By Elizabeth Ellen
Sharon came back a few moments later with a gourd in one hand and a kettle in the other. “We must take tradition of Maté!” she exclaimed.
We had heard of this drink and seen many Argentines consuming this tea all over the region, but never knew quite what to make of it. We gathered close around the table eager for our lesson about this Argentine tradition.
Drinking maté with friends from a shared hollow gourd with a metal straw is a common social practice in Argentina. The infusion called maté is prepared by steeping dry leaves of yerba maté in hot water, rather than in boiling water like black tea. The flavor of brewed yerba maté is strongly vegetal, herbal, and grassy, reminiscent of green tea. It is very bitter if steeped in boiling water, so it is made using hot but not boiling water. Unlike most teas, it does not become bitter and astringent when steeped for extended periods, and the leaves may be infused several times. In a group, the person who prepares the maté traditionally takes the first brew. That person drinks the mate until there is no water left then refills the gourd with hot water and passes it to the next person, sharing the same bombilla. The gourd is refilled as it’s passed around (one brew per person) until it loses its flavor. To signal that you don’t want any more maté, give thanks to “el cebador” (the server). Only give thanks after your last mate. Once you give thanks it will be understood that you do not want anymore.
In short, the Argentines revere maté the way the British do their tea, and Americans their instant coffee. We shared a few laughs as we carefully passed around the gourd looking to Sharon and each other for confirmation that we were partaking the right way. She explained some of the traditions and origins of the brew as well as some of the rules and faux pas of sharing the beverage, teasing us that were guilty of several of them.
Realizing it was already late afternoon, we agreed our time at the farm had now come full circle and it was time to depart. We were eager to use the last few hours of daylight to head out to the nearby lighthouse and Cabo Virgenes penguin colony still another 30km toward the coast, realizing we would still have to make the rough trip back out, and then make it to another city in darkness. We said our goodbyes and exchanged emails with Sharon, promising to write and let her know how the recipes turned out. Waving from the car, we set out toward the coast, sighing with content, each of us with huge smiles pasted on our faces, changed by our time on the farm, delighted to have made a new friend.
Directions for enjoying Maté:
1.Obtain a gourd and bombilla. Mate is traditionally steeped and served in a hollow calabash gourd and drunk through a metal straw called a bombilla (pronounced bome-bee-ja). There are also mate cups made from metal, ceramic or wood.
2. Pack the dry, loose yerba mate into the gourd just over half full.
3. Insert the bombilla into the gourd.
4. Pour hot water into gourd. It is important that you use hot water (70–80 °C, 160–180 °F) not boiling water, as boiling water will make the mate bitter.
5. Drink from the bombilla. Newcomers to mate tend to stir the herb. Resist this temptation, or you’ll end up clogging the bombilla and allowing herb into the straw. Drink the entire mate when it’s handed to you, don’t just take a small sip and pass it back.