The social art of drinking mate.

Marcela invites K, Vicky and myself to Plaza Francia where we sit in a park surrounded by arts & crafts markets on a gorgeous sunny day in the upmarket district of Recoleta, to listen to Argentinian bands create a festive feel through live performances of awesome reggae, rock and cumbia music, and to drink the social beverage of mate (pronounced mar-tay).

Mate is a cultural drink of ancient origins and there is nothing that is more traditional of an Argentinean than the mate. ‘If you haven’t experienced drinking mate with an Argentine, then you haven’t been here’.

Along with the tango, the social act of mate is the defining characteristic of Buenos Aires.

Sitting cross-legged in the sun, I watched intently as Marcela filled a small tin tea-cup with the yerba, a chopped and powdered mix of dried herbs, then insert a silver straw which has a filter at its end (called a bombilla), deep into the mix .

T, surprised that the yerba filled the cup right to the top – ‘It needs to be that much?’

Marcela – ‘Yes, but you do not stir, just add hot water and then.. and then you ..’

T – ‘Suck?’

Marcela, giggling and turns red, nods – ‘and then you suck.’

The typically gourd mate cup is then passed around the group with each person having a few sips from the communal silver straw in between conversation. This 1 cup to many is what makes mate a social drink and is an active ingredient in forming immediate friendships through the sharing of, let’s be honest, spit. The social act of drinking mate would be a nightmare to any germaphobe..

The taste of mate is bitter at first, but gets tastier with each round. Sugar is recommended for beginners.

T, to Marcela and Vicky – ‘If this were in Sydney, and we were in a park listening to live music in the sun, there would be a lot of people drinking wine and maybe eating cheese. Since there are so many Argentinian wines and you love your cheese, I’m surprised that I don’t see this?’

Marcela, considering the foreign suggestion, then dismissing it – ‘No, at home or out in the day, it is only mate’

I’m a big fan, and am armed with a couple of mate kits to carry on the tradition back home in Sydney.

Mate anyone?