Yerba Maté (pronounced mah-teh) is not just tea, it is a way of life and a cultural tradition that you can see everywhere in Uruguay. From an office worker on his/her way to work to a gaucho – folks carry their mate cups called gourds, straws called bombilla and hot water thermos everywhere they go. Some even have a fancy leather carrying case just for their maté. Morning or evening it is always maté time.
While Joe and I were flying from Santiago Chile to Montevideo our plane had the entire Montevideo futbol team Cerro on it. Many of the players had their maté essentials with them for the flight. That was the first time we had seen the complete set including the leather carrying case.
There is a process to making Yerba Maté the right way. I am not in any way an expert but I have drunk it many times over the past several years but never in the gourd. I will tell you what I have read and heard about that process. First folks have their favorite brand of maté, they come in pretty large bags the size of a 5 lb sack of flour is the largest I have seen down to very small bags.
You put the dry Yerba Maté into your cup, add a small amount of hot water, not boiling, to wet the maté which activates it. Allow about 30 seconds for the water to infuse the leaves. Fill the cup with more water and insert the straw called the bombilla. You do not move the bombilla once inserted, no stirring, no messing with the bombilla. If offered a cup of maté you would drink the entire cup, no stirring the straw and return to the owner. Sharing a cup of maté is a very common practice here. Locals refill the cup until the thermos of hot water is empty. Using the maté grounds 4 or 5 times. And many restaurants will sell just hot water for your mate – there are even vending machines for just hot water.
Uruguayans as well as many Argentinians enjoy this tea all day long. I have even heard stories that folks wake up early, have their maté and then go back to bed.
Below are just a few examples of the complete set being sold in the mall currently.