The mate: the history and curious facts of a native custom

November 30th is the National Day of the Mate, and here we follow the history of this typical infusion of the Southern cone. We tell you about its secrets and legends.

For those who do not know it, mate is a tea like infusion, made with the leaf of a plant called “ilex paraguarensis”. These plants are dried, cut up and ground. The yerba is placed in a small container, called a mate (which means “gourd” in quechua), hot water is poured over the yerba and it is sipped through a metal straw called a bombilla.

In any case, mate is not only an infusion but a habit with a great deal of meaning and a long history.

Origin of the mate

The history goes back to the guaraníes, the original inhabitants of the Argentine northeast, part of Paraguay and the south of Brazil. In the beginning, they chewed the leaves and drank cold infusions. When the Spaniards arrived, they were struck by this custom and the stimulant effect it had on the Indians.

Guaraníes considered yerba mate to be a sacred plant and that it provided many benefits for their lives.

The process from harvesting the plant until the final infusion 

The leaves of yerba mate after they have been cut from the tree are first subjected to drying and roasting, sapecado from guaraní which means “open the eyes”, the leaf is dried and the chlorophyll is fixed by the application of heat.

They then go through a drying process where they are once again subjected to high heat. Next there’s a rough grinding process, and a 6 to 15 months aging period. And then, a final grinding process before packing the product for sale.

When mate is born as an infusion among the guaraníes, before the arrival of the Jesuit priests, they drank the infusion from a bowl that was passed from one to another and the leaves were filtered through the teeth.

This way of drinking the infusion was just another way of Spaniards to communicate with the natives.

What is the meaning of the mate for Argentines 

Today Argentines drink about 100 liters of mate per person a year. “With the mate we are all the same”, Valeria Trápaga stresses. “Guaraníes thought the richest person was not the one who had the most, but the one who had the greatest ability to share material goods and all that’s spiritual with others”, the first world mate specialist states.

When the aborigines and the Spaniards discovered yerba mate, they made it a part of their lives, because for them it was a brew, they decided they had to share it in front of the fire, that it was sacred, and they had to pass the bowl around.

For Argentines, mate is a ritual linked to being sociable and to giving and receiving affection.

Wischñevsky, the historian, underlines that “the mate will always be part of our DNA. It is sharing, getting closer, it is that unique infusion in the world that is special because it is offered and prepared, and not served. And preparing it implies a degree of affection and intention to prepare something delicious for the one who receives it, therefore, there always has to be another, a back and forth”.

Now that you know the history of the mate, we invite you to see the different kinds of mate our artisans make with noble materials and unique finishes.

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