Yerba Mate – Argentine & Uruguayan Tea

Argentina Travel Posted on 10/18/2013

Have you been wondering what is it that all Argentines are drinking at every hour of the day; in the park, in the office, at their homes? That, ladies and gentlemen, is known as mate (pronounced ma·te). Looking at it closely, drinking mate is simply slurping hot water through dried leaves, using a metal or wooden straw. But, for Argentina’s culture it is so much more than that: would you like to feel a truly Argentinian? Start with trying mate! Though it comes with a disclaimer though: it is what is referred to as ‘an acquired taste’. Its semi-bitter, grassy and smoky flavor might be a little off-putting at first, but give it enough tries and you will be hooked. Let’s find out all about this yerba mate tea drink- like!

1. What is Yerba Mate tea drink?

Understanding what Mate is might be a little confusing at first, so bear with me. Firstly, the activity is called drinking mate. Secondly, the herb you ingest is called yerba mate. And finally, the hollowed-out dried-up pumpkin which acts as a cup for the yerba mate is called the mate. So to recap the mate is the hollowed-out dried pumpkin where you place the tea, the yerba mate, and the process of ingesting this is referred to as drinking mate. How are you doing so far? Good? Great! Let’s move on. 

yerba mate

2. Second step: Then, what is the Mate?

So, as we state before this hollowed-out dried-up pumpkin (can be metal or plastic made-of) that acts like a cup is the actual mate. But it takes 3 more elements to complete this Argentinian ritual: There is a metal straw from which you slurp the yerba and is called the bombilla (watch out, the double L is pronounced as ‘sh’). You also have to carry on your regular thermos to transport hot water and be ready to drink mate at any place and time. And lastly, you have your leather bag where people keep their mate equipment which fits the yerba, the mate, the thermos, and some sugar if you like your mate to be sweeter.

That concludes your must-have mate kit! But, the true question is…

Iguazu Falls - Natural Wonder

3. Where to acquire your Equipo de Mate?

It is very easy to acquire an initial mate starter kit; you will see a lot of shops selling bombillas, mates, and bags around Buenos Aires. You will also find a great range of yerba brands, such as Union and Merced, in any supermarket, you encounter in the tea and coffee aisle. I suggest you purchase your mate equipment in one of the local artisanal markets in San Telmo (every Sunday) or in Recoleta (Saturdays and Sundays) where you will find mates of every shape and size made out of wood, pumpkin, or even cow horns and their respective bombillas made out of different metals or woods. 

  • You will also find spectacular leather bags to transport your equipment around town as any Argentine would. So slurp away and enjoy!
Iguazu Falls - walkways

4. Benefits of drinking Mate

There are also two things that you have to know about mate. The first is that it has similar effects to green tea so it acts as a great digestive agent and a hydrant. The second and maybe the most alluring effect of mate is that it contains ‘mateine’ which has the same effect as caffeine, it wakes you up, yet what ‘mateine’ does differently is that it relaxes your muscles while simultaneously stimulating your heart. All in all, it is a great drink!

5. Mate Tradition in Argentina

Mate is just about everywhere in Argentina and the people drink it religiously. Mate is a yerba mate tea drink-like for some people but for locals is a sacred everyday ritual and it enhances a great sense of belonging. Mate joins every possible scenario: working, studying, reading. But the true meaning of Mate is to share it with friends, family, and even new friends, everyone is invited to join!

To understand this, let’s return to a last but not least recommendation. The person who brings the mate and prepares it is referred to as the cebador. He or she is the person that will prepare the mate and drink the first cupful as it is on this first try that most of the small particles of the yerba will go through the straw (bombilla). When the cebador finishes he or she will refill the cup and pass it on to the next person. It is very important to respect the original order, as it is seen as selfish and rude to drink the mate out of turn.

  • Every time a person is done the cup will come back to the cebador so that he or she can refill it and pass it to the person whose turn it is and this goes on until the yerba has to be replaced or everyone is satisfied.


So, after this quick but useful introduction, you are ready to be a great cebador! 

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