Mate Culture in Argentina

One of the best parts of traveling to a new country is learning about the different traditions, customs, and popular activities. In Argentina, the ritual of mate, a caffeine rich tea, is one of the most important cultural activities that you can partake in.

This amazing beverage is made from the leaves of the yerba mate tree which is indigenous to Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina. It was first discovered by the Guaraní people who used it for medicinal purposes, and it’s also popular among gauchos.

In Argentina, drinking mate is a very social activity shared amongst friends and family. As a matter of fact, it’s especially prevalent in higher altitudes as a means of warding off altitude sickness.  

If you go into any market or supermarket in Argentina, you are likely going to be faced with a wide variety of options, many of which are mixed with other herbs such as chamomile or mint. Thus, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, your best bet is to ask a nearby shopper which brand they prefer. 

mate in supermarketMate in supermarket

Fun fact: A study done by the National Institute of Yerba Mate in Misiones, Argentina found that nearly 98% of all Argentines have mate available in their homes. 

Preparing Mate like Argentinians do

In order to make a good mate, there are some very specific tools needed and precise instructions to prepare it Once you have selected your preferred leaves, you will need the vessel, which is also known as the mate. Traditionally, this cup is made from a hollowed-out gourd or wood. In fact, wooden mates are preferred by most since they absorb the scent of the herb over time. creating a richer flavor.

That said, more modern mates are available in silicone or ceramic as well. Though, they’re less widely used. 

Wood and Ceramic Mate Cups on DisplayWood and Ceramic Mate Cups on Display

In addition to the yerba mate and your vessel, you must have a bombilla. This is a stainless-steel straw with a filter at the bottom, which you need to sip the warm beverage.

It’s Time to Share!

A “mate circle” is the traditional way of gathering to enjoy the drink. One of them, the cebador, is the person in charge of preparing it.

The cebador serves the hot water and then passes the cup to the rest of the circle

The water used to prepare the mate should be hot, but never boiling. Of course, it is possible to purchase an electric kettle that will heat water to the ideal temperature, between 70-85°C. Then, the cebador prepare the drink to his or her liking and take the first sip.

Now the cebador drinks the entire contents of the vessel before refilling it. Finally, it’s time to pass the cup to the next person, who will repeat the process and return the mate to the cebador, who will prepare it for the next person. This process continues as long as there is hot water. 

Fun fact: Famous individuals including Viggo Mortensen, Madonna, Lionel Messi, and Pope Francis are known to drink mate on a regular basis. 

pope francis enjoying matePope Francis enjoying his mate from a pilgrim

Some Tips to Enjoy Mate like a True Argentinian

Here are a few more “bonus” insider tips to keep in mind the next time you enjoy some mate:

  1. When sharing mate with friends, it is strictly prohibited to move the bombilla from its original position.
  2. Wait for the cebador to pass the mate to you. It is considered very rude to drink out of turn.
  3. If the cebador serves the mate bitter, do not ask to sweeten it.
  4. It is considered very rude if you do not share your mate, as drinking mate is considered a social activity.

It is important to note that the drink has a very strong taste and may not appeal to all tastebuds. If you are in a group setting and do not wish to drink anymore, it is perfectly ok to say no thank you and pass! That being said, it is certainly worth trying this regional beverage that is enjoyed by over 44 million Argentines! 

Fun fact: The National Institute of Yerba Mate estimates that most Argentines consume nearly 14 pounds of mate per year.

Make sure to see more of Argentina by following our blog. If you’d like to experience Argentinian culture by yourself, please check the opportunities offered at Gran Vineyard Estates in Mendoza.

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