Text: Elizabeth Levy Sad
Translation by David Epstein.
A taste born in the millenary knowledge of the American continent, a unique beverage whose preparation has secrets and mysteries.
Maté is an intense infusion. It is the result of a preparation carried out with a plant called “yerba maté”. But more than a beverage, this is an ancestral cultural practice. It could well be the symbol of shared ideas, hospitality and communication among fraternal spirits.
Maté is part of the inheritance left to us by South American Indians and it is currently an indisputable part of everyday life in Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay.
What are the secrets of this natural elixir whose ingredients are simple and extracted from the generous mother land?
Whether it be a gift from the heavens or an earthly object, maté is always an invitation to share.
The same recipient in which we brew maté is shared with those we invite to drink it. That is why it is a signal of friendship and warmth and open hearts.
Sacred, healthy and natural
According to Guarani Indians’ cosmogonist tradition, the God Tupá awarded us the tree from which yerba maté is extracted as an eternal source of health and vigor.
Legend has it that the Guarani came across a great, wide ocean from a far land to settle in the Americas. The new land was dangerous, but through hard work they built a new civilization. They farmed and became excellent craftsmen. They believed that a tall, fair-skinned, blue-eyed and bearded god would return.
He had come before, descending from the skies, and expressed his pleasure with them. He brought religious knowledge and tought them how to work the land and survive droughts. He taught them the healing qualities of native plants. One of the most important of these lessons was unlocking the secrets of the Yerba Maté tree, teaching them how to harvest and prepare the leaves.
Catholic missionaries who arrived in South America together with the Spanish conquerors forbade the consumption of maté among the native people; they made exaggerated claims: “This is a thing of the devil and it has aphrodisiac properties.”
But maté continued being consumed, and has been winning supporters for the last five centuries.
Maté trees grow in Argentina, Chile, Peru, Brazil and Paraguay.
Maté drinkers (called “materos”) consume liters of this magic potion each day. In the morning, in the evening; it is also an inevitable beverage on picnics, and at students or political gatherings.
Of course, there is a great similarity between maté and the peace pipe.
And, in fact, maté has many healthy properties.
Research indicates it contains strong antioxidants, apart from being a light diuretic and laxative.
It is also an efficient tonic, highly stimulating, ideal for people who have quit smoking, because it helps control anxiety.
Its active principles are even appropriate to fight overweight and obesity: it partially satisfies appetite and softly boosts your spirit.
With yerba maté extract, creams and gels are made to combat cellulite. It is also said to reduce the cholesterol rate. Other properties are still under study.
Bitter or sweet?
To drink a good maté you need:
-A small container (also called maté). The traditional one is a dry gourd, but it could also be a wood or metal container of similar shape.
-The “bombilla”: a metal tube or a cane with little holes in its lower part, which, when submerged inside the maté with yerba, serves as a straw.
The yerba is to be introduced in the mate until covering half of it, and then moistened with some warm water. When the water is ready (very hot, though not boiling) you can brew the first maté.
Some people prefer to add sugar. For others, bitter maté is sacred.
“Tereré” is the summer version of maté. It’s prepared like a jar of tea (but, of course, using yerba maté) and is flavored with sugar and mint, along with some ice.
Preparation is simple; however, no two matés are alike.
Each “matero” has his own secrets, tricks and techniques. You can read many good books that have been written about maté.
But the best thing would be for someone to invites you to drink it and teach you.
An unforgettable experience.