Mate is so much more than an internationally famous South American infusion. It is, above all, a true local symbol and an excuse for Argentinians to gather together for never-ending rounds of the drink. In this article, you’ll find the key pointers for understanding this local custom.
Energizing, nutritious and, above all, a true starting point for the endless conversations and exchanges that happen around it. It’s thanks to mate that Argentinians meet up, chat and debate throughout the day, in their homes, offices and even in public spaces. The tradition of sitting around this ancient drink can for sure surprise those who don’t have any knowledge of the tradition. Namely that, unlike other infusions, this drink is shared.
In the Pre-Colombian era, it was the Guaraní, the native people of Argentina, who discovered the properties of yerba mate tree’s leaf and started to consume it as a drink. Later, with the arrival of the Spanish, its dissemination would be assured throughout the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. Today, Argentina is the largest global producer of this infusion and it’s estimated that 98% of the households in the country drink it daily. A true classic that, far from going out of fashion, continues to gain new fans and cross borders.
How to Prepare and “Prime” a Good Mate
Preparing a good mate is a serious thing, and it’s necessary to follow certain steps in an exact way. To start, the herb is tipped into the mate container – in most cases a gourd – until it’s completely covered. Then, with the palm of one hand covering the top of the container, tip it upside down and shake it lightly to get the dust out.
After heating up some water – to a temperature of approximately 70° Celsius -, fill up a thermos and then pour a little water onto one of the sides of the mate container to wet a small part of the herb. Leave it to rest for a few seconds and then insert the metal straw, covering the top opening with your finger.
The “round” begins at this exact moment. A “primer” (uncebador in Spanish) – the only person responsible for passing round the mate container – pours a little water inside of it and starts to pass it round to each participant one by one. As with every ritual, the mate tradition also has its own rules. Knowing the most important ones is fundamental to sharing this moment without offending anyone:
– Bitter or sweet. In most cases, mate is drunk bitter. But there are some people who like to add sugar, honey or orange peel, for example, to give it a different taste. Whoever takes the initiative to prepare the mate is normally the one who decides how it’s drunk.
– Don’t say thank you. Saying thank you means that you want to take yourself out of the round. Therefore, between each mate, it’s not necessary to give thanks. Instead, you can simply enjoy the moment of pleasure and calm that this drink creates.
– The mate container is always returned to the “primer”. A mistake that beginners often make and that should be avoided. Once you’ve finished drinking your mate, the container should be returned to the hands of whoever is in charge of the thermos or the kettle.
– Don’t take too long to drink it. Precisely because mate is a shared drink, taking too long to finish it is frowned upon. Taking time to savor it is important, but without forgetting that the other participants are always waiting for their next go.
– Respect the position of the straw. The person who is in charge of priming the mate is also the one who’s responsible for making sure that it doesn’t stop flowing. In other words, they are the one who makes sure that the mate can be drunk without any problems, which is why it’s prohibited for you to move the straw. On this point, it’s important to mention that fiddling with the straw in order to clean it is not acceptable either.
– A drink with no time limit. Mate is a loyal companion. Locals drink it – alone or with friends – mainly in the morning and the afternoon, but there are people who drink it all day long. That’s to say that once you’ve become an expert “primer”, you don’t have to respect any kind of time frame, and it’ll always be a good moment to start a round of mate.