Latin America

Máte: it’s an Argentine thang!

My first experience of máte was while I was camping in the North of Argentina, around Salta I think it was. I was travelling South down from Bolivia on my way to Mendoza. I got chatting to an Argentine camping family on our site who casually invited me for un mátecito más tarde (a máte later?)

I had no idea what they were talking about. I’d heard and read about Máte, but as it’s not really a thing in Colombia or Venezuela or Peru or even Bolivia for that matter, I wasn’t quite sure what I was being invited to do.

Turns out tomar un mátecito refers to sitting around drinking a loose leaf tea through a communal metal straw whist eating copious amounts of tortitas and facturas and talking (politics, football and Las Islas Malvinas being common topics in Argentina).

That was back in 2003 and for the next almost 20 years máte would become a prominent feature in my life and a staple element of my daily diet. Even today from my base in North Wales I drink máte every day. Want the low-down on this intriguing drink? Read on…

Me and my yerba máte

What even is máte anyway?

Máte is the official national drink of Argentina and is consumed in 98% of Argentine households. The drink itself dates back to the time before the arrival of the Europeans. It’s made of leaves from the Yerba Máte plant (llex paraguariensis) which is native to the subtropical regions of South America, places like Misiones in the North East Argentina (see map below). The leaves are dried out and crushed to produce a lose leaf tea-like substance. Máte is not a tea it stands as a beverage of it’s own, although you can get “máte tea bags”.

How is it prepared?

Watch this video where I prepare a máte amargo in my kitchen from scratch.

  1. Chose your máte – máte’s come in all shapes and sizes, different colours and are made out of different materials.
  2. Curar el máte – THE most important step to enjoying a delicious máte is to make sure your máte (gourde) is sealed first. This is called “curando” in Spanish. There are a few different ways to do it, generally people will make a máte as if to drink it and leave it in the gourde for a few days. This seals the inside to ensure it doesn’t leak and also adds flavor when you drink it.
  3. Chose your yerba carefully – The lose máte leaves (yerba) are sold in bags (like the one in the right of this picture). There are lots of different types of yerba, sin palo (without stems) – tends to be stronger whereas yerba con palo (with stems) is milder.
  4. Water temperature – Yerba máte is best made with water heated to 75-85 degrees. DO NOT USE BOILED WATER, it will “wash” the yerba of taste and you{ll have to make it again.
  5. ¿Amargo or dulce? – Do you fancy with or without sugar? Generally people will have two seperate mátes; one for dulce (with sugar) and another for amargo (without sugar).
  6. Add la yerba fill the máte up with la yerba to around 2/3 full (if you’re having máte dulce now’s the time to add the sugar, 1/4-1/2 tea spoon depending on how sweet you want it). If you’re having it dulce, put hand over the top of the máte (completely covering it) and turn it upside down to mix the sugar in with la yerba.
  7. Add the water – fill the máte to the top with water (see photo below).
  8. La bombilla – Insert la bombilla to the máte so that the filter touches the bottom of the máte.
  9. Drink – You drink the máte through la bombilla (be careful not to burn your lips – if you’re not used to drinking it you’ll need to test out the temperature first. If you’re drinking it dulce you’ll only need to add more sugar every couple of servings. If you’re drinking it with friends come back to my blog soon to read the article I’m writing about máte etiquette the do’s & don’ts of drinking máte (coming soon).
Left to right Máte de madera (wood), cuero (leather), cerámico (ceramic)
Máte, la yerba, el termo y la bombilla

Benefits of drinking Máte

Yerba mate is one of the healthiest beverages around. It provides an energy and productivity boost similar to coffee, but it’s smoother, with less caffeine and more nutrients.

There are many health benefits of drinking máte, among them are:

  • High concentration of antioxidants.
  • High levels of vitamins and minerals.
  • Prevents heart conditions.
  • Physical and mental prowess.
  • Weight control.

It’s soooo social too! You get to sit around for hours with friends talking and drinking mate. Male sure you brush up on your Argentine politics, football and remember The Falkland’s are Las Islas Malvinas too 😉

Learn more about Máte in this video.

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