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The Argentinian Love Affair With Yerba Mate

The Argentinian Love Affair with Yerba Mate

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. Healthline  describes Yerba Mate as a “drink that has the strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the joy of chocolate.”

The drink in a traditional cup
Yerba mate in a traditional cup – Photo by Fermin Rodriguez Penelas on Unsplash

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What is Yerba Mate??

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 leaves are produced every year.

What’s the big deal?

Drinking Yerba Mate is a semi ceremonial affair. There are rules to be followed. The container you drink from is called a gourd.

You don’t have to go to Argentina to purchase a “gourd”. You can buy one right here.

The communal yerba mate straw
The communal Yerba Mate straw

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.

Our friend Ted is part of the Yerba Mate circle
Our friend Ted is part of the Yerba Mate circle

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 metal straw that comes with each cup filters out the leafy material so you’re not ingesting leaf fragments.

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.

Boiling water to make Yerba Mate
People never forget their thermos of boiling water so they can make it on a moment’s notice

Are there any health benefits?

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 things like xanthines (compounds that act as stimulants), polyphenols (a group of antioxidants) and saponins that have ianti-inflammatory along with cholesterol reduction properties. 

Drinking mate 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.

Further reading about things to do in South America



Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 8 Comments
  1. I fell in love with yerba matte when I was in Argentina! How they sat in the park and drank that on the hot summer days when it was 33 degrees C still blows my mind haha.
    It’s so relaxing though and it’s a great social thing.

    I went to a really cool farm, if you will, where they actually made the Yerba up in the northern part of Argentina when you start to get close to Iguazu Falls. (Which btw you MUST go to if you haven’t been!!)

    Enjoy the matte!
    LAUREN 🙂

  2. Very interesting. Never heard of this, but sounds like something I should try for the health benefits if nothing else! The communal friendship & ceremonial aspect is pretty cool, too.

  3. I’ve heard of the health benefits of Yerba Mate but didn’t know all the rules. Also interesting to hear how it tastes.

  4. It feels as though those who love Yerba mate once connecting with others really feels like a community. The special way of preparing it and the special cup just gives you a sense of tradition of some sorts.

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