Yerba Mate – more than drink

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I am standing in the kitchen looking out through the window. I am doing a ritual that has now become a daily morning routine. While the water is warming up on the stove, I pour loose yerba into a gourd, cover the top with my hand, turn the gourd upside down and gently shake it several times. The goal is to bring to the surface the “Polvo” (powder). Then I pour a little bit of cold water on one side, not too much, just enough to soak the leaves and keep the other side dry. As an old man said to me once: “You are not simply pouring water, you are feeding the yerba so that it can breathe”. Just before the kettle sings and the water boils, I turn off the stove. I take the kettle and delicately tilt it until water starts pouring out and into the gourd. It is really important not to use boiling water when preparing Mate. Too hot and the leaves will burn. Too cold and they will shrivel. You want the water to be just hot enough so that it incites the precious leaves to release their elixir.

According to the Guarani legend, the Goddesses of the Moon and the Cloud came to the Earth one day to visit it but they instead found a Yaguareté (a jaguar) that was going to attack them. An old man saved them, and, in compensation, the Goddesses gave the old man a new kind of plant, from which he could prepare a “drink of friendship”.

Mate is more than a drink. Comparing it to tea or coffee would be a huge understatement, it would be an insult. It is more like wine. It is a lifestyle statement. One that says time and relationships matter. One that says speed and singularity are not a priority. It is a ritual that invites for sharing and trust. A reminder from the Native Cultures passing the pipe around, as a sign of welcome and humility. It is a ceremony that invites strangers and solidifies friendships. When offered to you, it is the deepest and most sincere gesture of hospitality.

Taking a deep breath, I let the woody toasty aroma fill my nose. A strong yet delicate fragrance with a hint of fresh grass, tinged with roasted nuts. My memory neurons automatically recognize the scent and send me mind back in time, to that place in the jungle, where the soil is red and the trees are tall and green. Where the monkeys howl and the jaguar roams stealthily – the birth place of Yerba Mate, the land of the Guarani People. Sipping on the bombilla, I bring the water to my lips. My tasting buds delightfully connect with the ancestral tea. Its potent tonic spreads through my bloodstream and invades my body, charging my senses.

Drinking Mate connects me to an old ritual that was born from a culture that believes nature is something bigger than them. Today, living in a world of conveniency and technology, I need those moments to remind myself of the things that truly mater: friendship, hospitality, taking the time to be in the moment and cherishing the simplest things.

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One thought on “Yerba Mate – more than drink

  1. This is a great description of such a beautiful tradition. Mate became a daily part of life while I was in Uruguay and followed me home.

    To those trying it for the first time; the taste is unique at first, but oh how it grows on you.

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