Sunday, April 26, 2015

Yerba Mate tea, a guest post by Veronica C

Our favourite tea blogger Leah has asked me to write a guest post on mate, a south american infusion with roots that extend back to pre - colonial times. Being Uruguayan myself, that was a tall order.

Believe me, I've pondered a lot on what to focus this post about mate: its history, its chemistry, its benefits... but finally I've decided to write about what southern-bound visitors and infusion lovers won't easily read about: the very soul of mate.

Anyhow, some facts first.

To make mate you will first need yerba which translates "herb" to English, and this is where some misunderstandings begin. The word "herb" has some "illegal" connotations but in Spanish the word means just the dried leaves of a bush (Ilex paraguariensis) that grows in the heart of the continent. The production process include the industrial drying of the leaf that is then crushed and stationed for up to a year before being packaged to be consumed.

    Fresh yerba leaves

Infusion-ready product

Mate can be purchased on every retail corner of my country; In Argentina, Paraguay and southern Brazil, Bolivia and Chile. You can easily see there is a dimension on mate that goes beyond countries and nationalities, a common ground on people that share the same taste. It represents  the culture of whole continent.

Now imagine you live in the countryside, maybe as a Guarani native in pre colony times or a Gaucho in extensive cattle farms. When dawn breaks or dusk falls, the grassy hills surround you until the horizon and there is a sense of beauty but loneliness because this corner of the world has always been  sparsely populated.

This means, cows and dogs are keeping you company... not a very entertaining way to live.

So mate will be right there next to you, keeping you busy by the fire, preventing your feeling down and lonely. Scientists explain that the high caffeine level on the dry leaves keeps you away from depression and sleep (link here) but people like to say, the mate becomes your compaƱero (alas, in English, your soul mate).

The ceremony of mate:

Well, with the mate it is not exactly a japanese tea ceremony. The native Guaranis that began this tradition were rather simple people. Also the Spanish conquistadores and their descendants were rather tough people that would not invest too much time on it: after all it was supposed to be a way to sanitize water by filtering through layers of leaves.

Traditional mate should be drank out of a "calabaza" (dry pumpkin) like this one. It is fully recyclable and environmentally friendly.

The calabaza is filled 2/3ds with yerba and boiling water is poured on it. After it has soaked the yerba expands to almost fill the container and you are ready to sip the infusion through a metal straw.

Burning hot, bitter tasting, aromatic, earthy flavour filling your mouth and nostrills.

And your soul.

Different ways to drink mate:

In Uruguay: people go to public places carrying thermos and mates. You can pick out a uruguayan person in a huge crowd, because of this feature. Here are two pictures I took at the beach at the same time, notice most people sipping mate.

By the way, this is Punta del Este, a posh resort

In Argentina: drinking mate is more home-oriented. Hot water is poured out of a kettle, because it would be sipped more or less in a hurry before leaving for  work. Also, sugar is usually is mixed with yerba, something other southeners deride for being "childish".

Alone: already discussed this on the country side, but mate has found it's way to the urban environment and for instance is sipped by students trying to prevent falling asleep while cramming for tomorrow's exams.

In a group of people: well, I know this will seem disgusting to many of you, but good manners involve sipping the mate and passing it on to the person next to you. A total stranger or your closest friend or partner, whomever. Again, the high caffeine level will prompt lively conversation, jokes... you know, we latin americans like to talk a lot. And loud. Mate is defined as the beverage of friendship.

Mate cocido "cooked mate": For the rest of the world who does not want to get involved into the dry pumpkin, thermo and metal straw thing, you can drink it as an infusion. Bitter, earthy, very scant colour, it's not your usual camomile or your favorite tisane

Hope this posts brings to you a different approach to mate, but if you are looking for the traditional one, like Wikipedia here you can find it. Hasta pronto amigos!!


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