Today’s Foodie Friday isn’t actually a food, it’s a drink. Today I, Anna Mog, will be educating you all about something super special to me.
I took many things from my year-long high school exchange to Argentina. Yerba mate is one of them. It is a bitter green loose-leaf tea, which you pack into a gourd (the mate), fill up with hot water, and sip through the bombilla (metal straw). All parts of the mate kit are available in New Zealand, most notably in Wellington at T Leaf and On Trays in Petone.
gourd – bombilla
bags of yerba – dispenser
It is pretty bitter and a bit of an acquired taste. My parents still complain about it, dad thinks it tastes like grass (when did he ever eat grass, anyway) and mum thinks it smells of cigarettes. Wrong. Haters gon’ hate.
When drunken in decent amounts (I have at least a litre a day), it gives off an insane caffeine buzz. I’ve never been a coffee drinker so can’t compare, but I hear the caffeine levels are much closer to those of coffee than those of green tea. I’ve also never had a colonic, but drinking it has what I imagine to be a similar effect.
It is a huge part of the Argentinian culture, it is drunk by everyone. I only met one girl who didn’t like it. Parents will take pictures of their child’s first mate. Girls get together every afternoon for mate and gossip/study/by the pool all year round. Young people prefer it with sugar or sweetner (dulce), then start to prefer it without sugar (amargo) as they get older. Every household will have two mate gourds: one for the dulce, and one for the amargo. Don’t even THINK about putting sugar in the amargo one! Crime!
There is quite the ritual involved with drinking mate with others: one person is nominated as the server and he or she drinks the first mate which is always quite strong. It then gets refilled with the kettle or thermos and passed around in a circular fashion. You have to drink it all, the bombilla doesn’t get cleaned after each person (meningitis much?), your friends will yell at you if you take too long, you musn’t attempt to move the bombilla in any circumstance…
You don’t say gracias until you decide you don’t want any more. Saying gracias opts you out of the circle.
Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of opportunities for tourists to try mate in Argentina. I have heard that there are a couple of cafes that offer it in Buenos Aires, but have never been. It is drunk heavily in Uruguay, and also in southern Brazil. You can also get it in a simple tea bag form – aka mate cocido.
Drinking mate gets a lot of weird looks from people here, as if weed has been stuffed into the gourd. It really isn’t that weird – it is just green tea at the end of the day! I do remember seeing one girl at Vic Uni wandering around with thermos and mate in hand, and she definitely attracted attention. But she was also wearing a backpack so I guess she was asking for it.
I could harp on for days about mate but I will stop now. Hope you have learned something new!
You can actually strain the leaves like you would with your special peach/ooberflower/white fancy tea – an easy way to try it. If you live near a T Leaf in NZ, you can ask to have it made for you (like a normal tea). I think it costs around $2.
Remember – don’t freak out if you see someone drinking it! You wouldn’t question someone straining loose tea leaves of any other kind. It’s just tea! Not a bong.