What is Mate, Maté and Yerba Mate in Uruguay and Argentina? Mate and maté are a difference in language. In English, maté has an accent mark to signal it’s a foreign word and has two syllables in its pronunciation. This distinguishes it from the one-syllable word, mate, a friend or pal. In Spanish, maté means, I killed; therefore, in Spanish we refer to the drink as, “mate”, following the Spanish pronunciation rule of stress on the second-to-last syllable (and not requiring an accent mark). In Spanish, mate is technically the gourd from which to drink and yerba is the leaf.

Where do people drink mate?

The tradition of drinking and sharing mate is widely practiced in parts of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and some arab countries. People drink mate at home, while commuting and at work. As well, groups of friends pass the mate around at the park and beach. When I visit with Argentinians around the world they always have their mate. To the germaphobe American, passing the mate may sound unthinkable but it’s widely practiced and it’s a sign of respect to be part of a circle receiving mate. Furthermore, it’s arching health benefits may ease your mind when passing the mate germs.

Yerba Mate in Uruguay and Argentina, the Rioplatense Region

In Uruguay and Argentina, I mainly saw mate being drunk in the Rioplatense area, named after the Río de la Plata basin, which includes Buenos Aires and Rosario in Argentina and Montevideo in Uruguay and the areas in between. Rioplatense is also the name of the Spanish dialect spoken in this area. If you’ve ever heard Argentinian Spanish you know what this means. Sho shamo a esha asha por la plasha. It sounds like Italian Spanish and I love it. As you can see, capturing mate drinkers became a kind of a game for me during my 6 weeks in Argentina and Uruguay. Can you spot the thermos, mate gourd and straw in each photo?

Bring Your Own Mate: BYOM

Years ago, I heard an NPR bit about mate and the high incidences of esophagus cancer in Uruguay. This would cancel out the health benefits but mate doesn’t have to be drunk at such hot temperatures. After the NPR story, I had this vision of Uruguayans walking the streets, filling up their thermoses from mate street vendors. True, strolling a Uruguayan city, you will see many people holding a thermos under their arm and a mate gourd in their hand or carrying a mate “briefcase” but there’s no mistake, mate is BYOM. At best you may find a restaurant serving a tea-bag version but technically, this is not mate.

How to Drink Yerba Mate: The BYOM Circle Essentials

Cebador – the server
Mate – a hollow calabash gourd used as the serving cup
Yerba – the dried, toasted and finely ground leaves
Bombilla – a metal straw that acts as a filter to drink the infused water
Thermos – carrying the water

The cebador prepares the mate. It’s a technical process including adding a specific amount of yerba, next adding the water and then shaking the mate so the finer yerba mixture is available to all. The cebador will pass the mate to his or her right. After a sip is taken, it will go back to the cebador, who will add more water for the next recipient. A simple “gracias” will let the cebador know you’ve had enough and you will no longer receive the mate.

Enjoy your mate mate!