My first experience with Mate tea was a total disaster. I found some Mate Tea in a glass container in the apartment we rented in BA and I thought, well; let me see how it tastes.
I put the kettle on until the water boiled, poured it over two spoons full of mate tea leaves, had the brew soak for a while, stirred it and then drank it through the special silver straw I found in the kitchen drawer. Yuk!
I added some sugar to the mix and stirred it again but still, Yuk!
So naturally, I never tried it again while in BA. Yet on the buses that Carol and I took to the South of Argentina, I noticed the bus drivers drinking this yucky stuff: sometimes 3 or 4 cups in one sitting. Even some passengers rushed out at gas stops, or rest stops to refill their thermos bottles with hot water from the station offices. It seemed it was ‘normal’ to refill one’s thermos with hot water while on a trip. The refills of hot water were free. A large pot of hot, not boiling water was standing in most offices for either a refill of the thermos or for a fill up of the mate cup. The calabash gourds that held the leaves of the yerba bush or tree, the yerba mate, also had a silver straw sticking out of them. Everybody in a family group or among friends drank from the same straw.
I would watch and wonder how this drink, the mate tea, was being prepared but could not figure it out. Yes, they added water and then drank the tea right away but it seemed more than that. I suspected there was some trick to drinking mate. I sensed there was some way to prepare the brew properly, some way to buy the right leaves, some way to serve it properly, some correct way to drink it, etc.
While this preparation of the tea is not as ritualized as the Japanese Tea Ceremony, there is a correct way to drink mate tea.
So, when I arrived in Ushuaia, at our first B&B, I asked Solange, the woman who ran the place, what is it about Mate Tea? How do you prepare it correctly, how to you serve it, how to you drink it, etc? Because of her excellent English I really understood her and wow, was I in for a lecture.
Yes, she showed me how to settle a full cup of the dry tea mix in the hollowed out calabash gourd, how to eliminate the powdery residue by tilting the contents upside down on my open palm. She told me to fill the cup with cold water first
When I found time and a good internet connection
I looked up the proper way to make mate tea and found there are many different ways to make this yerba tea. It is drunk all over the southern parts of the South American Continent. Some people seem to have an addiction to it. I pass on its consumption but some folks love it, even crave mate tea.
So when you come to Argentina, try Mate but make sure you have it brewed the right way from a person who knows how to make it. Do not make the mistake I made and try to make it yourself. You will first, like me, say it is Yucky! Yet given the right preparation even I could get used to drinking it now. Give it a try,
but do not use the ‘Mate Teabags’. That ‘Teabag’ is not mate. Yerba must be the loose leaf, naturally dried variety to make good mate. Enjoy something new and if you really want to know all the details about how to make mate tea from the yerba plant, follow the link below: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mat%C3%A9_tea