Drinking and sharing Mate in Argentina is one of the most beloved traditions in Latin America.
An employee at the hostel I stayed at when I first arrived in Buenos Aires introduced me to the mate culture, and from that point forward, I’ve developed an appreciation (and taste) for what this powerful tea signifies for the people of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and some parts of Brazil, Chile and Bolivia.
As Mariela describes in the video, “the idea of mate is that you meet with your friends and family and share a moment.” Those moments are shared amongst college friends in the public parks of Buenos Aires, between gauchos in Las Pampas of Argentina and even shared between old couples on the beaches of Mar del Plata.
Mate is a great symbol of Latin American culture.
I believe that all travelers and expats in South America should learn the basic guidelines and rules of preparing, drinking and sharing mate if they ever want to travel deeper and live like a local in these regions.
Here are 18 of the most important things to know about the art of drinking mate in Argentina:
1. Mate (ma-te) is the name of the cup in which you drink from.
2. Traditional mates are made of animal horn, gourd or wood. Some new mates are made of stainless steel, plastic or some type of composite blend of plastics and metal. Stick with the traditional mates.
3. When using a gourd type of mate, you must “cultivate” the mate before using it. You can do this by filling the mate with yerba and warm water and letting it sit for 1-2 days before scraping out the mate and gourd lining to begin using.
4. The straw is called a bombilla or bomba in Portuguese and is made of plastic or metal, but it was traditionally made of silver.
5. To drink, the mate is filled about 75% full with Yerba Mate. Yerba Mate leaves are dried, chopped and ground into a powdery mixture called yerba.
6. Some people add sugar, honey, orange or lemon peel for taste to the yerba for taste, but the traditional way to drink it in Argentina is mate amargo (bitter mate) – without any additives.
7. Adding water is a very important step. The water must be just under boiling and should be poured slowly into the mate to ensure maximum usage of the yerba (by multiple people).
8. There is one designated Cevador or server who drinks the first mate to ensure its taste and temperature before passing.
9. The mate should always be passed to the right to whoever would like to partake.
10. You do not say “gracias” or thank you unless you do not want anymore.
11. You sip until there is no more water left (loud sucking noise is okay) before passing it back to the Cevador for he or she to prepare for the next person.
12. Everyone uses the same mate and bombilla. No cleaning is necessary between mate passes.
13. It is considered bad etiquette to hold the mate for too long. Expect to be told “it’s not a microphone” or to “bring the talking gourd” if you are bogarting the mate.
14. Mate is not traditionally ordered in restaurants, bars or coffee shops, but rather something you prepare at home and take out with water in a thermos.
15. Mate is the national drink of Argentina.
16. In Paraguay, people get real creative with their mate drinking. They use hot or cold water, add mint or lemongrass and fruit juices such as Orange juice and call it tereré.
17. In Uruguay, people are known for toting around a thermos and mate in public and there is a national law In Uruguay that prohibits drinking mate while driving, because it caused many accidents of people getting scalded with hot water while driving.
18. Mate is considered to have many health benefits and has tons of antioxidants and vitamins like calcium, iron and Vitamin A,B, C and E. It’s great for late night work or study sessions.
A big thank you to Mariela from Buenos Aires Concierge for showing me the art of drinking mate in Argentina.