Thursday, April 11, 2024

Mate magic: Uruguay's national drink infuses energy, ritual, tradition

Our lovely Uruguayan guide, Paulo, takes a mate break at one of our stops.




The popularity of mate is evident on the streets and
in shop windows, where mugs are sold as souvenirs.

YOU SEE the tell tale thermos everywhere.  In the bus, the taxi, the train, the airplane. Next to it, the mate cup, sometimes with a strainer, often with a straw for communal consumption.

Yerba mate (pronounced mah-tay) is the national drink of Uruguay and a popular beverage in other parts of South America.  Most agree that Uruguay has the corner on "mate madness." For in Uruguay, it is as important as water or mother's milk. Mate is deeply engrained in the culture.

This gives a close-up view of the mate leaves
and the cup into which the hot water is poured.
The straw is shared by the drinkers.

YERBE MATE, also known as mate, is an herbal tea, a traditional drink in Latin and South America. It's made by steeping dried leaves from the yerba mate plant in hot water. While most consumers prefer it hot, Yerba mate can also be served cold with ice and lemon, sometimes honey.
Mate was first consumed by the indigenous GuaranĂ­ who live in what is now Paraguay, southeastern Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Uruguay.  It was also enjoyed by the TupĂ­ people who lived in neighboring areas.
We found mate mugs and thermoses  
everywhere in Uruguayan shops.
SO FASCINATED were we by the phenomenon of mate that we interviewed tour guides, shop owners and other locals to gain a better understanding of the country's intense love affair with this seemingly addictive drink.
The comments included the following:
"It's part of our heritage. We do it as a social thing, when we meet and old friend or family member."
"It's how we start the day.  We drink it all day, until late afternoon.  Then we taper off because it can keep a person awake."
"It's better than food for me.  I fill my thermos in the morning and drink mate all day while directing tours on the bus. I don't need to eat until evening."
"I need mate to keep me going.  I keep the cup by my bed
A Shutterstock photo of a couple drinking mate.
The ritual can replace cocktail hour in Uruguay.


so all I have to do in the morning is go to the stove and heat the kettle."
Mate by the sea, anyone?
This mate mug and a thermos of hot
water were our tour bus guide's.
IT SEEMED to us that the people we watched over a period of hours were getting a bit "high" on the stuff.  Not slurring their words or acting silly, as people sometimes do under the influence of alcohol.  No, this "buzz" was similar to the coffee buzz I get from too much java.
(My husband says, "You don't need coffee.  You ARE coffee." Perhaps he's right.)
WHATEVER THE reason, mate has a huge following, mostly in Uruguay, but also in more rural parts of Argentina, where it is equally revered and widely used and enjoyed. Statistics show that mate users drink as much as three liters a day -- an amazing amount. 
And while Uruguayans consume more mate per person than in any other country, Argentina is the largest producer of mate.  Uruguayans insist their mate is more pure, and claim they make it into a finer powder, free of stems. 
The competition over mate may be somewhat like the friendly tango war over which country invented it.
A young man fills his mate
cup from the ever present
thermos, at a picnic area.

On a healthy note:  the antioxidants in yerba mate protect against heart disease. Remember that green tea, which is rich in antioxidants, can't even do this, and coffee is often linked to heart disease. This benefit of heart health is unique to yerba mate, fans claim.
Depending on how much you consume, our guide said, "It can feel very trippy. The caffeine in it can really give you a buzz....."

Bruce Keller, Christene "Cookie" Meyers and
host Orlando Ossowski in the grand Teatro Colon.
It is a Buenos Aires treasure, considered the
finest in the world for its fabulous acoustics.

Opera at its finest is heard on many of the world's great stages. Opera aficionados insist, however, that one opera house in the world soars above all others for its acoustic excellence. It is Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, a national treasure. Remember to explore, learn and live and check out our weekly adventures at


  1. Brazilian Mate LoversApril 12, 2024 at 5:43 AM

    We sip it, too! Delicious and a way of bonding.

  2. We spend all our retirement funds on travel and so enjoy your tips and observations.

  3. Texas TeaTotallersApril 14, 2024 at 4:33 AM

    We enjoy it-- bought some home as gifts, too.