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Yerba Mate: National Drink of Argentina?

Yerba Mate Picture

Argentines may drink less of the stuff than the Uruguayans next door, but drinking yerba mate certainly qualifies as a national ritual. Mainly consumed at home among friends and family, the dried leaves (yerba) are steeped in a gourd (mate) and the resulting tea is sucked through a metal straw, or bombilla.

Yerba mate, or Ilex Paraguayensis, is a tree of the holly family native to the upper Paraná delta, and the consumption of its leaves has long beeen a tradition of the Río de la Plata region. The Guarani and other natives drank yerba mate for its stimulant effect, which comes from caffeine and its xanthine cousins theobromine and theophylline.

If you get invited to a yerba mate session, follow these directions to look like a pro:

  1. When it's your turn, drink until the you completely drain the mate (don't move the bombilla around in the yerba—it's seriously bad form.) Notice the satisfying gurgling sound as you hit bottom.
  2. Pass the mate to the designated brewer (cebador), who will probably be reaching for it. The cebador refills the mate with not-quite-boiling water and passes it on in a clockwise circle.
  3. Gracias means "I'm done", so go easy on the politeness if you want to go another round.
  4. Enjoy the ensuing company and subtle lift.

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