Yerba Mate, a passion
Uruguay is a small country with great passions, such as fútbol, meat, and mate.
Personally, I believe mate is the biggest of them all. Uruguay is the top consumer of Yerba Mate in the world, with approximately 6.8 kilograms (~15 pounds) consumed per capita, which translates to 8 out of 10 Uruguayans drinking it at least once a day: in the privacy of our homes, plazas, parks, high schools, universities, stadiums, etc. Any place and time is conducive to enjoying a mate.
Mate is such a powerful element of community among Uruguayans because it transcends social, religious and racial differences. In Uruguay, it is consumed by the rich and the poor, regardless of whether they are black, white, indigenous, Catholic, Jewish, Atheist or Muslim.
It is a vehicle of engagement and communication between people, meaning it is much more than a drink; it is a traveling companion, accompanying us to the beach, countryside, mountains and even other countries. It relieves waiting at the airport or bus terminal, keeps us awake at night while we study for final exams or prepare theses. It accompanies physicians and residents in hospital rooms, teachers in classrooms, professors in universities, workers in factories, athletes on the pitch and more. It is the perfect antidote to loneliness since it is there for us in times of reflection, nostalgia or isolation. Mate is hospitality, helping us welcome new members to our circles of friendship. It knows how to listen to us when we talk about our sorrows, joys, tribulations and even our nonsense.
It provides us with the ideal climate to strengthen family ties and bonds of friendship, to discuss ideas, share laughter, tears, sorrows, and joys; functioning as an effective transmitter of emotions and experiences. In a meeting of friends, mate is just another member of the group; one more friend.
A special relationship with Yerba Mate
Each of us who drinks mate has a very personal relationship with it. We have imposed upon it our own imprint, imparting the traits of our own personalities. We transfer our moods, regardless of if we’re calm or nervous, impulsive or reflective, gentle or furious, shy or uninhibited, sad or happy, boring or funny.
In each Uruguayan home, there is more than one mate available. It is very common to see in a circle of friends or relative each with his own mate; each consumer has their own mate equipment.
The tools that form this equipment are the following:
- The “Yerba mate,” the soul of the infusion.
- The “mate,” which is the container of the Yerba.
- The “thermos,” whose function is to contain and maintain hot water.
- The “bulb,” utensil to suction the infusion.
- The “matera,” element designed to carry all the components of the equipment.
The preparation and consumption of mate is a true rite and has as many variants as those who go through it. The ritual is constituted by the choice of the different components of the mate and the preparation of it. Yerba can be consumed as its classic, bitter taste, or as different blends with herbs and/or fruits, such as orange, lemon and others. The bombilla (filtered straw) is made of metal, mainly silver or alpaca and, in some cases, inlaid with gold or stones like agates and amethysts; it can also be made from glass or cane. The vessel, called a mate, can be made from metal, glass, silicone, wood, clay, a bull’s horn or gourd, the latter being the most popular and obtained from the plant, Lagenaria Siceraria. As for the temperature of the water, it depends on the person drinking it; you can use water that has reached the boiling point or a few degrees below it.
Where there are Uruguayans, there is Yerba Mate
There are some aspects that differentiate Uruguay from the rest of the countries that consume Yerba Mate. In Uruguay, mate is taken at any time and almost anywhere. It is mostly consumed bitter, without adding any type of sweetening additive. Mate in Uruguay is made from only the leaf and finely ground yerba, without woody ingredients (palos) like pieces of branch or bark, which is known as, “yerba sin palos.” Uruguayans are the ones who introduced the use of the thermos for water, which allowed to move the consumption of mate from the home to anywhere people want to go. It is thus possible to see people consuming mate in the streets, office, sports facilities, farms and even in senate sessions, where it is common to see senators and deputies with their mate on the bench, despite being surrounded by intense debate.
Personally, I cannot remember the precise moment when I first encountered mate, but it was definitely in childhood, which is where most of us start drinking it under the guidance of our parents and grandparents.
For Uruguayans, mate is a symbol of identity; almost like the fingerprint of our nation.
Where there are Uruguayan citizens, there is mate. Where there is mate, there is friendship, fraternity, hospitality, intensity, serenity, and love.
Where there is a mate, there is passion.