The Sip – September – Out of Our Gourds for Mate

Long ago, as Yarí the Moon goddess gazed upon the earth over Paraguay, she felt overcome by a great longing to see the rainforests that Tupá, the great god of the Guarani people, had planted.  And so she asked Araí, the pink dusk, to accompany her down to the earth.  As they traveled in human form and hoped to relax within the forests, a huge Yaguareté (jaguar) came out and tried to attack them.  Fortunately, a kindly old Guarani man killed the beast & offered generous hospitality to the visitors.   In an act of gratitude in return for the kindness, the goddesses planted very green plants, perfumed with kindness, and directed the dreams of the kind old Guarani and his family as to how to pick the leaves, dry them on fire, grind them, put the pieces in a gourd, add cold or hot water and sip the infusion.   The purpose of this new beverage, they said, was meant so the family could always find strength, health & company, even in the sad hours of the cruelest solitude.”  To drink this beverage would mean for the Guarani people a gift of the gods, to drink in the essence of the rainforests.  And so the “caá-ete” was born, which white people would later adopt under the name of Chimarrão in Brazil and Yerba Mate in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

With the coming of the Conquistadors, who learned about yerba mate and its virtues from the Guaraní, yerba mate became a staple commodity above other wares like tobacco, cotton, and beef, and its trade and consumption spread throughout the entire Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata.  With the coming of the Jesuit priests in the 1700s and their learning the secrets of cultivating mate, whose seeds only germinate after passing through the digestive systems of toucans, yerba mate plantations became very widespread throughout their missionary work.  The knowledge of cultivation became lost as the Jesuits were run out of South America.  For many years afterwards, yerba mate came only from wild trees in the forest, growing in very dense thickets called islands.  In the early 1800s, a French naturalist by the name of Aimé Bonpland began studying yerba mate and its cultivation, and mate was officially classified as ilex paraguariensis, and Bonpland rediscovered the secret to its domestic cultivation.  However when he died so too did his knowledge, and once again the secrets of growing yerba mate became hidden.  With the coming of the 20th century, Argentina began establishing controlled plantations of yerba mate, which will not grow beyond what was originally established as the original Guarani lands in South America. 

Though frequently and improperly accented as “maté” to help English speaking people properly pronounce it (accented this is actually Spanish for “I killed”), the proper denotation of mate should be without the accent, and if you’re curious, the pronunciation is YAIR-bah MAH-teh.  It is interesting to note, that despite various anglicized changes to make mate easier to pronounce, the way that it is prepared and consumed has not changed.  For South Americans, drinking mate became a passion and a mark of cultural identity, with the leaves being dried, chopped and ground, then steeped in a dried natural gourd, and sipped through a metal bombilla (basically a metal spoon with holes to filter out the mate leaves) or hollowed out cane.   It is typically drunk in social gatherings or working in fields, often in actual gourd ceremonies.  One person acts as a server, or cerbador, and prepares the mate carefully, then drinks the initial brew to taste the quality.  This is referred to as the mate del zonzo, or mate of the fool.  The cebador subsequently refills the gourd and passes it to the drinker to his or her right, who likewise drinks it all, without thanking the server, until the entire gourd is washed out.  Some drinkers prepare the mate with sugar or honey, which is a very popular custom in Brazil.

Outside of the deep cultural roots and mystery, the health benefits of mate are truly fantastic.  More nutritious than green tea, and proven scientifically to have strong therapeutic properties, mate is considered to be one of the six most commonly used stimulants in the world, right up there with coffee, tea and guarana.  However, mate is more balanced with its energy and nutritional properties.  It contains a plethora of vitamins, including Vitamin A and various B vitamins, numerous minerals that include calcium, iron & magnesium, and it also contains caffeine, theobromine (such as in cacao) and theophylline.  What does all of this mean?  It means that in addition to its strong antioxidant properties, yerba mate can stimulate focus & clarity, natural physical energy, and is an absolute powerhouse for the system.  On the caffeine scale, yerba mate has less caffeine than coffee but more than black tea, without the harsher peak and crash that is often experienced by coffee drinkers.

Yerba Mate Bombilla and GourdSo how can you experience for yourself the wonders of this amazing brew?  If you’re seeking something beyond your average coffee latte, Liquid Planet offers a very unique Mate Latte, which infuses the steamed milk of your choice with yerba mate, and is delicately enhanced with honey and vanilla.  This can be enjoyed hot or iced, sweetened or unsweetened, however you prefer.  For established mate fans, there are selections of green and roasted yerba mates for both pots of tea and bulk sales, as well as packages of the high quality South American Taraqui brand.  If you’re on the go, and would enjoy a more flavorful boost, Guayaki has some beautiful bottled mates infused with mint, raspberry, citrus, pomegranate and passion fruit.  If you would like to have your own gourd ceremony, gift sets that include gourds, bombillas and loose mate are also available.  Whether drunk solo, shared daily amongst friends, or at an all-night study session, yerba mate is a great addition to your beverage repertoire.

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