Sunday, February 27, 2011


Our very first day in Argentina, we noticed that everyone seems to have some strange looking drinking apparatus that they are always fooling with. The next day, we started to make inquiries. We were told that the drink is called mate. Everyone, literally everyone, drinks it. Mate is a dried herb, much like tea. It is prepared and consumed in a mate set that consists of a gourd-shaped cup and a stainless straw, with hot water. Most people carry their own thermos, even on backpacking trips! Various public places, e.g. bus stations, would have hot water dispensers, some furnished by mate manufacturers. I have never seen hot drinking water so readily available outside of China.

In this increasing homogeneous world where people are eating the same food (e.g. hamburgers) and drinking the same drinks (e.g. colas). I find the mate tradition endearing. When we asked Anna, from Buenos Aires, if one can buy a mate drink in a cafe or restaurant. She explained that mate is something one drinks at work or on the go. It is not a leisure drink. People have tried to sell them in Buenos Aires, but failed. When John suggested that Starbucks may one day sell mate as they do with chai, Anna found the idea very amusing.

Mate gourds for sale at the San Telmo Street Market in Buenos Aires.
Mate Gourds - San Telmo Street Market - Buenos Aires, Argetina

Woman prepares to fill her thermos at a free hot water dispenser (sponsored by one of the herb vendors) in the Bariloche bus station.

At a bus stop a hiker checks his thermos before heading off into the woods.


jaydro said...

Okay, wait, I had to check back to make sure Buenos Aires was on your original itinerary and it wasn't an en-route addition, because I was absolutely floored that while in your travels you have told me so much about places that I know so little about, and yet you were unaware of Yerba Mate. They have a dance there called the tango, too. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Love the colors-especially the gourds.
Mom and Dad

john said...


Guilty as charged...The Argentina we knew last summer when we were studying/planning hard for the trip disappeared from our minds during the months of the journey. That's one disadvantage of of a long trip.

That said, the public nature of the mate ritual is amazing. One wonders why the gourd and straw are not on the national flag.

Sun-Ling wants to know what you know about mate and when did you know it? ;-)

Thanks for the comment!


jaydro said...

I can't recall exactly when I first heard of yerba mate, but it's been years. It's just a name that sticks with you (like "pressure tundra" ;-) ). But I must confess that after a lot of furious searching I discovered that my knowledge of the ritual aspect of it with the gourds and straws etc. was not from the Travel Channel's Samantha Brown's trip to Buenos Aires, but from her excursion to Montevideo, Uruguay, which I presumably saw four years ago. So you can be forgiven missing that in your pre-trip studies. ;-) And I can't find a video clip from it, but there is a transcript for those interested.... And if you'd like to see video of her in Buenos Aires echoing a theme strangely familiar to this blog (the South American grand tour of cemeteries), you can check that out here.
P.S. I'm recovering from perhaps the nastiest bout of vaccine-resistant flu I've ever had. There's a lot of it going around here.

Anonymous said...

i have a box of Mate tea at home. joel bought it at wholefoods. it's been sitting there about four months now. we don't like the taste too much. in Miami, Mate is a sweet soft drink. no idea about the gourds and rituals etc. interseting.
-- weiqing

Anonymous said...

it's called Materva.wqz

john said...

Thanks for all the great comments and stay tuned for a Mate Part II posting based on our visit to - you guessed it - Montevideo, Uruguay.

@Jaydro - Glad to hear that you are "recovering" from the flu.

Sun-Ling said...

@wq, I know the reason why you did not like mate. It is because you are not sipping from a gourd with a metal straw, filling from a thermos, while walking down the street! lol.

Susan in Florida said...

I have camped with some people from Argentina. And now that you mention it, I think every morning there were drinking those drinks.

I LOVE your blog. It is just simply amazing to me that you are doing this. And I feel honored to know you.

Sun-Ling said...

@Susan, it is now conclusive, John and I are the last ones in the civilized world to come across mate :(