Mate is a tea made from the crushed leaves of the yerba-mate plant. It contains caffeine, which makes it a particularly reviving and refreshing drink. Some believe it even possesses magical properties. At times in its illustrious history, those who feared its powers and popularity threatened the survival of this mystical beverage. It is a drink with a very distinctive taste, somewhat earthy, and becomes instantly recognisable. Some add a little sugar or honey to make mate dulce. Some also add special herbal blends to the tea for health.
the legend of mate
The people of the Guaraní call this tea ‘the drink of friendship’. They tell the story of the goddesses of the moon and the cloud who came down to visit the Earth. An elderly man saved them from a fearsome Yaguareté (jaguar). As a reward for this bravery, they presented him with a mysterious new plant, the yerba-mate, from which he could create a tea that is more popular today than it has ever been. In fact, it is even written into Argentinian law that this drink is the ‘national infusion’.
Mate is a symbol of strength and the bond of friendship. Those who drink this invigorating beverage take pride in the ritual of its preparation and consumption. Each locale has its own story about how best to prepare this special tea, and each would naturally say that theirs is the right way! The infusion is traditionally drunk in social settings, and family and friends share it together. This is how it has become a reliable presence at all gatherings, large and small. The cebador, (server) is the one who will ensure that everybody is provided with their tea, and that it is is of good quality.
The Argentinian gauchos, who inspire so much of our work, call mate the “liquid vegetable”. This is because of the way it sustains them as they carry out their physical work, overseeing the ranch and herding cattle atop strong resilient, lively horses. Travellers who pass through the country may come across locals who provide hot water so that they can enjoy some yerba-mate, which revives them on their journey.
You will notice that people both mix and serve the tea in a beautifully decorated gourd. Connoisseurs drink it through a silver straw-like bomba, which is an ingenious instrument that acts as a sieve for the leaf particles.
Have you been inspired to seek out a cup of mate-tea? Gather your friends on a Summer afternoon a try your hand at preparing this ancient infusion.