The first thing that caught my eye was that people in the streets, cafes, the metro, the parks, even the people who work in our hotel were holding this weird looking cup and sipping something weird from a metal straw. They looked like the people in New York on a hot summer day sipping their iced coffee!
I was really curious about what the big deal was, so I decided to ask Ms. Bettina, the clerk at our hotel, what it was that people were drinking and why they were drinking it in those cups. She said that everyone in Argentina drinks mate. She said it is an herb or yerba that they mix with water (hot or cold) and sometimes with sugar. Ms. Bettina explained that the cup is called a mate gourd and the straw is called a bombilla. She said that people have been drinking mate using the gourd and the bombilla as long as she could remember and that it was a tradition.
I’m sorry, but I couldn’t understand why people liked this ugly stuff and had to drink it out of the funny looking cup and the straw, but Ms. Bettina continued to tell me the tradition of mate. Believe it or not, there are rules for drinking it too! The people I saw were drinking it alone, but Ms. Bettina told me that most of the time people get together to drink mate and that it’s supposed to be sort of like a ritual. She said that usually one person, the host or whoever brings the mate, prepares the drink and refills the gourd with water. The gourd is passed around, often in a circle, and each person finishes it giving it back to the person that that prepared it. The gourd (also called a mate) is passed in a clockwise order. When a person no longer wants to drink the mate, they say “gracias” to the host to signify they don’t want any more. This all sounds super interesting and super complicated!
Then Ms. Bettina asked me to wait a few minutes. She left the front desk and came back with a mate cup with the yerba inside. She poured hot water into it and gave it to me. I thought to myself “that it’s now or never.” I started to sip through the bombilla, but I could smell the foul odor before it ever got to my lips. And when it did taste it . . . YUCK! That was the most horrible thing that I had ever tasted! My face must have given away the fact that I did not like it. Ms. Bettina laughed and took the mate gourd from me and took a sip. I was so embarrassed, but she made me feel better when she went to the back, got some honey, and put it in the drink. “Try it again,” she said. I didn’t really want to, but she was so nice and I didn’t want to be rude! So here I went again. I started to sip through the bombilla, but this time it smelled sweeter. WOW! The honey made such a difference! I guess it is an acquired taste, but I finished the cup Ms. Bettina gave me and had another. I LOVED the mate so much I bought three packages of it to bring back home. I even bought a “mate set” (the mate gourd, bombilla, and the herb) for my mom. I really hope she likes it as much as I do, otherwise I’ll drink it all! With honey of course.