Mate is a drink made with yerba mate, much loved in South American countries like Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil.
This drink is made with yerba mate, a local tree from the jungles near the Parana, Uruguay and Paraguay rivers. The plant is 12 to 16 meters high, and is manually harvested throughout April and September. The perfect conditions for cultivating yerba mate are only found in this area of South America, which is why it is only relevantly made in three places: Argentina (world’s first producer), Brazil and Paraguay.
After its drying and grinding, the yerba mate leaves are easily seen in any supermarket of the producing countries. The yerba is put in a container, called mate too (originally a calabash gourd, though today it is also made of glass, metal or wood) prior to adding hot water – not boiled. You take it through a narrow straw named “bombilla” till you drink up the water, and then refill the cup.
It has a herbal and barely bitter flavour, and some choose to add sugar or honey. Another possibility is to take it boiled – made popular by the Jesuits in the 17th century. Here you put some yerba in the hot water prior to its boil and, after that, it is filtered and poured in a mug.
In Argentina it is usual to have mate with friends – one person is in charge of filling it with water (“cebar” the mate) and passing it to the others in the group. In Uruguay, for instance, many people take a mate and thermo with hot water in it along the street. In Paraguay, the field is yellow and it is mostly drunk with cold water (tereré). The yerba from Brazil is narrower and greener.
Mate has caffeine, as coffee or tea, and thus has a delightful, invigorating and energising effect as well. Also, due to the big quantity of water, it has a diuretic, purifying and antioxidant effect. Still, in these parts of the world, having mate is a way of social interacting too, and the habit of mate holds a key cultural and celebrated relevance.