Mate is an argentine infusion which is to the porteños what tea is for the Chinese.
Mate consists of a mix between herbal mate and boiling water, and in some cases, sugar –“mate dulce”. When no sugar is added, the mate drink is designated “mate amargo” or “cimarrón” referring to it’s bitter taste.
By the same token, the recipient, (also called the mate) out of which the mate is consumed has a pear shape and size (originally made from small gourds).
Beyond that a “bombilla”, (a metal straw 18 cm long with a perforated spoon filter at the bottom) is used to absorb the mate and a “pava” (a kettle) or a thermos is kept nearby to pour the boiling water over the mate.
The preparation of mate –practically a ritual- requires a sequential order of operation: pour the herb into the mate until it’s a bit more than half full, add warm (not boiling) water to the first brew so as not to burn the herbs, let it absorb the water for a few minutes, then place the bombilla in so that it’s well secured, and finally pour hot water and drink through the bombilla.
Drinking mate with one’s family or in groups (by sharing it) is a way of celebrating, relaxing or simply enjoying an agreeable friendly exchange.
Drinking it alone entails a delightful intimacy.
Ruíz Días de Guzmán (1612) relates the tale of the Hernadarias who discovered herbal mate, which was used by the natives to make a daily infusion to help digestion. As mate was had various times throughout the day, this shows that historically this practice has lived on into the present.
In these descriptive memories of the Conquest, the prejudice of the conquerors against these new practices is evidenced in the fact that the Jesuits considered this consumption a vice and its contents a drug.
According to the account of Hernando Arias de Saacedra, the indigenous placed herbal mate- which was previously crushed and toasted- in a gourd and used a straw made out of a piece of cane.
The herbal mate (now colloquially called “yerba”) consists of leaves from a tree or bush native to the Misiones and Corrientes provinces in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil- neighboring countries in whose virgin jungles these leaves are extracted, dried and crushed. The result is a green colored powder that is mixed with small sticks from the same tree (you can now choose herbs with sticks and without at the market).
The name “yerba” (herbs) denotes the initial ignorance of its origins. It evolved from “Caa,” which is what the guarnie called it.
Consumption is greatest in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, some regions in Bolivia, Chile and Uruguay.
The scientific name for herbal mate is ILEX PARAGUARIENSIS.
Source: 365 Info Buenos Aires