Naugh-tay Maté

One of the biggest practices advocated by travel gurus and tv show hosts is the practice of ‘going local’. In Seattle this might mean drinking coffee and eating fish, in Michigan it might involve cheering for the Red Wings or being proud of big lakes and in Egypt it would probably entail throwing molotov cocktails and hanging effigies of entrenched presidential figures. In Argentina, there are few things more ‘gone local’ than drinking mate.

Pronounced “mah-tay” for those who didn’t pick up on the cadence clue in the title, mate is an extremely popular and traditional drink enjoyed by nearly every Argentinean. It is made by adding hot water to the dried, chopped leaves of the yerba mate plant, simply called yerba in dried, chopped form. It is drunk from a gourd, also called a mate, through a metal straw, also called a bombilla. You may notice that the words ‘yerba’ and ‘mate’ are interchangeable for nearly every aspect of both the equipment and the practice of drinking it. This is done to make you, the traveler look like an idiot. Because each word can mean almost anything, it means you will never use the right word at the right time.

I decided to concoct my own mate when I found a mate gourd and straw among my limited kitchen equipment and when I made the grocery store discovery that yerba comes in huge quantities and costs approximately 8 cents for 1,000 kilos. To put this in perspective, imagine going to Wal-Mart and buying an amount of coffee roughly the size of a bag of peat moss for $3.53.

But now I had my own yerba and mate and bombilla and mate and yerba and also a yerba. Everything I needed to concoct my own yerba mate mate. In an effort to make sure I didn’t prepare it incorrectly I performed several minutes of intensive internet research. The gourd was packed with leaves, the water was heated, the two were combined and while I waited for it to steep slightly I perused the supposed benefits of this infused drink.

Much like coffee, tea, chocolate, alcohol, vegetables, meat, grain, oxygen and water, mate is known to have several health benefits which include but are not limited to: preventing cancer, increasing life-expectancy, causing cancer, enhancing sexual performance, higher vertical leap, decreasing life-expectancy, herpes and minty-fresh breath. Needless to say I was excited to harvest some good from my little bubbling cauldron of leaves. It was time to drink.

I grasped the little steaming gourd, agitated the straw for no particular reason, put the bombilla to my lips and sucked. At this point there was a flurry of activity. First, mate gourds are very good at insulating heat and as such, the water was still very hot. The liquid began poaching my tongue instantly. My sympathetic nervous system went into action evoking the ‘fight or spit all over the counter’ response. The burning sensation was accompanied by the most intense bitter taste I have ever experienced, no doubt the ‘flavor’ of the mate. Finally, in the commotion I managed to knock over the bag of yerba and a small dust cloud of dried leaves puffed into the air before seeking refuge in my eye. In the course of about 8 seconds I had gone from excited mate pre-consumption to alternating and vigorous rinsing of my mouth and eye.

After weeks of observing people drinking mate in parks and cafes I would have to say that my experience was decidedly atypical. But such is the price of submitting to local customs and embracing your cultural experience. If anyone wants a bag of yerba let me know. It’s small, but it’s almost completely full.


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~ by Hutch on February 3, 2011.

One Response to “Naugh-tay Maté”

  1. Oh, that is awesome… Darrin loves the eye picture! I think I will pass on the yerba mate mate yerba drink for now… even though it does involve a straw. =)

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