the mate tradition

Drinking mate (with two syllables in Spanish, “mah-tay”) is a tradition throughout southern South America. It’s an herb – looks a lot like oregano – that you stuff into a container (traditinally a gourd, but now more likely wood or metal) – which is also called a “mate.” Before you fill the container you put in the metal straw (bombilla) that has a strainer/filter on the end. You pour hot water over the mate and then drink the “tea” through the straw. It does have caffeine, maybe as much as a soda ? – so it’s both a mild stimulant and effective at calming an upset stomach.


Normally it’s taken straight and it’s fairly bitter, though in some regions people add sugar or other such stuff. Chris, Julia and I enjoy drinking it, Eric tolerates it during social situations, and Emily wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot bombilla.


EVERYONE drinks mate, young and old, rich and poor, men and women. People walk around with thermoses under their arms everywhere. Morning, noon, and night. It’s a very social experience. One person pours the water and passes it to someone, they drink and return to the pourer who refills and passes to the next person, and so on. Burning hot metal straws don’t allow for many communal germs, or so we allow ourselves to believe. What’s a little spit among friends anyway?

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