typical trees of the region like caldén and algarrobo (carob tree). In the middle front it could be seen one made from calabaza (gourd). Straws are usually metalic but there are some of them made of bone. As regards to the herbs, there are a lot of options. Some of them appear in the picture below:
The most widely used is the typical yerba mate like that in the middle. Some people like to use a mix of hill's herbs like those packs in the upper sides and that below in the right. Since some people like to add pieces of orange's skin, yerba mate with orange, grapefruit and lemmon flavours has recently started to be offered. See for example, the Piper Pol and CBSe bags in the previous picture.
How to prepare it: a) put herbs approximately filling 75 % of the mate
b) put the palm of the hand covering the hole c) shake the mate d) clean the palm e) repeat steps c and d a couple of times f) put lukewarm water in one side g) wait a bit h) introduce the straw in the wet side of the herbs i) put hot water
and drink it by the straw.
The above described way to prepare it is called bitter mate. But, there are several ways to prepare it. A common variant is to add sugar to it from time to time, this is called sweet mate. Others, aware of the problems of consuming sugar prefer to put honey instead. Some people also like to add little pieces of dry orange skin to it which gives their flavour when hot water is used. It could also be prepared with cold water and a bit of lemon or orange juice mixed in the water which leads to the so called tereré.
Observation: yes, it is true we share the straw when taking mate in a group of people. Usually if you know the guests. Some people do it with unknown people and in some circles it is an ofence not to accept it when it is offered.
Pros and cons: it has characteristics very close to other popular infusions like coffe and tea. Because of the above observation, it could also help illneses to widespread. People with some kind of illness avoid to take mate with other people.
Some people wonder if it is a kind of drug. Well I think it is if you consider that tea is, because it has the same amount of cafein. You can become addicted as you do with coffee. Some people find hard to quit drinking a couple of coffee cups a day, specially in particular hours. Equally some people miss mate if they do not have it. Because it is a cultural drink you could find that some people miss it a lot when they are abroad and this could lead to think that mate develops an addiction. Perhaps, it is the psychological attitude to link habits to the culture where they had grown and the fact of being far from the country what make them feel closer to their beloveds.
The Yerba Mate could be bought in every supermarket of the above mentioned countries. It could also be bought abroad in those places which sell food of different countries, especially latin american products. If you would like to try it ask to a south american where to get it...
Acknowledgements: Ana Maguitman, Sebastián Sardiña and Diana Cukierman helped to improve this page.