Our Spanish teacher always asks us if we want tea, coffee or mate before the lesson starts. I thought mate was tea, but have been informed that it is not. And am a fan because drinking mate is a communal ritual. Here’s how:
1. The cebador (person pouring) shakes out dust from dried mate leaves, and fills the gourd with ’em. Then he/she gently nudges a bombilla (metal straw) through the leaves. The cebador pours hot water into the gourd.
2. The gourd is passed to a guest—let’s say it’s me. I sip through the bombilla until there’s no liquid left and return it to the cebador. (Don’t say “thanks” if you want seconds.)
3. The cebador refills the hot water, repeats the process with other guests.
4. The mate gourd goes around. When I’ve had enough, I pass the gourd back to the cebador and say gracias to indicate that I’m done.
It took me weeks to figure out the etiquette, and one sip to figure that I like mate. We see plenty of folks sipping on mate bombillas in parks or on street corners. Friends offer mate when we visit. But it is not on the menu at restaurants or cafes, so you gotta know porteños or longtime residents to have some. It does sound like I’m boasting, but I’m really not. OK, maybe a little.