Original Post: http://thejourneyofdave.wordpress.com/2013/06/09/mate/
The ‘Mate’ culture of Argentina
It’s 11 o’clock. A chilly winter morning in the northern region of Patagonia. Six Argentinian men are sitting down together after a long morning of hard work on a construction site. They are seen passing around this strange gourd and, from this strange cup, sucking through some sort of metal straw. Tourists passing by may look on in horror, thinking that these men are partaking in some illegal narcotics. However they would be mistaken, this is not an illegal pastime nor is some form of narcotics. This is the ‘mate’ culture of Argentina.
Drink your mate straight, like a man!
Mate, as is called both the gourd from which the drink is taken as well as the drink itself is very common in South American countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and more. Mate, as already mentioned is the actually gourd, while the drink consists of a type of herb, known as Yerba [ʝeɾβa]. Yerba (or Ilex paraguariensis by its binomial name) is a species of holly originating from northern South America. It was a South American tribe known as the Guaraníes that first cultivated the herb that has become part of everyday life for most Argentinians, Uruguayans and Brazilians. The Yerba is inserted into the gourd along with water heated to a temperature of exactly eighty degrees, not 79 and certainly not 81, the Argentinians will certainly let you know if you have made a bad mate! The mate is almost always accompanied by thermal flask to allow for top-ups of hot water and it is the responsibility of one person in the group to refill the mate after each person has their turn, this responsibility cannot change hands during this mate drinking session. Certain people will also have their own favourite brand of mate and will tend to whine if they have to endure a sitting drinking mate of another brand. Eventually they quieten down when someone from the group tells them to shut up (¡Callate boludo!). Sugar and honey are also used by some in order to sweeten the drink but it is looked upon as being weak, so drink your mate straight, like a man!
You will chat and gossip over mate
This strongly caffeinated sort of tea is a very old tradition in Argentina and is how people bond. If you are invited to a friend’s home, you will chat and gossip over mate, if you are going on a trip (whether it be by bus, car, plane, etc.) you make the trip with mate, if you have to endure a long hard day of work, it is mate that will get you and your fellow workers through the day. The culture of mate is one that should be admired as it plays a very important role in society, that is to bring people together, talking over a certain political issue or about the complexities of life itself or about just about anything that an Argentinian cannot find a reason to discuss on another occasion.
A mate must be cured
The mate itself can be made from a number of materials but those being crafted from wood, metals or ceramic are the most popular. With metal or ceramic mates, they are ready to drink from as soon as you take them outside the shop door but with mates made from wood, they have to be ‘cured’ before they can be drank from. To cure a mate one must place yerba and hot water inside of the mate and let it sit for about one or two days in order to kill bacteria and make it safe to drink from.
The magical powers of mate
I myself have experienced first hand the incomprehensible, seemingly magical powers of mate. The drink itself may not be the tastiest but you do not drink mate for the taste, you drink it for the heat that it delivers to your belly and the necessity that you feel to solve all of the world’s problems in that very sitting, while holding the mate. And may pity be upon the person that holds on to the mate too long for they will have the entire group shouting that the mate is not a microphone (¡Ché! No es un micrófono). That verbal assault will be heavily felt and will bring them back down to earth before they can once again feel powerful with the highly-coveted mate in their hands the next time around!
Of course there are people that do not like mate but they wouldn’t live a long life if they went around, shouting out that they did not have a particular fancy for Argentina’s answer to arguments or disagreements. Because of this they keep quiet and every now again, if they earn someone’s trust, they will confide in that person that, although the person may not believe them, they are different from other Argentinians because of the forever present fact that they do not like mate. There are others that, although like mate, are unwilling to share with other people, opting not to trade saliva with all of the other reciprocates of the mate at the table (http://mateovermatter.com/hygiene-of-mate-the-friend-full-of-bacteria-the-dos-and-donts-of-mate/).
Solve world peace in a 40 minute sitting
Mate is a drink with mystical powers, powers that will make the quietest member of a group speak up for himself and attempt to attain world peace in a forty minute sitting, powers that bring everyone at a table together to let someone know that ‘sharing is caring’, the power to help Argentinians to forgive and forget, all of this is attainable with mate. So remember, the next time that you’re in Argentina, and you feel cold on a chilly morning and feel that there are one or two world issues that you feel the need to solve in a morning’s work, then get some of your closest Argentinian friends together, break out the mate and the yerba, heat the water just right and let it all just happen, trust me it will.