Should you ever have had the pleasure of visiting one of the Recoleta or San Telmo markets, or the misfortune to find yourself victim to every peddler and his wife on the Florida highstreet, you may well have had a peculiar looking small pot dangled in your face with a metal straw thrown in for good measure. This is called a mate (pronounced matay). If you have seen one you may, like us, have attempted a swift get away mistaking the steaming cup for a bong… which it is not. Neither is it a peculiar Argentine way of saying “my tea” as someone asked me the other day. Tea however, is probably about as close as one might be able to come to explaining it.
The idea is to fill the mate with what might be alikened to dried grass cuttings… though, whilst things may be cheaper in Argentina, they´re not that cheap. This greeny “yerba”, as they call it, is used to fill the cup and, with your straw placed firmly down one side, hot (but not boiling) water is poured in very gently into a pre-made little hole in the yerba. And there you have it, a bitter and slightly messier version of some type of green tea… apparently they´re still waiting for someone to invent the teabag here.
I must confess, for fear of being viewed as a philistine by all those who are well acquainted with the “art” of making mate, that this is a much simplified version of the procedure. Never before has the desire for a simple relaxing hot drink been made into such a headache by so many rules and etiquette. There are so many that I should not be at all surprised to be told that to show one´s appreciation for the drink, it´s the done thing to stand on one leg, sing a song and turn the cup upside down over your head…it´s not implausible.
The long and short of it is that in a transient moment of delirium, in which I managed to convinced myself that I had transgressed the boundaries of tourist and become a fully fledged Argentine, I decided to buy one and make my own.
Had it not tasted of dead wood, I might have enjoyed my afternoon beverage and therefore warn you all to do what I did not. Make sure you soak some yerba in cold water in your mate for at least five days before you use it. That is of course unless you´re partial to the flavor of rotting tree… Buena Suerte!
For information about how you can enjoy learning Spanish in Buenos Aires whilst perfecting your mate making skills visit Expanish