One plant, many traditions. Yerba mate tea in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay
As you know, Ilex paraguariensis which yerba mate is made of naturally occurs in Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. No wonder that these countries developed the tradition of cultivation and drinking yerba mate tea. And despite the fact, that it is all about the same plant, the way of processing and traditions of serving this beverage may vary depending on the region. Today we will have a closer look at the discrepancies between products and various traditions in Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil and Uruguay. Keep reading!
Let’s start with Argentina - the second-largest manufacturer of yerba mate in the world and the homeland of many products popular in Europe. Researchers of yerba mate culture in Argentina have been stressing the importance of yerba mate in social issues. Coffee and tea are usually associated with drinking alone, whereas yerba mate is treated more like a social ritual. Yerba mate has always been an integral part of South American culture. Art and literature are closely connected with this issue. The plant has been discovered by Guarani tribe and thanks to Jesuits quickly became the attribute of gauchos. Cattle farmers from the pampas (Argentinian steppes) are often compared to the cowboys from North America. Alone men wearing hats and ponchos, riding horses were carrying guampas full of yerba mate tea. Romantic literature from 19th century treated gauchos as an archetypic Argentinian. Itinerant cattle farmers are the main characters of the national epic "Martin Fierro". To a large extent, these literary creations were the key element in popularizing yerba mate. The unique role of yerba mate in the Argentine tradition is best evidenced by the establishment of the Yerba Mate National Institute. The facility studies and consolidates the habits associated with this beverage publishes special publications and actively supports local manufacturers.
Many popular brands such as Amanda or Rosamonte come from Argentina. Yerba mate in this country is produced in various ways. Their characteristic feature is a medium or small amount of dust and the content of small twigs. Usually, they do not have as strong aroma as yerba mate from Paraguay. Depending on the type, they are vegetal yerba mate teas that remind of hay, grass or smoke. Argentinian companies are also pioneers when it comes to certified organic yerba mate. To the production of some of them unique methods or drying are used. For example, Kraus uses hot air instead of smoke.
Paraguayans love yerba mate. Because of the tropical climate representative for this small country, the most popular form of yerba mate is terere. The majority of local companies are perfect for drinking as a cold beverage. What is more, many people think that this way to drink yerba mate is the best. No wonder that Paraguayans celebrate even National Day of Terere! Paraguayan products are usually strong, bitter and smoky. They contain dust, leaves and twigs. The flagship product that fits well with this characteristic is, for example, Pajarito. Drinking mate is an integral part of the everyday life of Paraguayans. Eating together is a popular group ritual. It consists of sprinkling the entire contents of the vessel, pouring it over and giving it to another person.
Yerba mate is a term derived from Spanish. Portuguese-speaking Brazilians use a different term: erva mate chimarrão. This huge country has different climatic zones. Holly is grown in the south and this is where the drink is most popular. Historically, mate has been associated with people of the lower social classes. Today, however, these issues are less important.
Yerba mate tea is used by everyone. Mateism has an integrative dimension and is celebrated in groups. The first person to drink is usually the host. It is believed that after the first pouring, the infusion still has too strong taste. Thus, the gesture is treated as an expression of his nobility and hospitality. The whole beverage is drunk gently and passed from hand to hand. The participants of the ritual sip mate through a so-called cuia through a bomb. This "cousin" of Argentinian bombillas is a bit longer and filters much more thoroughly. This is due to the fact that the Brazilian varieties have a high dust content. This makes up an average of 70% of each mixture. The rest are unprocessed sticks. How does this affect the taste and effect of the infusion? By grinding into fine dust, the yerba mate gives its properties more intensively. Thanks to this, the stimulation effect will be much stronger and will not weaken even after a dozen or so water refills.
The second difference is the eye-catching, characteristic colour. While the Argentine varieties take a faded, rotten shade, chimarrão pleases the eye with its expressive and intense green colour. What it comes from? Once again, it's about how it is processed. Chimarrão smokes much less time than most Argentinian varieties. The colour remains much "fresher" and the taste is more grassy, devoid of smoky bitterness.
Uruguay is a real exception when it comes to yerba mate. The reason is quite paradoxical. It is this country that has the highest percentage of mateists, although there are no yerba mate plantations in its territory! These products come from Brazil, which makes it look and feel like chimarrão. Even its local name seems similar: Charrúa Mate. However, there are some differences. In Uruguay it is said that twigs are unnecessary element that makes yerba mate feel sour. That is why local blends contain almost only milled leaves. The best example of typical Uruguayan yerba mate tea is the brand Canarias. It is worth mentioning that local population of this country use special kind of vessels called porongo. They have also mobile kettles caldera that maintain the temperature of the water. Both in Argentina and Uruguay this gadget is an integral part of the tradition. People drinking yerba mate can be seen in the streets of Montevideo everyday.
Although Ilex paraguariensis is only one, there are many ways to process and celebrate may vary depending on the region. Regional discrepancies make the tradition colorful and interesting. Yerba mate’s role in the life of Latin people is the best example of a great meaning that the plant may have to people.