“In Argentina I never had mate by myself because I was too lazy. So when I came to Australia I started to realise what I left behind and what I missed. I met this Argentinian guy in Cairns and he invited me to drink mate and we spent hours drinking mate. He was particular about the technique too”.
The communal sharing of beverages is a ritual practiced across many cultures. Like the formal English tea party or frappe rendezvous in Greece, in Argentina, mate drinking is very much intertwined with the social life and identity of Argentinians. Coming from the yerba plant, mate is grown and commercially manufactured in Argentina. Consumed in some neighbouring South American countries, mate is also a popular drink amongst Syrians who are the biggest importer of yerba mate outside South America.
What sets mate consumption apart from other beverage participatory experiences, is the sharing aspect; mate transcends partaking in the moment to actually sharing the instruments used to drink the tea. Unlike English tea parties where guests each have their own cup and saucer, the mate cup (a metal cup usually bound in leather) and accompanying metal straw is ceremoniously passed between friends and strangers.
A symbol of recognition, as powerful as language, among South Americans and Syrians, mate consumption is a highly portable and public ritual. Carrying his thermos of hot water, mate leaves, cup and straw, José often shares his mate with friends at the beach, park and public transport; because the mate experience is better shared.
“When I used to go to the weekend house of my aunty, we would sit next to the pool and drink mate. Just drink it for hours. My mum, when she has the mate she starts talking, talking. The problem is when they take the mate and use it as a microphone. That is not a mic! Just finish it and pass it. Because we are waiting for it! But personally I would rather drink mate with people”.
José’s mate instructions:
“Even though it is quite popular and everyone does it. There are particular rules or techniques you have to follow in order for the mate to last long. Otherwise it will wash quite quickly. A washed mate is when all the leaves are floating in the water like soup”.
Yerba mate leaves
Boiling water in a thermos
Fill 3/4 of a cup with mate leaves
Softly shake the cup to aerate the leaves
Hold the cup at 45 degree angle and diagonally hold the spoon against the mate
Pour boiling water parallel to leaves being careful the leaves are not covered in water
Continue to hold the cup on a diagonal slant and the leaves will absorb the water
Allow the mate to stand for a few minutes before taking the first sip
The first serving of mate will be bitter – some people opt to spit this one out
Mate is consumed in loud slurps and can be refilled after the end of each water serving.