Young woman drinking traditional Argentinian yerba mate tea from a calabash gourd with bombilla stick. Selective focus.

Past and Present: Who Drinks Mate?

Mate has been drunk in South America for centuries, before the Spanish colonization. It was originally consumed by the Guaraní people, who lived in what today is Paraguay, north of Argentina, South of Brazil and parts of Uruguay and Bolivia. It was consumed first chewing the green leaves of I. paraguariensis and then they would use the mate gourd and a small straw made out of cane.

Since the 17th Century and with the arrival of Jesuits to the area, the consumption was first forbidden and later promoted, as they realized it was beneficial for their health. Drunk mostly in rural areas, its consumption in cities increased in the late 19th Century and all throughout the 20th Century.

The way of drinking mate has varied slightly by changing the material of its basic elements, and there is a wide variety of options for all tastes. The main change was the introduction of the ‘termo’, an insulated flask (that took the name of Thermus, one of the biggest companies). The ‘termo’, firstly introduced in Uruguay in the 60s allowed ‘materos’ to have a mate on the go, keeping the water hot all day and being able to enjoy it in public spaces.

Today, mate is widely consumed in Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay and in some areas of Brazil (mainly the states of Rio Grande du Sul, Santa Catarina, Parana y Mato Grosso do Sul). It is also consumed in the South of Chile and in the rural areas of the central region. Uruguayans drink the most – 6 to 8 kg of yerba per person per year. Argentinians drink on average 5 kg of yerba per person per year and they are also the first exporter of yerba mate in the world.

Each region has its own preference in terms of the type of yerba, temperature of water and different ways of preparing and drinking mate. Generalizing, in Brazil and North of Argentina people usually use a big mate gourd, whereas in Uruguay, South of Argentina and Chile it is more common to drink from a small mate. Paraguayans usually drink from guampa. Cimarron is the preference in Uruguay, South of Argentina, Chile and south of Brazil, whilst Paraguayans and North Argentinians prefer tereré.

Outside South America, Syria is the country that imports the most Argentinian yerba. This is attributed to the migration wave of Syrians – and Lebanese – to Argentina that returned home and continued the tradition. With the migration of South Americans to North America and Europe, the consumption of mate has been increasing, especially after the many recent research studies that have confirmed its beneficial properties.

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About the Author

Michael

Founder of Matero and addicted to yerba mate. Learn more about me here.