The real meaning of Argentinian mate
Some people think mate is like tea, juice, or coffee. Like another kind of drink from somewhere else… But it is not that simple. Here in Argentina, and some other countries nearby, Mate is much more than just a drink… Or a kind of “tea…” Or whatever. Mate is friendship. It is tradition. It is company whether you are with someone else or just alone. The feeling of needing mate invades us every time. There’s not an hour for it. There is always time for a mate.
Early in the morning, when you are putting your clothes on, you are already thinking on putting the “pava” (where you boil water) at the fire of the kitchen to warm water. But it has to be at the perfect temperature because, if not, the yerba gets burnt (“se nos quema la yerba!!”). And so you drink some good mates before going out for a long day of work. Starting the day with all the energy, and in the case of winter, you go out warm inside ready to pick the horse and “ensillar.” (Put the Argentinian “saddle” on, that is formed by a lot of different pieces that ends on a kind of saddle).
Yerba Mate in the countryside
At countryside there is nothing better as working with your partners in the “manga” as the vet makes his work and we all help, and one of us “ensilla el mate” (like the term “ensillar”of putting the recado on, we use this term for the preparation of mate) to share as we take notes of the cows and work. At 12 there is someone already picking up firewood from the floor for making steaks and eating it all together “al pan” (when you eat something just with bread and not with cutlery. Just with one’s knife or “verijero”), to continue working in the afternoon.
It is the joy of coming back from working, sitting down with a smooth fire on the chimney, or the “cocina a leña” and minutes after, putting the wet and frozen “alpargatas” near the fire. And preparing a mate. And relaxing. If you are with someone, you share. But if you are alone, you just think about life and its beauty, or see the orange and blue colors the fire draws, as your nose and hands gets warmer. Because after a whole day riding horses, working on fields with livestock, all you needed is a beautiful hot and bitter mate…
Drinking mate one by one, all together
Joining together in the “matera” of the countryside on weekends with all the staff is typical. Someone starts preparing the fire for a barbecue while people are “mateando” (drinking mate) and having fun; seeing the process of one person making the barbecue, which is also a ritual like mate! This way we humbly maintain ourselves together with this gesture of drinking mate one by one, all together.
I grew up drinking mate. I cannot leave behind my memories of sharing mates with my grandpa who raised me, and who taught me from little which was the real good yerba, as we were at home in the chimney or outside in summer above the big “roble” (oak tree) in our garden, or while we went for a ride seeing the fields in the outsides of Castilla, my lovely town.
The joy of sharing
You can be talking to someone when suddenly you both stare and say “tomamos unos mates??” (shall we have some mates?) so instantly you prepare, sit, and have long talks as one of you “ceba” mate (the one who serves it). This happens everywhere now. It is a tradition, mostly in rural areas, countryside or towns, and now every time much more people choose it. Maybe at first not because of the taste, which is a bit bitter for the ones who try it for the first time, but because of its meaning, and the joy of sharing.
Mate is the motive for joining together with friends, or just people you barely know, but still love this tradition of sharing mates. It’s an excuse for talking… For arguing or just discussing philosophy… People can join to have some beer, but it’s not the same. Cause the mate you share has no chance of drinking alone. And you share the whole steps: Putting the yerba inside the mate, then the hand on top to put aside the yerba leaving a hole on the other side. Just then you put some drops of hot water and the “bombilla” to end… Making the preparation of that “drink,” a perfect piece of art.