I’ve seen Yerba Mate in the grocery stores and remember reading Che Guevara’s biography which had frequent references to drinking it. But it wasn’t until I got to Argentina that I discovered what a love affair the people have for this drink.
What is Yerba Mate??
It turns out Yerba Mate is the dried leaves and small stems of Ilex paraguarensis, a plant that needs a sub tropical to tropical environment to thrive. It can be found in places like northeastern Argentina, parts of Uruguay and in the Paraguay and Parana River basins – in case you wanted to know. And about 300,000 tons of the stuff is produced every year.
What’s the big deal?
Drinking Yerba Mate is a semi ceremonial affair. There are rules to be followed.
- If you’re in a group, the person that offers to make it and pour it, continues to pour until you’re finished. It is bad etiquette to jump in and pour.
- You only need to say thank you after you’ve totally finished drinking and not after every turn.
- Get over sharing the ‘metal straw’. If you’re germ phobic you’re not going to like sharing but that’s exactly what you have to do. Drinking together is a sign of friendship.
- Finish drinking what’s in the cup (until you hear air) and then pass it back for a refill and onto the next person.
- Continue in a circle until no more flavour can be extracted.
How do you make Yerba Mate?
Take a large quantity of ground up leaf and add water – hot or cold. Then add hot water over and over again until there is no more flavour extracted. The special straw that comes with each cup filters out the leafy material.
What does yerba mate taste like?
I think Yerba Mate is an acquired taste. It’s like a very bitter tea though our second experience had sugar added to each cup. Some people add cocoa leaves too.
Why the special cup?
It beats me. It’s not like you can add much water either. I think I’m just showing my ignorance here.
Are there any health benefits to yerba mate?
Drinking Yerba Mate is supposedly very good for you. Our guide said that it was great for weight loss so I’m surprised it hasn’t caught on in North America. It’s full of vitamins and minerals and is supposed to:
- boost your immune system
- cleanse and detoxify the blood
- retard ageing
- stimulate the mind
- allow you to keep your hair colour
- fight fatigue
- reduce insomnia
The more I read about it the more I wish I’d bought the cup – I will on my next trip to Argentina.
A hiking guide who offered us the Yerba Mate experience said the people of Uruguay are obsessive about their Mate and the same goes for the people in Buenos Aires. Another one of our guides walked everywhere with his giant thermos of hot water under his arm and the cup in the other – which I thought was a bit weird at first but now I understand.
Don’t pass up an opportunity to try Yerba Mate.