>> Tuesday, September 7, 2010

This past Sunday I bought my first maté at the feria. Yerba maté is a strong tea very popular in Uruguay, with roots in the Guaraní tribe. It is a popular social beverage throughout the southern cone, but Uruguayans are especially known for consuming maté. In fact, there is a running joke that Uruguayans are born with their arms bent in the position for carrying the maté gourd and thermos of hot water. Here are some maté gourds and bombillas:

For some clarification:
"Maté" refers to the gourd one drinks out of, or the drink in entirety.
A "bombilla" is a metal straw that has a strainer at the base for drinking maté. The tip of many bombillas are golden, because people used to believe that the gold killed germs (important because the drink is often shared).
"Yerba" or "Yerba maté" refers to the actual tea leaves used.

Maté is a social drink, and there are many little rules/tricks involved.
The person who owns the maté and is sharing it is in charge.
Only he/she pours the hot water and touches the bombilla with his/her hands.
This person is also responsible for taking the first two drinks, because they are the most bitter.
After filling the gourd about 3/4 full with yerba, he/she fills one side of the maté with hot water, making a "river" of water at the base of the "mountain" of dry yerba on the other side. After taking the first two drinks, the maté is refilled and passesd to the nearest person.

Every person who drinks the maté must finish their gourdful, which is indicated by everyone acknowledging the empty noise. If someone decides they do not wish to be served any more maté, they say "Gracias." Otherwise, they simply return the maté and it will continue to be passed from person to person to everyone's contentment!
Sometimes people will add orange peel or sugar to their yerba or water to change the flavor, but it is considered somewhat weak to do so. This is my maté, below. It is a bit strange because it is made from a horn!

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