Yerba Mate

About a month ago I promised to write a post on yerba mate (pronounced mah-tay): one of the things I developed a serious love for while I was in Argentina.  This mildly caffeinated, tea-like drink is popular all over the Southern Cone and has become a bit of an institution when A and C have friends over.

Traditional Mate Kettle, Calabaza and Bombilla in Patagonia
There is a whole ritual surrounding the drinking of the stuff, particularly in the River Plate region (Uruguay and Argentina): in Buenos Aires and Montevideo you always see folks carrying their little flasks around, drinking their mate and chilling out in the sun. The traditional cimarrón preparation involves half filling a gourd with yerba, adding hot but not boiling water incrementally over several refills and drinking out of a filtered metal straw called a bombilla.  The gourds themselves can be works of art, with traditional ones being made of calabaza (pumpkin) skins which are sometimes intricately carved. There is also a social aspect to the drink as you share the gourd and bombilla with your friends.  The finer points of mate etiquette are too complex to go into, but almost every aspect is regulated, from sucking the gourd dry to which direction you pass it around in.

The flavour is something of an acquired taste. It has something of green tea about it mixed with a smokey flavour similar to a good Cuban cigar.  While many norteños go to the Southern Cone, try mate and don't like it, weeks of travel with an Argentine hardened me to the flavour and it's now one of my favourite things to drink, competing even with coffee (for which I have some serious love).  One of the best aspects is that the drink is not too strong on stimulants and the 'lift' isn't followed by a 'crash' in quite the same way as coffee; whether this is to do with the stimulant itself or the prolonged method of drinking mate, I don't know, but it helps me concentrate of an afternoon if needs be.


  1. Congrats on finding yerba mate, the elixir of life! Enjoy and share!

    Dave Mate


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