The health benefits of this wonder drink are well-documented. But it's a bit of an aquired taste, to be honest (I'm acquiring it), and it's rather more complicated to prepare even than loose-leaf tea, which I drink plenty of. Then there is the whole ritual of mate, that is, how it is drunk in community with others. There are procedures to be learned and followed, and everyone has her own opinion on what kind of mate (container) to buy, which type of bombilla is best, and what brand of yerbe mate is superior to the rest.
But I'm learning...
I was lucky enough to sip my first sip from the mate of a teacher in one of my workshops in January, who shared with me some of the rituals about how the drink is passed from cebador (server) to each person in the group (typically to the right) and back. She also explained to me that one does not touch or move the bombilla (many "newcomers" tend to want to use the metal straw to stir the drink -- a big no-no in mate culture).
Getting the Equipment
Once back from that trip, Tats and I decided to look in earnest for our own mate equipment. Tats figured she'd need a large mate, preferably wooden, as she had heard they were easier to keep clean. Being an extrovert, I was more into the whole sharing and ritual thing, so I was okay with a smaller mate. At the suggestion of the two Marias, I bought a small, handcrafted one in Recoletta, along with an alpaca bombilla.
A week later, I fell in love with a hand-carved gourd at the San Telmo market, and "had" to buy it! Now I have two mates, and I love them both!
There are a variety of different mates available on the market, and many websites to help you decide which is best for you.
The bombilla is also a matter of personal preference, and -- again -- many options are available, each with its own benefits.
Unless you get a ceramic mate, the next step in the mate adventure is curing the container. This helps to seal off any small holes in the gourd, and give the mate its initial flavour. If done correctly, it's also supposed to help prevent mold.
Curing is rather a longish process (up to a few days, if you follow all the steps); again, many online resources exist to help you with this. Here are a few of my current favourites:
Once your mate is finally cured, you can actually prepare and drink it! We've chosen to use "Mate Suave", which is a smoother, slightly less bitter yerbamate. Currently we use the Union brand, though we're thinking of trying Rosamonte, which we've also heard good things about.
Preparing the mate properly ensures proper extraction of the drink's nutrients, and therefore, maximizes health benefits.
I'm still experimenting with this, but to date I have more or less successfully drunk mate on my own and with the boys several mornings before school. Tats, who is less picky about proper preparation, has downed multiple large helpings from her giant wood gourd.
As we improve our technique, we hope to share mate with more new friends here in Argentina as well as introducing the tradition to those back home once we return to Canada. Leave a comment, and let us know if you're interested in a session! :)