Before stepping foot in South America you may never have seen or heard of yerba mate.
After just a few days in Argentina, Chile or Uruguay, you will be familiar with people carrying around a distinctive-looking gourd (also called a mate) filled with a dusty herb and topped up with boiling water poured from a thermos, and drunk through a metal straw (bombilla).
Although the drink is more associated with the gaucho culture of Patagonia, the ‘yerba’, or herb, is largely produced in the Misiones Region surrounding the Iguazu Falls.
The images above show a truck transporting leaves from an evergreen shrub or tree (Ilex paraguariensis) that grows in the area surrounding Awasi Iguazu, our 14-room Relais & Chateaux lodge close to the Iguazu Falls. The shrub is in the same family as holly.
Bags of yerba can be bought around the world. If you would like to know how to prepare this iconic drink at home, here are some directions:
– Heat water up to 85ºC (it’s important that it doesn’t boil, otherwise the yerba flavour will fade too quickly, and one risks a nasty burn on the lips or tongue)
– Fill the mate gourd up to 3/4 of its full capacity with yerba strands (yes, 3/4 is correct)
– Pour a small amount of hot water into one corner of the gourd, wetting just half of the yerba. This is done so that the yerba doesn’t clog the bombilla.
– After one minute, stick the “bombilla” into the wet side of the yerba, all the way in. Once placed, do not move the bombilla or try to stir in any way. This too can cause the bombilla to clog.
– Once the bombilla is in, continue pouring small amounts of water onto the yerba, drinking it though the bombilla.
Traditionally, only one gourd and bombilla is used regardless of how many people are drinking. The mate is shared by the entire group.
One person (called “cebador”) is responsible for managing the hot water. They will fill the mate with hot water every time it is finished before passing it to the person whose turn it is to drink next. They will then wait until they have drank all the water in the mate to refill it (usually a few sips).
At Awasi, we love to give our guests an authentic experience. This includes trying local traditions, such as sharing a drink of mate.