Just as the English have their tea, the Scottish have their Whisky, the Columbians have their coffee and the Yankees their soft drinks; we are forever bound to our yerba mate. Being the good Brazilian that I am, I truly enjoy drinking mate in all of it’s forms: At the beach there is nothing better than a nice cold Matte Leão and at home I always fallback to drinking with a bombilla from a gourd. Despite of this, its not exactly us Brazilians, but our Argentine and Uruguayan brothers who are internationally stigmatised as the yerba mate drinkers.
If you still haven’t done so, I recommend you do take some time to visit these two beautiful countries. Both Argentina and Uruguay have quite a lot to offer in terms of tourism and both nations are a true culinary heaven. Before you go though, I would like to introduce you to some of the people you will be meeting there.
The Early Bird
Wakes up around 4 am and goes straight to the kitchen. His hands are already shaking as he reaches for an old busted kettle, which never leaves the top of the stove. Our Early Bird most likely works the early shift in a factory or drives a cab or is a gatekeeper somewhere. He strongly believes that the sun shall not rise upon this earth, unless he takes a sip of his daily mate. Its the outskirts of Buenos Aires, outside the birds begin to chirp, but in the kitchen its dead quiet. He hears the clock ticking on the wall and glances at the package of Rosamonte lying on the table. The old busted kettle whistles, putting an end to his suffering. He pours the absurdly hot water into a metal mate and takes a sip while tuning his pocket radio to the sounds of Julio Sosa and Carlos Gardel. His mate is bitter…its damn bitter. As day breaks, our Early Bird brews one for the road and makes his way to yet another early shift.
The “Al Francescoli”
This character spends the entire day leaning on the door of his home with a thermos under his arm. Enjoys wearing shorts, Adidas flip-flops and a T-shirt. Consumes mate from morning until night, especially when engaged in some other activity. The “Al Francescoli” is a hard worker for sure. His trade? A grocery store, but sometimes sells butane gas on the side (In South America its still common to cook with gas and not all places have pipe lines). He cultivates a habit of referring to his mate and to his radio as if they were actual friends, but what he enjoys the most is to waste time chatting and joking with customers. His pleasure? Bitterness. His yerba? Sara or Canarias. Usually drinks out of an old leather mate, which he bought as a souvenir during a trip to El Palmar years ago.
The Cup Cake
This female character spends the entire day drinking mate and watching telenovelas on TV, while her two daughters pull their hairs out in their bedroom. Every single afternoon, her equally unoccupied friends will stop by to gossip about the other neighbours, do their nails and browse the latest Avon catalogs. Loves to drink sweetened Cbsé served in a calf’s toe mate. When the next telenovela begins, everybody sits around in a circle eating cookies while the crumbs roll down their abundant curves.
The Urban Gaucho
This urban character doesn’t drink mate as a social activity, but rather as a means to fulfil a wish. Though the urban gaucho often lives in the most cosmopolitan and modern part of town, he enjoys pretending he does not. You will always spot him walking around with his keys hanging from a “cuentaganado” (a counter used to count people or cattle) and wearing a thick leather belt with matching Cardón boots. The true Urban Gaucho enjoys watching polo matches and dreams of being Adolfito Cambiaso. Unfortunately he doesn’t own horses to ride under the sun, so the best the urban gaucho can do is to put on a baby-pink polo-shirt, which makes him look browner than what he really is. What he does own, is a leather mate and a silver-plated bombilla given to him as a birthday gift. The urban gaucho is the La Merced or Campo y Monte type of drinker and he takes it with just a touch of sugar and honey.
Without any doubt, the most annoying of all materos. The fundamentalist usually hails from some “hicktown” and brought along to the city all sorts of rituals on how to drink mate. According to his beliefs, its not the mate that should be adapted to the individual’s taste, but rather the individuals should adapt to the mate: it is imperative to slide the bombilla in a precise angle; you must respect the exact temperature of the water; maintain constant rhythm when mixing sugar with yerba; only pour cold water over exactly 5o% of the yerba; spread the leaves and the stems evenly and, of course, never EVER use any sugar substitute in fear of “contaminating” the mate. The fundamentalist loves to rant about those who burn or sweeten their mate and never lets anyone touch his favorite leather gourd. Nobleza Gaucha is his brand of choice and he is the only one who cares if the mate is passed anti-clockwise or not.
Diplomats are the exact opposite of the fundamentalists. They are willing to try anything as long as it keeps their mouth busy. They will drink mate with any stranger and love to smoke while doing so. The diplomat is the busy type and sometimes forgets their mate on the table. Hours later, they come back, spit out whatever gum they are chewing on and carry on with the mate drinking. Hot or cold water, it doesn’t matter for the diplomat. They don’t pledge loyalty to any brand and will drink out of any mate. Sweet, bitter, hot, cold, with stems or without…it’s all good for the diplomat.
The uptown girl is an absolutely cosmopolitan girl, who has trouble admitting she hates yerba mate. She’s been trying to make the switch from coffee to yerba for years, but has been so far unsuccessful. Her greatest dream is to become “just one of the gang” and fit in more with the crowd. Now and then she decides to make a new effort and buys a collection of pimped-up gourds and bombillas in the hopes of finally getting into the habit, but unfortunately puts it all aside after a week or so. Every time a new yerba comes out, she will run out to buy it and her kitchen cabinet looks like the yerba mate shelf of an Argentine supermarket. When friends drop by for a visit they get served the most horrific and washed out mate, but according to her the problem is always in the yerba, the kettle or the water…
El piglet doesn’t usually drink mate, but when he does, he prefers to do it in the most disgusting manner possible. First of all, he never changes his yerba. After 5 or 6 brews, he simply takes out a spoon of the old mate and sprinkles in some fresh yerba. To make things extra disgusting he will pour in juice, milk, sugar, coffee, lemon, fresh orange peels or anything else he can find around his filthy kitchen. His gourd was once coated with leather, but now looks like a leper’s stump dominated by fungus. His bombilla is always clogged and tastes like rust. Its virtually impossible to identify the piglet’s favorite brand of yerba, since he keeps it in an old and rusty danish cookie tin from 1986.