All About Yerba Mate: Argentina’s National Drink
What is Argentina’s drink called mate, and why is it famous? Mate is a caffeinated beverage that comes from the ilex paraguariensis plant. It is native to Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Brazil. While yerba mate is considered a traditional Argentine drink, it has gained popularity all over the world in the last few years.
More than just a tea, mate has become a symbol of Argentine identity and roots. They even have a national day to celebrate this herb that unites them culturally. It has its own ritual and preparation and has crossed international borders at a rapid pace.
It is a healthy beverage, a distinctive element of Argentina, and a common habit for many. Mate’s versatility means some people drink it in the morning and/or the afternoon—sweetened or bitter, blended or pure.
Keep reading this post to discover interesting and useful aspects of the mate drink, such as:
- How it’s made
- How it’s consumed
- Its cultural role
- Its history
- Its ritual
- Its benefits and properties
- How and when El día del mate (Mate Day) is celebrated in Argentina
How is Mate Made and Consumed?
The recipe for yerba mate tea is quite simple. Mate leaves are dried over a fire and then placed in a ceramic or metal container. It is then topped with hot water. You can do this several times and the leaves will infuse the water again.
It is traditionally drunk from a mate cup or container called a gourd or calabash. You sip it from a metallic or wooden straw with a filter on one of its ends so the leaf pieces don’t go through.
After being brewed, the flavor of this traditional drink of Argentina resembles that of the green tea. It is slightly bitter, so people sometimes blend it with more herbs.
Mate tea can be served with milk, fruit juice (most commonly lime), brown sugar, and it may be flavored or sweetened to soften its strong taste. It can be served hot, in which case it’s called simply mate. In cold form, it’s called tereré.
The Mate Ritual
The mate cup or hollow gourd (also called el pocongo or la guampa) is usually half full of mate tea. The gourds are made of metal, glass, wood, or clay.
The brewer passes the gourd to each person in turn, in a circle. Everyone says thanks before drinking it and gives it back afterwards. The brewer refills the hot water and continues giving it to the next person in clockwise order. In Chile, the ritual changes a little bit, as people say thanks only after they have drunk the mate.
Family members and friends drink from the same gourd as part of the tradition. Sharing the container is a sign of bonding, friendship, and affection.
Cultural Role of Mate Drink
When do you drink mate in Argentina? Having a mate drink is very common among people of all ages in Argentina. People meet to drink mate the way we gather to drink coffee in the United States and many Latin American countries. It even has its own Spanish verb: matear.
When is mate common to drink? Argentinians usually drink it for breakfast (with fruit juice) or just before sunset. They drink it hot or cold depending on the weather. But as things evolve, mate has become increasingly common to drink from cans, bottles, and energy drinks, so it is more convenient to drink on the go, any time of day.
But more than a habit, getting together to matear forges emotional links between people. And it takes the Argentinians back to their roots. Sharing that is something of value beyond the mere act of getting together to drink something.
According to surveys, mate is the most important symbol of Argentinian identity, with 38% of the people agreeing (meat is a close second at 37%).
A Brief History of Mate
This Argentine drink was first found and cultivated by the Guaraní and Tupí people in Paraguay. The Guaraní named it “ka’a,” which means “herb,” and the Tupí named it “congonha,” which translates to “what keeps us alive.”
The word mate that is used in modern Spanish and Portuguese comes from “mati,” which means “infusion” or “gourd” in Quechua.
Yerba is a variant of the word hierba that means “herb,” “weed,” or “grass.” Both terms are used throughout Latin America. However, in Argentine culture, yerba refers to mate exclusively.
Benefits and Properties of Yerba Mate
Why is mate important? One of the reasons people drink yerba mate is because it’s super healthy. The components of this Argentine drink have made it valuable in terms of body and mind performance.
Here are some of its benefits and properties:
- A high amount of antioxidants (even more than green tea), stimulants and nutrients
- Cholesterol-lowering and anti-inflammatory properties
- Lowers the amount of blood sugar
- Contains almost every vitamin, mineral, and amino acid the human body needs
- Has more caffeine than common teas but less than coffee
- Boosts your energy, gives you focus, and improves your alertness
- May help prevent infections from fungi, parasites, and bacteria
- Boosts metabolism and thus supports weight loss
- May help protect you from cardiac disease
- Boosts the immune system overall
El Día del Mate (Mate Day) in Argentina
National Mate Day has been celebrated on November 30 in Argentina since 2015 through a law that promotes the consumption of mate at every official event. It is a holiday that pays homage to Andresito’s birthday. Andrés Guazurarí was the only indigenous governor—Guaraní to be specific—in Argentina’s history. He was a general in the early 19th century while Brazilian invasions were taking place.
What Do You Think about Mate?
Did you like learning about this aspect of Argentina’s culture? Since it has become more popular worldwide, you can find places that sell it just about anywhere. Try all of its variations, and even buy your own mate cup if you’re into the ritual aspect of mate drinking. Have you tasted mate before, or are you excited to try this traditional Argentine drink? Would you like to visit Argentina for the Día del Mate? Leave a comment and let’s start a conversation!
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