Maté: a Guarani drink that became an elixir of life

Text by Sébastien de Bourgies de – first published in

Crédit: Wikimedia Commons

When walking around Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay or southern Brazil, a surprising drink is everywhere. The natives drink it at home as well as at work, in the car as well as on the street, at the university as well as in the park… It is everywhere. It is drunk by everyone and at any time of the day. This South American drink is mate!

What is mate?

It is an infusion made from dry herbs. It is drunk through a metal straw that serves as a filter, and is regularly re-served with a thermos of hot water. Although mate can be drunk alone, it is best enjoyed with friends or family.

Crédit: Pikist

Guarani origins

A cultural and family heritage, mate is a source of pride for those who drink it. It arrived in South America even before the Spanish conquistadors, and its consumption has continued generation after generation, right up to the present day. Today, Argentina (the world’s largest producer) harvests more than 800 million kilos per year and Uruguayans consume nine kilos per person each year.

The Guarani people were the first to use yerba mate, which gave them energy. First, they chewed the leaves. Then they brewed it by filtering the herbs with their teeth. Finally, they used calabashes as containers and reeds as filter straws.

Later, when the Jesuits arrived in South America, they quickly realised the positive effects of mate, and the cultivation of yerba mate developed considerably.

Multiple virtues

It is difficult to talk about mate without mentioning its virtues. Indeed, its consumption has many natural benefits, which the Guaraníes already enjoyed centuries ago.

It contains ninety percent more antioxidants than green tea, a reasonable amount of xanthines, vitamin B and minerals. These various contributions make mate beneficial at the time of drinking (they produce an energy and concentration boost), but also in the long term, as it strengthens the immune system.

Drinking mate

Anchored in South American culture, mate is synonymous with sharing and is usually drunk in rounds. It is the ‘cebador’ who prepares it and then serves his companions in turn. The preparation of mate is a process that involves several essential steps. The aim is for the herb to infuse gradually and release all its aromas and benefits. Furthermore, there is a fundamental principle: one should not touch the straw with one’s hands, so as not to alter the preparation. When mate is drunk alone, the same preparation and principle apply.

A popular variation of mate is terere. This consists of infusing the yerba in cold water. In Paraguay, this is usually how it is drunk, in order to withstand the heat. In Argentina, terere is very popular in summer, and the water is sometimes replaced by fruit juice.

Different types of mate

There are several types of mate: the traditional ones made of calabash, wood or bamboo, but also plastic, glass, silicone… Finally, “homemade” mates are made from a hollowed-out fruit (coconut, grapefruit, pineapple…), and are ideal for the summer teréré.

Crédit: Sébastien de Bourgies /


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