Mate ~ The Argentinian Obsession
Our three main characters are blogging away over on Crameye’s World, and we wanted to let you see what they were up to. In a recent blog post, Neva introduces the national drink of Argentina: Yerba Mate. If you would like a healthier alternative to coffee, it is worth the effort to find some. You can read her blog post to learn how to drink it like a gaucho!
Are your parents coffeeholics? My dad (who loves to think he is a gaucho, but is really just a big nerd) is something different. He is a mate-holic! Yerba mate is huge here in Argentina, like coffee is in the States, or like green tea is out where Crameye lives. It is totally Argentina’s national drink, and there are actually some cool things about it and the culture surrounding it.
First off, you have to learn how to pronounce it. Yerba Mate = Yer-ba Mah-tay. You can click this link and listen to it there: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/yerba%20mat%C3%A9
So, what it is is a brewed drink from the leaves of the yerba mate plant, which is in the holly family. But how you drink it is very precise. Traditionally, you use a hollowed out gourd as the cup, and use a silver straw called a bombilla. There is some debate, but the best way to make it is to first add the leaves, then insert the bombilla into the gourd, and then add hot water. Do not add boiling water, as that will ruin the leaves and flavor.
Nowadays, people slurp it out of thermoses while driving or sitting on the bus going to work, but originally there was (and still is for a lot of people) a whole ritual to drinking and sharing it. For example, the gauchos would drink it before starting their day doing all of their cowboy stuff. One guy (given the title cebador) had the job of making it, who also had to take the first sip to make sure it was okay. Note: If you are ever the cebador and pass it to someone without first sipping it, you are a very rude cebador! After tasting it, if there were too many leaves in it (making a “short mate”) or too few (making a “tall mate”), he would have to make it over.
After it passes the cebador’s approval, the mate is passed to the next person, who drinks out of the same gourd and straw. It is then passed to the next person, and then the next, until it needs to be refilled again by the cebador. Usually, one batch of leaves can keep its flavor up to ten refills.
When someone is drinking the mate, many times they like to tell a story or share something, being that they are in the spotlight and all. In Argentina, if you hold the gourd too long while everyone is waiting to drink it, and you keep yammering on, people might say, “no es un micrófono,” which means: It is not a microphone! It is a not very subtle way to let someone know they are hogging the mate and talking to much!
Now here is the big question: Am I allowed to drink it?
Even though it contains heaps of antioxidants and is thought to clean the blood, I am NOT ALLOWED to drink it due to the caffeine content.
(psst… don’t tell anyone, but I am able to tell you how it tastes because maybe I sipped one when it was passed to me when shopping at a flea market. Saying no would be rude, right? Anyway, it is kind of bitter, but not as bitter as coffee, which I am not allowed to drink either but somehow some ended up in my mouth.)
So yeah, there is a lot of caffeine, but the locals say it doesn’t make you nervous and jumpy like coffee can. Maybe if your parents are getting all wired after too much coffee, you can suggest they switch to yerba mate, which I think you can find now in health food stores and world markets in the States, Europe, Australia, and pretty much everywhere. That way, they can also be like my dad and think they are as cool as gauchos! (But we know that they aren’t…)
Off to take Thor out on a “wonder walk”. A wonder walk, in case you are curious, is where we take a walk out into the countryside, while she stops at every leaf, bug, and critter she finds and wonders at it, while I am nose-deep in my smartphone.
Talk to you soon.