Tuesday, February 15, 2011


The classic British drink is of course the 'English Breakfast' tea. Quite why it becomes associated with a morning meal once you cross the pond is a mystery. Don't you get it, America? We drink tea all the time. ALL THE TIME.

The Argentinean equivalent to this, frankly, perfect beverage is the 'mate tea'. Unlike English Breakfast, however, its preparation and consumption resembles that of an illegal drug.

Mate is a shared drink, apparently because it is universally acknowledged to be utterly undrinkable until the third or forth addition of hot water to the bitter yerba mate leaves. These leaves are in the form of a ground powder which are put in a small round pot until it is 3/4 full. There is then some complex rearranging of yerba so that the hot water can be poured down one side of the pot. The tea is then drunk through a metal straw that also acts as a strainer.

So, in the end, you have a small round pot, filled with a greenish powdery liquid being passed around a group of people who take it in turns to take a long drag from the metal straw.

See what I mean about drugs?

I was relieved the process had been demonstrated to me by the hotel staff before I saw our taxi driver drinking one the following day.

Because the first serving of the mate will be the most bitter, it is often drunk by the host. As more water is added, the taste weakens. I found the mate's taste bitter, but not unpleasant, though I couldn't honesty say I noticed any significant weakening over time. It had a smokey aftertaste that reminded me of a hot islas whisky, such as Laphroaig.

I'm not sure it'll be replacing the excellent British brew in my life quite yet (not least because I'm sure I'd be arrested if I was spotted drinking such a concoction in Canada) but it was interesting and --despite appearances-- less deadly than horse riding.


  1. I'm in Canada. I drink yerba mate occasionally, with a spot of honey. I haven't gotten arrested yet. But it is a possible carcinogen:

    As far as taste is conscerned, it's okay, but it doesn't come close to Lapsang Souchong.

  2. Hmm. Somehow I do not find its carcinogenic properties surprising.

    And you're quite, quite wrong if you believe any tea is better than TEA. British variety ;-)