Mate tea is made from a yerba mate plant from the holly family that grows in some parts of South America. Drinking mate tea is the basis for social interaction in settings similar to American coffee shops. In the countries it originated in, mate tea preparation and consumption is subject to specific rituals that vary from one area to another.
The Guarani people say that when the moon and cloud goddesses came to Earth for a visit, they were chased by a jaguar. When an old native man saved them from being eaten, they gave him a new plant (the yerba mate plant) as a thank you present. That is why mate tea is often called the friendship drink.
The countries of Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay consider mate tea their national drink. Other countries such as Brazil, Chile Lebanon and Syria, as well as parts of Bolivia, use it as a social tradition for interaction between friends and family members.
Mate tea is traditionally meant to be served from a hollowed out gourd that has been cured. It is drunk from a straw made of metal. A careful curing process gets a gourd ready to be used in mate tea preparation. After a gourd is hollowed out, a mixture of mate herb and hot water is poured in the gourd. Over the next 24 hours, the gourd is refilled as it absorbs the water. After the gourd is scraped out, it is left in the sun to dry out completely.
The dried twigs and leaves of the yerba mate plant are put into the hollow gourd then the preparer covers the gourd opening, inverts the gourd and vigorously shakes it several times. This is done to sift the yerba mate and render it into a fine powdery substance. Some people pour the hot (not boiling) water in next, while some put the straw in next. The mate is pushed to one side and the water is poured in on the opposite side to steep it.
One bowl and one straw is used by everyone for proper traditional drinking of mate tea in South American countries. The server is considered very polite when he takes the first drink of mate, because the first batch is thought to be the least tasty. The sucking noise the straw makes once the drinker gets to the last of the mate tea is not considered rude in South America. Mold often grows on mate tea gourds. While many people remove the mold, some people leave it because they believe it enhances the flavor.
As mate tea (both the bottled and loose brew your own type) becomes more available in America, its popularity will continue to grow. Mate tea can provide an energy boost from its caffeine content. It is also rumored to help get rid of headaches and assist in weight loss. Although mate tea is several years behind green tea in familiarity and availability, it has a bright future in the United States.