If coffee is the morning beverage of North America (and most of the world for that matter), my limited experience in South America was that many people preferred a type of locally grown herbal tea called Mate (pronounced mah-teh). Mate, also known as yerba mate, is rich in caffeine and is especially popular in in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Southern Chile and Southern Brazil. A small amount is exported and sold in other countries, including in the Middle East, but mate has its home in southern South America.
The drink is prepared by steeping a handful of dried yerba mate leaves in hot water. As the beverage is consumed, more hot water is added to the same wet mate clump over and over, and the drink is often sipped for hours, a thermos of hot water used to keep it warm and brewing.
It is traditional to prepare the drink in a hollow gourd and to sip the beverage with a metal (classically silver) straw called a bombilla, The straw allows the liquid in but keeps the wet mate leaves in the gourd. It is common for a single cup of mate to be shared among a group of friends — a type of bonding. The locals tout the healthful benefits of the beverage, and I’m sure it is rich in antioxidants. But mate has also been associated with adverse health outcomes including cancer of the mouth and esophagus (especially in people who drink LOTS of mate and also smoke tobacco).
We tried the stuff and frankly I didn’t like it; I’ll stick with my Tim Horton’s brew, thanks. But I did find the gourds the drink was consumed in to be varied and interesting, as you can see from these photos.
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