How to drink mate in Argentina

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What has the strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the appeal of chocolate? That will be yerba mate, the traditional South American drink. Read on to find out how to make yerba mate tea and where it comes from, and be sure to follow the etiquette section if you want to know how to drink it like the Argentines do.

The world has six legal stimulants for frequent consumption: coffee, tea, cola nut, cocoa, guarana and, last but not least, yerba mate, the most balanced that provides vitality and nutrition.

Pronounced “yer-bah mah-tay,” this drink comes from the leaves of a holly plant found in the rain forests of South America. The Ache Guayaki tribe of Paraguay have been drinking yerba mate from gourds for hundreds of years for its rejuvenating qualities.

The Pasteur Institute concluded in 1964 that with 24 vitamins and minerals, along with 15 amino acids and antioxidants, it would be difficult to find another plant that could match mate in nutritional value.

jorge zapata ca7YfP8eUj0 unsplash How to drink mate in Argentina
History of Mate


It is believed that yerba mate was initially consumed by the indigenous peoples of southern Brazil. Through Spanish colonization, the drink spread to the territory of Paraguay at the end of the 16th century before traveling to Argentina in the 17th century. As use became more widespread, mate became Paraguay’s main product.

Around the 1650s, the Jesuits domesticated the plant and organized plantations in Misiones, Argentina. A trade war began with Paraguayan collectors, causing the Jesuits to be expelled in the 1770s. They took their domestication secrets with them and their estates fell into ruin. When Paraguay stopped harvesting mate after the War of the Triple Alliance in the 1860s, Brazil regained its place as the main producer of mate.

Sometime in the 1900s, Argentina re-domesticated mate and plantations were established. While Brazil turned its attention to coffee in the 1930s, Argentina relied on its consumption of mate and revived the economy of the province of Misiones, where the Jesuits had their plantations.

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Man drinking Mate

The tools

The tools for making and drinking mate are simple: a hollow gourd, a thermos, and a metal straw. While gourds were traditionally a hollow gourd, they now come in various materials including wood, glass, ceramic, and even silicone.

The straw, or light bulb , has a screened filter at one end to prevent small pieces of leaves from the brewing process from entering.

People are often seen throughout Argentina, including the capital Buenos Aires, walking down the avenue with a thermos under their arm. The city’s many hot water stations, where you can refill your thermos , are in high demand, with annual mate consumption in the country averaging nearly 14 pounds (6 kg) per person.

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Preparing the mate

Preparing the mate

This is how mate is prepared:

  1. Fill a cured mate glass a little more than half full with yerba mate. Tilt the squash until the tea covers the side and almost reaches the top.
  2. Before inserting the straw, pour hot water into the bottom half of the drink. A temperature of 140-158F (60-70C) is best.
  3. Relax as the yerba mate leaves soak up the water. This wakes up the tea.
  4. Place the strained end of the straw into the tea at an angle.
  5. Pour hot water, not boiling, into the yerba mate tea and drink.

Mind your manners

If someone offers you their mate, it is a sign of respect, and there is a permanent tag for sharing mate. It is not only an opening to learn more about Argentine society but also about the person who offers to share. There is a kind of ritual exchange that takes place, which can make even a tourist feel like they really belong. When someone offers to share your mate, just enjoy it and drink it all before handing it back. Don’t rush; drink at your own pace.

If you’re done and don’t want to repeat, say ” thank you ” as you hand the pumpkin back to him. If you want another helping, don’t say thank you and wait until someone offers you more.

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Preparing the mate

In a large group, the partner will do the rounds, but only one individual is responsible for that. The person who makes the mate is called a cebador . When the mate is ready, the cebador takes the first portion and refills the calabash. Then, handing the gourd to the next person, the cebador waits while the person drinks and returns the empty gourd. In a large enough group, two gourds may be circulating, but the process is the same: take, drink, return.

For more information on the history, making and etiquette of mate, check out Circle of Drink.

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About the author

I am Matias, born in Patagonia, and a lover of my land.

For more than 20 years I help foreign travellers to organise their trip to Patagonia.

I also manage this exotic accommodation on the Atlantic coast.