Mate (pronounced mah-tay) is an important part of the culture in Argentina. It’s everywhere! People can always be seen drinking it on the streets, in a café, in a park, and virtually anywhere else you can think of. Which begs the question, what exactly is mate?
Mate is a drink made from yerba that tastes very bitter, like a strong cup of green tea. It is always served in a small gourd with a straw in it. Other herbs can also be added to the yerba, such as mint, for flavoring. Because the drink is so bitter, some people will add sugar as well. Adding sugar technically isn’t the correct way to drink it though and some Argentines are strongly against it! It’s understandable though if one does not like the natural taste at first — I would consider it to be an acquired taste, like black coffee.
Mate is a drink that is often shared among friends and family so it’s not uncommon to see a group of Argentines passing around a mate gourd. While it’s completely normal to drink it alone, you will see lots of people drinking it in groups because it serves as a way to bring people together. If you make Argentine friends here and get invited to partake in drinking mate, there are two very important things to remember:
- If you are not interested in drinking the mate, make sure that you say “gracias” before passing it along to the next person without taking a sip. It can be viewed as rather rude to respond in any other manner.
- Never touch the straw in the mate gourd! The yerba can get stuck in the straw if you move it around and clog it up.
When drinking mate in groups, everyone shares the same straw. If you aren’t feeling well or don’t feel comfortable with that, simply refer to tip #1. Mate is also common in other countries in South America, but the rules regarding it change everywhere you go! Be sure to ask if you are unsure of how to drink the mate or have questions about what is appropriate. The locals will always appreciate an interest in their culture and an interest in experiencing mate the correct way.
I had learned a little bit about mate before arriving in Argentina, but I had no idea how significant it was in the culture. Everyone here takes great pride in mate and is always eager to teach others about it. I would encourage anyone who comes here to try it at least once! Even if the mate is too bitter for your personal taste, it’s an important cultural experience to have in Argentina.