This my friends is Argentina’s biggest tradition.
Introducing yerba maté. Or as I like to call it, the crack of Argentina. Or my best Argentine friend.
I first tried yerba maté at an Argentine hostel while backpacking in Bogota, Colombia. Francisco was excited beyond belief when he saw the bag of yerba in the kitchen. He made some. We drank it. I thought it tasted like grass. No fireworks for me.
A little vocabulary first-
Yerba is the dry green loose leaf tea that is generally sold by the half or whole kilo.
Maté is the device that holds the yerba. In most cases, it’s made of an actual gourd or wood.
Bombilla is the straw used to drink the yerba. It’s made of metal and has a filter at the end blocking any bits of tea from getting sucked through.
Mate cocido is a tea bag full of yerba.
There is maté etiquette. There is a time of day (known as merienda) that is dedicated to maté. There are thousands of Argentines on the beach drinking hot maté during the peak of summer.
Everyone is crazy for maté.
Maté is glorious. I brought a kilo with me during my Europe trip and two bombillas just in case I was to lose one. Same when I was back in New Orleans in August and everyone just loved it. Am I right, friends?!
Let’s cover some etiquette and facts.
Maté is generally meant for sharing. That means someone prepares the mate (the cebador) which includes heating water, pouring the yerba in the mate, angling the yerba and inserting the bombilla. They then fill it with water, drink it all testing the temperature and refill it before handing it to the next person.
This person then drinks (from the same straw). They must drink it all before handing it back to the cebador.
The cebador then refills it with hot water and passes it to the next person. Repeat repeat until the circle starts over and you continue til either the yerba is watered down or everyone is satisfied.
If you say ‘gracias’ when handing the mate back to the cebador this signifies you are done. Out of the mate loop. No more mate for you.
Even though it’s meant for sharing you can obviously have it by yourself. This is how I start my day every morning. I’m actually having some now as I write!
If you have a new mate you must cure it. You cure them by filling them up with yerba, adding enough water to where all the leaves are wet and letting it rest for 24 hours. To finish just toss out the leaves and give it a quick rinse with water. Never wash them with soap and never use the bombilla to scrape out the old yerba leaves. You’ll scratch the maté and screw up your bombilla.
Now, of course everyone is different… but I think yerba maté has super powers! In fact I love yerba maté so much that I don’t drink coffee any more, just maté. AND I LOVE IT.
Some say that yerba maté has no or very little caffeine. Others say it’s high in caffeine. And others say that is has no caffeine, that it has mateine.
Now I don’t know about y’all, but I get a pick me up from yerba maté. And the beauty of it is that it’s a gradual progression verses coffee where I’m up and then crash down. This is consistent. No headaches. No racing heart beat.
However I will say that I can only drink a small amount when I’m in a car. I get serious anxiety and claustrophobia after 2 rounds and things get scary and I want to vomit. So. Drink with caution.
On a bright side, yerba is extremely good for you! It’s loaded with antioxidants, helps detoxify the body, is a big immune boaster, relives allergies and really gets the metabolism going. Some say that if you drink it in the morning with a glass of orange juice you’ll be running for the toilet in no time.
A fair warning that it’ll curb your appetite. Make sure to eat!
Brazil is the leading producer of yerba globally and Argentina comes in second. Most people drink it in the morning and again in the afternoon (3-7pm) during merienda.
If you’re in BA, give it a try and bring some back for your friends and family! And if you get hooked don’t worry, they’re selling it like hot cakes in the states, claiming it’s the new health trend.
Just remember, drink with caution.