A beginner’s guide to Mate

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Tango, steak, red wine… and mate. These are Argentina’s most renowned cultural exports, but Mate is perhaps less known to the average foreigner. Dating back to pre-colonial times in South America, mate is more than just a bitter cup of tea – it sits at the core of what it means to be Argentine.

Key

  • Mate – The vessel/cup in which mate is served
  • Cebar – The process of filling the mate gourd with water
  • Termo – Special mate thermos

Where did it come from?

The name ‘mate’ comes from the indigenous word for Gord, what we now know to be the cup from which you sip. When the conquistadores arrived in Argentina, they coined mate as the ‘hierba del demonio’, in acknowledgement of its stimulating, caffeine-like qualities. The actual tea itself is called ‘Yerba’, a bitter herb, grown and processed mostly in the Northern Argentine cities of Corrientes and Misiones.

How to drink mate

There are a myriad of weird and wonderful rules regarding how one must drink mate. While some may seem slightly odd, Mate is an incredibly important part of Argentine culture and therefore such rules are worth respecting.

Don’t, under any circumstances, touch the bombilla.

This is one of the biggest and first mistakes that new mate drinkers make; stirring the mate around, pulling the bombilla in and out of the gourd, etc. Just. Sip. Fiddling can result in blocking the mate, and we don’t want that.

Never say it’s too hot.

Yes, your tongue may slightly burn at your first sip, but this is not sufficient circumstances for a complaint, and it’s actually only served at 80° . Stay quiet, enjoy (or at least pretend to) and then pass back to the server.

Don’t pass the mate to the person next to you

Always, always, always pass the mate back to the server, never to the person next to you. It is the servers job and prerogative to prepare and pass the mate, not yours.

Don’t take aaaaages to drink the Mate.

Given that drinking mate is, more than anything, a social event , it’ is important to keep the circle flowing along so you can continue chatting all things porteño.

Don’t be afraid to slurp!

In fact, go for it! It\s actually an act of respect to slurp, as an audible sign you’ve finished and enjoyed the mate that has been served for you.

When you’ve had enough, you say ‘Gracias.’

Traditionally, those in the mate circle who have had enough simply say ‘Gracias’ as a way of saying they would not like any more. While it might make more sense to say thank you after each cup, it is customary to only say thank you once you have had your fill of mate.  This lets the server know so that the next time around they can politely skip you in their serving.

The job of the “Cebador”

‘El servador’ has certain specific responsibilities during the serving of mate. They are required to drink the first round, which is the most bitter. After drinking and refilling the mate cup with water from a thermos, this person is then in charge of passing the mate to another member of the group, who drinks and then passes it back. As well, it is only the server who arranges the bombilla (further explained later.)

Places in Palermo for Mate:

Mate & Co, Godoy Cruz 1776

Todos Mates, Thames 1861

Jaque Mate Bazar, Jorje Luis Borges 2419