Mate is the national drink of Argentina. (it’s pronounced in two syllables, with a short e.)
They put it in a gourd with hot water and pass it around, sipping it out of the same filtered straw, called a bombilla. When it’s gone they pour some more hot water out of a thermos into the same leaves and pass it around again.
Actually there are rules. The host passes it to each person in turn and they drink all of it before passing it back. He or she then adds water and passes it to the next person. It always returns to the hub, so to speak. You don’t say thanks until you don’t want anymore. If you say thanks after your first turn you’re done.
The gourd can be made out of wood, stone, silver, ivory, leather or, well, a gourd. The shops are full of them, in a variety of shapes, designs and prices.
The mate itself tastes and looks like grass (no, not that grass) but is actually the chopped up green leaves of the Ilex paraguarensis which originates from Paraguay but is also grown extensively in northern Argentina. It’s only 1% caffeine and gives you a buzz.
It’s an important stylized social ritual and studies show over 90% of the people in Argentina drink it regularly. It seems like everyone carries a thermos of hot water around. You can even buy hot water for your thermos from a vending machine outside the gas station. There is not a shelf but an entire section of every supermarket stocked with yerbal mate.
Old couples, young lovers, best friends, total strangers—it’s a drink to be shared, with breakfast or with merienda, an afternoon snack. It’s a little bitter, so you can have it with sugar or fruit juice. It comes in flavors. Peppermint anyone?
Of course it can cure anything. It stimulates your mind, reduces your stress, controls you appetite, detoxifies your blood, strengthens you immune system, restores you hair color and preserves your youth. It says so right on the internet. Clearly Ponce de Leon was just on the wrong continent. The fountain of youth was not a spring in Florida but a bush in Paraguay.
Share some today. Don’t worry about the germs. You’re not going to die.