The Do’s and Don’ts of Drinking Mate

The first time I saw Argentinians drinking Yerba Mate was on a trip to Peru in January of 2013. I couldn’t help but stare at a group of people pouring hot water from a thermos into a gourd with contents unbeknownst to me, drinking from the same metal straw and then passing it around in a circle. I seriously thought they were getting high off some sort of herbal concoction and I remember thinking “wow, this hostel has some pretty lenient drug use rules.”

It wasn’t until I came to Argentina two months later that I understood what was really going on in that circle of friends. Mate is an incredibly important part of Argentine culture, it’s everywhere. Argentinians drink mate at home, at work, in the car, at the beach, when it’s raining, when it’s hot, when it’s snowing- it almost ranks as a religion! It is more than just a drink in Argentina, it’s a way of life. It represents bonding, tranquility, family, friendship, and togetherness. When people get together to drink mate, it is about so much more than the tea. It is all based on the single act of sharing. Sharing the same gourd, sharing the same bombilla, and above all else, sharing time with someone.

First, let’s have a quick lesson on mate (pronounced mah-tay) vocabulary:
Mate: is the gourd used to drink the tea, usually made out of calabash or wood and typically decorated in some way
Yerba: the green tea infusion put into the gourd to drink
Termo: termos where the hot water is put
Bombilla: the metal or steel straw used to drink the yerba mate
Cebador: the designated server of the yerba mate
Lavado: when the yerba has been used up and the small sticks are floating at the top

I’m going to save the steps of preparation for the next article, as it is an art in and of itself, but today I do want to look at the do’s and don’ts of serving and drinking mate so that when you come to learn Spanish at Spanish in Rosario, you fit right in.

How to drink mate like an Argentine:
Basically, the cebador serves the mate and drinks first to make sure the mate is well prepared. It’s usually considered bad manners if the cebador gives the first mate to another person. The cebador pours the hot water from the termo again into the mate and passes it to the person sitting next to them. When the person is done drinking, they pass it back to the cebador and he/she fills it up again and passes it to the next person in the circle. When pouring the water, you don’t want to drown the yerba, you want to try to pour it in one sink spot. This way you will be able to take full advantage of the yerba without it getting lavado.

Do’s when drinking mate:

  • Complement the cebador on the mate.
  • Share
  • Take pastries or crackers to share with your friends while you drink mate together
  • Go in a circle

Don’ts when drinking mate:

  • Move the bombilla. Moving the bombilla might get yerba into the straw and will likely cause your Argentine friend to take the mate out of your hand
  • Take too long drinking the mate
  • Say “gracias” (thank you) after every mate. “Gracias” is only said when you no longer want more mate.
  • Give the mate back to the cebador until you’ve drunk all the tea
  • slurp too much

Stay tuned for our next article about how to cure and prepare the mate like a pro!

Written by Vanessa Galban

ESL teacher