Thursday, November 05, 2009
Yerba mate: the ritual drink of Argentina and much of South America
As Americans often meet at a coffee shop, drinking mate is the impetus for gathering with friends in Argentina and Uruguay. Sharing mate is ritualistic and has its own set of rules. Usually one person, the host or whoever brought the mate, prepares the drink and refills the gourd with water.
The infusion called mate is prepared by steeping dry leaves (and twigs) of yerba mate in hot water, rather than in boiling water like black tea. Drinking mate with friends from a shared hollow gourd (also called a mate in Spanish, or cabaça or cuia in Portuguese) with a metal straw (a bombilla in Spanish, bomba in Portuguese) is a common social practice in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, southern Chile, eastern Bolivia and southern and western Brazil  and has been cultivated in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
In Brazil, a toasted version of mate, known as chá mate or "mate tea", is sold in teabag and loose form, and served, sweetened, in specialized shops, either hot or iced with fruit juice or milk. An iced, sweetened version of toasted mate is sold as an uncarbonated soft drink, with or without fruit flavoring. The toasted variety of mate has less of a bitter flavor and more of a spicy fragrance.
Mate's negative effects are anecdotally claimed to be of a lesser degree than those of coffee, though no explanation for this is offered or even credibly postulated, except for its potential as a placebo effect. Some users report that drinking yerba mate does not prevent them from being able to fall asleep, as is often the case with some more common stimulating beverages, while still enhancing their energy and ability to remain awake at will.
Claims for mate include: