If you’ve been in Argentina for a few days, weeks, or months, and hung out with any Argentinians, chances are you’ve tried mate (if you haven’t, check out this article on how to drink mate with an Argentine). Now that you know the ropes of drinking mate, it’s time to learn how to prepare it so you can impress your Argentine friends!
- First things first, you need to get your hands on a cup (mate)! People usually drink mate tea out of a calabash gourd, but you can also find them made out of wood, ceramic and glass. You can find mates just about anywhere, from supermarkets to any artisan markets. They come in all shapes, sizes, and styles, so just choose one that feels right for you.
Drinking out of a gourd is more traditional, but requires more work because you have to cure it. Argentinians cure mate differently, and each Argentinian will tell you how to do it, but the general consensus is to put used yerba and leave it for a day or two. Some people cover it in butter butter, flash flame it with whiskey. I would recommend going the simple and most hygienic route, simply start using the gourd. The first times you use it, the mates won't be as tasty, but with time, it will cure itself.
- After your mate has been cured, it’s time to prepare your mate! First, you have to buy the mate yerba. There are a ton of different brands and flavors of mate. Some have a stronger flavor, some are smoother, some have a hint of lemon others of mint. I recommend trying different varieties to see which one you like best.
- Now that you have your cured gourd and mate yerba of your choice, it’s time to pack the loose dry yerba tea stuff into the gourd. Fill the gourd just over halfway to two-thirds full. Next, cover the gourd with your hand and put it upside down. Tap it a little so that the fine powdery leaves come into the palm of your hands- this is s that it doesn’t clog the bombilla (metal straw) when you put it in, the larger leaves will be at the bottom of the gourd and the finer leaves on top. Argentinians usually leave the yerba at a slight incline as well.
- Now it’s time to insert the bombilla. I have been told that the best way to insert the bombilla is to first drizzle some of the steeping water into the lower part of the inclined yerba, good and close to the side of the mate. It will create a small hole, place the bombilla in this hole and push it down until it touches the bottom of the mate, leaning it against the side.
- Ready to pour the water? Put the hot water into a thermos (so that it doesn’t get cold too fast). Pour hot water into the mate at the base of the bombilla (remember, this should be off to the side and in the lower part of the inclined "mountain" of yerba.
Image borrowed from deepsouthmountaineering.com
Some things to keep in mind:
-Don’t use boiling water! It will give the yerba a bitter taste.
- Don’t fill the hot water all the way to the top, only wet some of the leaves, this helps you control how much flavor you release. As you drink you can pour a little more each time.
The yerba will eventually be lavado or washed out after refilling the gourd many times. If you want to continue drinking mate after it’s lavado, you can throw some of the used yerba out and refill it with some new yerba.
Now you’re drinking mate like an Argentine!
- If you’re new to drinking mate, you might think that yerba is too bitter, if that’s the case, you can add sugar to the top of your yerba pile and pour the hot water over the yerba for a sweeter taste. My mother-in-law loves to drink her mate sweet, and adds a little bit of honey inside her thermos.
- My husband loves to add tea bags to the water to give his mate more flavor.
- I personally, love to drink mate with a coffee flavor, so I had instant coffee mix to my thermos and it gives it a stronger flavor. This gives you an extra kick!
- During the summer, many love to drink mate cold. This is called “terere”. This can be done with just cold water and ice (putting ice on top of the yerba), or with juice!
- Some people also like to add fresh herbs to the top of their yerba mate, like mint or verbena. Others add lemon or orange zest! Let the experimenting begin!
So next time you come to Spanish class at Spanish in Rosario, you can prepare the mate and impress your teachers, not only with your killer Spanish, but also with your Argentinian cultural knowledge!
Written by Vanessa Galban
ESL Teacher at EinR