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Uruguay’s Mate culture

Yerba Mate is the national drink of Uruguay. It is a brewed hot beverage that you can find everyone drinking, yet you cannot buy it anywhere. Mate is actually a very personal drink that is not ordered at a restaurant at a cafe. You need to have the right equipment for your own use, and you don’t share it with anyone.

A common sighting in Uruguay is men and women carrying a mate cup (made from calabash gourd) with a stainless steel or silver straw sieve (called bombilla) in one hand, and a hot water thermos under their arm. A true Uruguayan does not leave home without all this, and carries it around to school, work, shopping…practically everywhere! When my friend Marcelo stopped the car to show me a nice view of Montevideo, sure enough he brought along his mate and thermos as we stepped out the car. During our three hour long drive, he sipped on his mate with his hands on the wheel!

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Mate is actually an herb infused drink. Yerba mate leaves are dried, chopped, and ground into a powdery mixture called yerba, which is brewed in hot water. The bombilla has a strainer on one end and a straw on the other, so you can drink continuously infused herbal water. The gourd keeps collecting a thick mass of yerba that is reused throughout the day.

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If you go into a store dedicated entirely to mate, you may get overwhelmed by the different flavors and promise of health benefits it offers. There is a yerba mate for digestion, stress, anti-aging, cholesterol, cardiovascular health, weight management and more. It is caffeine free and has many nutritional qualities. Some people swear that they maintain a constant weight because of it.

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Uruguayans will correct you that mate is not a tea as it does not come from a tea plant. If you find yerba mate in a tea bag, that is not considered “mate.”

Published by

Sucheta Rawal

Sucheta is an award winning food and travel writer, who has traveled to 80+ countries across 6 continents. She is also the founder and editor of 'Go Eat Give' and author of 'Beato Goes To' series of children's books on travel.