Sipping secrets of Yerba Mate
Mate truly is a way of life; a way of thinking; a way to begin one’s day in a meaningful way. I live in Australia; so in school, university or any social setting – yerba mate is highly unlikely to come up in conversation, let alone drinking it with others.
I am half Argentinean, and I was introduced to mate between the ages of 5-7 years old by my abuela. She was a lover of this traditional South American tea. Every time I visited her home, the gourd cup would be in close proximity – as she watched television, as she gardened and as she was preparing food. This round, curvature cup with a weird-looking silver straw fascinated me. She was always sipping on it like she was keeping a secret, between her and the mate. One day my abuela noticed my fascination and let me try some of the tea. The thing that I’ve been in awe of had finally arrived; I’d be able to taste and experience what was so amazing about this tea. Well…that was extremely short lived, as I sipped from the bombilla, a strong bitter taste made itself known. I almost spat it out, but I saw the twinkle in my abuela’s eyes as I tried it. I swallowed the mate with a grimace, and gave it back to her, shaking my head with disgust. “Está bien muñequita”, my abuela chuckled at me, and walked off, drinking from it.
A few years later, my abuela and abuelo stayed with my family until my abuelo passed away, and not long after him, she passed away too. During those times of living with us, morning, afternoon and night – she would be shuffling room-to-room in her purple dressing gown, drinking mate. She didn’t try to get me to drink it again. However I grew accustomed to the inviting, mysterious smell that wafted through the rooms of our home each day. Just like abuela passing away, mate too, soon passed from my mind.
Memories of mate
It wasn’t until recently, in my mid 20’s, I was reminded of yerba mate one ordinary day at university during my Spanish class. My Spanish teacher highly praised yerba mate; she enriched us with the culture and knowledge of it, and the life-long tradition it holds in her family and with her friends. This played on my mind every day since then, which brought back memories of my abuela more so than ever.
I began to research the history and culture of yerba mate, I read about the different cups and bombillas used to drink it. Until one afternoon, I bought a tea set and yerba mate. As I poured the hot water into the gourd cup, my nostrils filled with the aroma of Mate; a familiar smell, that brought back nostalgic memories from my childhood. I stirred the mate in my cup and let the flavours soak and build up. After a few minutes, I eagerly try it. A hot, bitter liquid is what I taste at first, yet I don’t cringe, I don’t set it down, walk away and not look back. I continue to sip on it. I drink coffee, so bitter does not scare my tastebuds anymore. Once I get past the bitterness of mate, other flavours are exposed…the essence of nature, of my culture and family history. I could imagine my abuela standing in front of me, smiling with appreciation that I had begun to accept this tea into my life. Not long after, I had a dream about my abuela one night. She was standing at the end of a long hallway; I ran up to her and hugged her. It felt all very real and surreal, at the same time.
Ever since that day in October 2017, I begin my mornings with mate. Why do I drink this very bitter tea? Well, drinking yerba mate has brought me closer to my abuela, even if she is not with me in this world. And of course, the taste! I am addicted to the taste of mate. I understand now why she looked at her gourd cup like she knew a secret that one else knew. I’d like to think that my abuela is watching over me as I drink mate with a knowing smile.
As for the future of mate, I hope my story will encourage others to try it, along with sharing my passion for this South American tea with my friends.