A Little Mate Lesson

January 24th, 2008 Posted in culture, day to day

Written by Shanie 

There is one thing that the Argentines do more than anything else and that is drink mate (pronounced mah-tay). The mate culture has found its way into all crevices of the Argentine culture. Whether rich or poor, young or old the mate gourd is a shared tradition executed everyday.

Mate is the dried, chopped leaf cousin of the Holly plant. It also has the name Paraguayan Tea. Argentina produces and consumes the highest amount of the dried tea. It is averaged that the Argentine consumes more than 12 pounds of mate annually. Therefore it is important when traveling to Argentina to understand the mate customs. And there are some rules to know.

First off, it is never to be drunken alone. It is as much a group activity as it was to pass the joint around back in the 70’s. There is a person that is in charge of putting the mate into the gourd, making the water the right temperature and testing the first cup to make sure it isn’t too bitter or hot. The title of the server is “cebador.” He or she is usually the youngest person in the group. The gourd, a carved out container made from such things as squash, wood and carved metal, contains enough hot liquid for one serving each. It is important to make sure that you finish your entire serving before giving the gourd back to the cebador. After your turn, the mate will be refilled by the server and then passed onto the next person in the circle. Once the circle has been completed the cebador will then repack the gourd or pack the mate set up. If you are taking to long to drink the mate you will probably hear

“¡El mate no es un microfono!”


The translation being pretty apparent.

There are two additional rules to the game. First, be sure to never move the metal straw, la bombilla, that you sip the tea from. This is the filter system and it can become clogged if moved around. Secondly, if the rotations are still going around but you have had your fill saying a simple “gracias”will take you out of the loop. Make sure that you don’t say thank you until you are done though. Gracias tells the cebador that you are full.

The rotations of the mate can sometimes last a good part of the day. When traveling to Argentina take the time to sit with the locals and share some mate. The stories that come from mate sessions are the true treasures to take back home with you.

  1. 16 Responses to “A Little Mate Lesson”

  2. By CHANGCHO on Jan 25, 2008

    You said “The title of the server is “cebador.” He or she is usually the youngest person in the group.”

    I don’t think that the cebador is usually the youngest person, as a general rule, in my experience. Or perhaps that is a rule down in Patagonia? Great post: makes me want to get my mate and sip some, it’s cold here in California!

  3. By livinginpatagonia on Jan 25, 2008

    Thanks Changcho for the comment.
    You’re right, actually. The youngest person is the traditional way but not the way that it is normally done. Usually, it is the host of the house or the person that has the most experience with serving it.
    Load the mate and stay warm!!

  4. By falcon on Jan 28, 2008

    Being introduced to mate from the SLO guys at Guayaki was a great thing for us in So Cal. What is not great is paying $9 a 1/2 pound at the Whole Foods Market here. Even the Guayaki boys are on the pricey$$$ end.

    So tell me, what brand is considered the “best” or most popular? I think I am going to order one of the South American brands that you can get online and that come in what looks like a bag of flour to us…they seem to be much cheaper…

    I did try the Cruz de Malta brand and it was pretty good.


  5. By Patagonia on Jan 29, 2008

    Just checked at the local gas station and 500 grams (1.1 lbs) of Cruz de la Malta was 4.80 pesos, about a US$1.55. As far as what is most popular, not totally sure but safe to say there is a whole aisle in the grocery store dedicated to Mate. Sometimes we drink the Mate with orange flavor. There are lots of different varietes for sure. Now that you mention it, I will research and get back to you my findings.
    Suerte, Jamie

  6. By Travelsur.net on Sep 23, 2008

    Thank you for stopping by our forum. Very interesting article and great photos! Roberto.

  7. By Patagonia on Sep 23, 2008

    Thanks Roberto, you will be seeing more of me, I like the forum a lot! Suerte, Jamie

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