Ever walk through a park or plaza in Argentina and wonder what the strange looking square leather bags on everyone’s shoulders are? This is one of the most identifiable cultural objects in the country, Argentina mate tea. This tea is a staple in households, workplaces, and friendly gatherings across the country. For those visitors who are unfamiliar with the leafy beverage, it definitely deserves a thorough explanation on how to fully enjoy an Argentina mate.
The Argentina mate originated in northern Argentina with the Guarani indigenous culture. Guarani culture is filled with spirituality, bravery, and tradition. Yerba mate has been a part of the Guarani culture for hundreds of years, mostly used as a ritual and spiritual drink for good health. Mate has natural caffeine that helps keep you awake while quenching thirst and suppressing your appetite. The tea leaf is quite strong so don’t be surprised if the first time you drink it, you have endless energy! This tradition has created a mate culture all over Argentina, where there is never a wrong moment to drink a mate.
What’s in the square leather bag? The bag normally contains a hot water thermos, a mate gourd, yerba mate tea, a metal straw, and maybe a snack. Mate can be drunk all throughout the day, but it is most popular during afternoon snack time, called merienda. Merienda is a time to take a late afternoon break to have a snack, relax, catch up with a friend, and of course, share a mate.
Mate is normally drunk in groups or at least with one other person, although it can be drunk alone. One person is in charge of serving and pouring the tea, while the rest take turns sipping and passing it back to the leader. Yerba tea leafs are placed into the gourd and hot water is poured from the thermos. The metal straw, called a bombilla, has special holes on the bottom so that only the liquid tea enters the mouth and not the leafy bits. Never move the straw! It stays exactly where it is and never moves from the bottom of the gourd.
Mate can be enjoyed natural and more bitter or sweeter by adding sugar, it all depends on your taste preferences. When it is your turn to drink, you can drink all of the tea that is in the gourd, and then pass it back to the leader when you’re done. Just make sure to only say thank you when you have had enough and don’t want anymore!