The origins of Yerba Mate come from the Guaraní natives, who used its leaves as a drink and currency in their exchanges with other prehistoric cultures.
The Guaraní people called the mate gourd ca’iguá. Ca’ámeans ‘yerba mate’, i means ‘water’, and guá means ‘of’ or ‘for’. So ca’iguá was a very specific term that referred to the object where they put the water for the yerba mate. The Quechua people used the term mati, which means cup. According to one theory, Spanish conquerors heard both terms and chose the latter because it was easier to say and remember.
It grows in the north of Argentina, Paraguay, and south of Brazil. Each region has its own preference in terms of the type of yerba, temperature of water and different ways of preparing and drinking Yerba Mate. Generalizing, in Brazil and North of Argentina people usually use a big mate gourd, whereas in Uruguay, South of Argentina and Chile it is more common to drink from a small mate. Paraguayans usually drink from guampa. A traditional guampa for the Yerba Mate cup is made from a hollowed bull’s horn.
What makes people fall in love with tereré, chimarrão, and mate is the fact that it’s usually taken with friends and family. Unlike other drinks where each person has their own cup, Yerba Mate is made to be shared, passed from hand to hand, and served to the next person who’s in life as a way of showing respect and friendship; the one who serves the Yerba Mate deeply wants whoever is next to receive it to enjoy and participate in the ritual.
One person, known as the preparer or cebador, prepares and passes the Yerba Mate amongst the group. This person is also responsible for ensuring the taste and that every member partakes. It is important to note that although folks share the container not the liquid. One must drink the entire gourd and then hand it back to the cebador (preparer) to refill and pass on. When one has had enough, one plainly says thank you.
Although, Yerba Mate is a communal experience many do drink it alone, in the morning, afternoon, or night. Yet, it is the shared experiences that make mate so delightful and vital. With thermoses and specialized carrying cases, mate is never too far out of one’s reach. It is a ubiquitous tea, drunk from a peculiar cup but succeeds in bringing people together. From its origins in indigenous communities to the folklore of the Argentine gaucho, Yerba Mate transcends barriers and borders.
Traditionally, Yerba Mate is served in a gourd and sipped through a metal or bamboo straw, called a bombilla. Although gourd and bombilla create a more authentic experience, you can also make loose leaf Yerba Mate in a french press or in a Moka Coffee Maker.
A typical Yerba Mate gourd made from the hollowed and dried end of a calabash squash. These gourds appear to be the most traditional way of drinking Yerba Mate
Drinking Yerba Mate is not just about the taste or its invigorating effect. There is a special ritual of hospitality and friendship that surrounds the daily act of sharing Yerba Mate tea in a circle.
Fun Fact: In Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and southern Brazil, Yerba Mate is consumed six times as frequently as coffee!