Crossing borders, adapting cultures and staying authentic with Yerba Mate
My dad introduced me to mate when I was probably around 10. I used to drink it sweet (I was a kid, after all), and my mom loved it, but only with hot milk instead of water (plus sugar, of course, moms like sweetness). I wasn’t a big fan of milk mates. Secretly, I wanted to try the Tereré style, very popular in Paraguay and in the northeastern Argentina, in which you use cold orange juice to brew. I’m still waiting for my chance to try tereré…
Then I grew up, mostly in height, and kept the habit of mate in the morning. Dad used to come to my room with mate, sit on the bed and talk while I slowly came back to consciousness. Then I got up and ran to work. The morning tradition continued forever. Even in my early 20s, when I moved to Brazil, which was a great time itself, and brought Chimarrão into my life. Chimarrão is the Brazilian version of mate, very popular in the southern states; to drink you, you use a big gourd, stronger yerba, and a more detailed and careful preparation to get the most out of it. I loved the opportunity to drink it every time I could, and it made me think of how great it is for our countries to share something like mate, crossing borders, adapting to different cultures, while still being unique and authentic.
The morning ritual of Yerba Mate
More than 20 years have passed since then. It’s been a long road. Life took me from the place I was born and transplanted me here, in the beach-jungle of Costa Rica; more than 4,000 miles away from Argentina. I’ve changed a lot. I know that. My current lifestyle wouldn’t be possible otherwise. Living off the grid, hiking a mountain and swimming in the ocean on the same day demand a special dedication and love for nature.
But one thing remains the same: Mate.
Every morning, the ritual takes place. Yerba in the gourd, a little more than half-full, shaking it upside down, more intense at first, gentle at the end, and bringing it back to the upright position; but not completely, because I want the yerba to get a slope, with the dust on top, forming a velvety green layer. Warm water to fill the gourd, pouring it on the empty space, and slowly back to fully-upright standing position. Then water, at 165°F, that’s my point, totally mine, which is subjective. To finish, the straw. With my thumb covering the opening, I insert it down the gourd, diagonally, from the wet area, down to the other side, under the velvet. Now I release the thumb, and it’s ready. From now on, I will pour water, always on the wet area, and share with my wife, while we eat homemade toast with margarine. When you throw in the ocean view, it’s a perfect morning.
Keeping in touch with friends, family and new people with Yerba Mate
Occasionally in the afternoon, especially after a heavy lunch, I might consider a second round of mate.
Yerba mate has a unique, intense flavor, which will keep you up and running. But it also keeps you in touch with your loved ones, friends, family, and new people all the time. Everybody wants to know how it tastes, and so I became a facilitator in my new country, my beloved Costa Rica. No need to explain, I say, just try.
A few rules though:
– “Don’t touch the straw, just drink from it, as any other straw. Hold the mate by the gourd itself”
– “When you’re done, give the mate back to the person in charge and say ‘thank you.’ That’s the universal sign in Argentina to skip you in the next round”
– “Drink until you hear the sound of an empty mate. It’s a rewarding sound for the rest, it means mate is coming”
I remember introducing mate to my wife. She’s from the US, and it was her first time ever. I explained the basics, showed her the process (her eyes were so focused, it made me feel like a scientist, she’s so sweet…), and finally, handed it to her. She loved it almost immediately. And I loved her more, also immediately. I feel so proud now when I see her making mate herself, and telling others the rules so seriously, so skillfully… And it only got better, because when we visit family in the US, we all drink mate. I guess it’s contagious!
Needless to say, I can’t really be objective when it comes to mate. I don’t like negative comments either, like people saying that mate tastes like leather. I should be more understanding, though. As other things in life, the first time is not exactly the real thing. You come with a lot of expectations, not knowing what mate’s really like, and you might end up torn between liking it or not. It is kind of a blind date.
But let me tell you this: if it works out well, it’s like a fairy tale, and you will live together happily ever after…