September 2011/Prepared Foods -- After water, tea is the most popular beverage in the entire world. Several countries have especially strong relationships with tea, resulting in a “tea culture.”
In Argentina, yerba mate tea is very much a group social drink. Tea leaves are sold in large pouches, ready to be placed into containers Argentinians often carry for this purpose. Hot water and/or sweetener are added, and the tea is then drunk through a bombilla (filtered metal straw), with additional hot water added a few times, before eventually replacing the leaves.
Mate containers are almost always wooden, in order to add to the flavor. Mate provides vitamin B, potassium, magnesium and antioxidants, and it is also considered an energizer. While its benefits of thirst-quenching and weight-loss control are widely recognized, the cultural benefits are, symbolically, intimacy and friendship. Florencia Bonetti, a 25-year-old native Argentinian, fondly reflects, “Drinking mate makes people gather together, it gives the gathering warmth, it makes a home cozy.” It is customary to pass the cup and drink from the same cup/straw. In fact, the brewer is NOT supposed to pass the mate, until he himself has drunk at least two sips; this is the polite thing to do, since those first two are the strongest ones in flavor. If one is invited to drink a mate, it is polite to accept two or three sips before turning it down.pf