February 22, 2022
What an day filled with 2! ^ ^
Yesterday, I finally got to drink this traditional beverage from Argentina. Yerba Mate is a tea like beverage where you place a dried herb called Yerba Mate in a gourd and you drink it using a metal sort of straw. I had heard of Yerba Mate before so I was excited to get a kit and try it. Before I tell you about my adventure drinking it, here is a bit of history about this beautiful drinking tradition.
First off, it is hard to credit this as being from any particular country… Argentine people like to say it is theirs, Paraguayans the same and then the Brazilians, Bolivians and even Perú also have tradition of using it… so… Let’s start by saying that Yerba Mate had its origin in South America and the indigenous Guaraní people that once populated areas of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil are the most representative group that originally used it.
Guaraní people called mate ca’iguá: Ca’á means ‘yerba mate’, i means ‘water’, and guá means ‘of’ or ‘for.’(1). The Quechua people of Perú referred to the container as “mati”. It is believed that the Spanish found the Quechua word easier and adopted it to name not only the container but the drink as well. the word “mate” is still used for both to this day.
Interestingly enough the drink became a huge commercial success not for the Spanish per say, but for the Jesuits that set up an array of Missions where they orchestrated the labor of the indigenous people and domesticated the Yerba Mate plant. Eventually the Spanish government did not favor this and expelled the Jesuits in the 1770’s. Sadly the whole production of Yerba Mate in Paraguay (its biggest producer), fell into decay and so did their domestication secrets. (2) Because these Misiones producers of Yerba Mate extended into Brazil that was land of the Portuguese, it is around this time that Brazil starts producing it and then much later in the late 1900’s Argentina joins in. This production of Yerba Mate was basically for South Americans who loved the drink as it never became as popular as coffee or cocoa in Europe.
This is a map that shows the area between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil where the Jesuit Missions were. To this day this area is known as Misiones…
And this is a contemporay Guaraní family enjoying Yerba Mate:
According to Statista. com, Argentina is the largest Yerba Mate producer in the world currently. As of July 2020, the area cultivated with this plant in the South American country amounted to approximately 175 thousand hectares. Brazil followed, with some 72 thousand hectares planted in 2019. (3)
Today, mate is widely consumed in Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay and in some areas of Brazil (mainly the states of Rio Grande du Sul, Santa Catarina, Parana y Mato Grosso do Sul). It is also consumed in the South of Chile and in the rural areas of the central region. Uruguayans drink the most – 6 to 8 kg of yerba per person per year. Argentinians drink on average 5 kg of yerba per person per year and they are also the first exporter of yerba mate in the world. (1)
This map shows where and how it is drank:
Curious what this plant looks like? Me too… let’s take a look!
This is a scientific drawing made by Köhler. The scientific name of this plant is Ilex_paraguariensis.
Now… how does the Yerba Mate plant become the Yerba Mate people wet an drink? Well here is a graphic I found of the process. I think it explains it the best in a simple direct way:
You can see the whole process in this really informative video:
And finally you have Yerba that looks like this and it is ready to be prepared as the drink:
Now, to drink this in the most Argentine way possible I bought a kit that had the gourds and the Yerba Mate. Here is the beautiful set made in Argentina:
The set also brought two objects that resembled straws with strainers in the bottom. I later learned they are called “bombilla.” It’s name had its origin when the Spaniards saw what it did… they thought it to act like a water pump and called it “bomba.” Then eventually because it was small it got its diminutive form: “bombilla.” Originally they were made out of bamboo. I was surprised by this. I thought bamboo was native to Asia, but it turns out that South America has many native species too!
One thing I had to do was “cure” the gourds or mates. This means removing the wood like inner layer that is left over when they empty them out. One does this by placign a bit of Yerba Mate in the gourd and filling it with warm water and letting it sit overnight:
And don’t be grossed out…but that’s what it looks like when you remove the soaked insides with a spoon…
And here is how I prepared and drank Yerba Mate for the first time:
Did I like it? Yes I did! I loved how earthy its smell is and how comforting it is to drinkit. It must be so great to drink it in a circle of friends.
Last but not least here I am posing with my mate:
Do you see the Earth on my necklace? My sister gave it to me last Christmas because of my virtual trip. I love it! It is a reminder to always think of planet Earth too. I really wanted to get a good photo with it for her! How do you like it sis?! Gracias hermanita bella! (This means… thank you beautiful sister!)
Alright enough… (that was a lot of fun!…loved playing with the light!)
Then one has to clean up everything really well…
Last thing I will mention about Yerba Mate, is that it is now more and more popular. It is being advertised a lot as a healthy drink… not sure if these benefits have been proven or not …but here they are (4):
It boosts your energy… this is for sure! I felt it…
It improves mental focus…
May improve physical performance…
May help with weight loss…
May lower the risk of heart disease…
I’m in… but I think I’m going to cheat…sorry Argentinos…I’m going to be totally American on this… I found it in tea bag form! ^ ^