In homes across Argentina, the first offering to guests is: “Shall we drink a maté?” There is a romantic ritual to yerba maté (pronounced jair-va mah-tay). You can drink it on your own at home or at the office, and many drink it for breakfast, but when you are sharing a maté with a friend, it is an intimate experience.
My host prepared our maté in a cup made of a dried calabash gourd and offered the first sip to me through a bombilla, a metal straw with a sieve at its tip. You don’t just give your friend a cup; you give your friend your own cup and straw. It is social, and there is mutual respect and appreciation for the time it takes to enjoy it. Once the water is emptied, the gourd is passed and re-poured. I felt subtly revitalized, but not at all jittery or caffeinated. One reason for its popularity is, like all teas, its nutraceutical qualities.
Argentina’s largest producer of Yerba Mate is Las Marias. From the deep-red soil in which the maté trees are cultivated to the tea’s composition of twigs, dust and leaves, there are more vitamins, minerals, amino acids, phytochemicals, antioxidants and polyphenol properties that lower cholesterol, boost metabolism, reduce appetite, relax muscle tissue and stimulate myocardial tissue than in any other known tea. Maté takes the flavour of the environment, the terroir, so it is intensely vegetal but can have a smoky flavour.
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.