So, we Indians know all about beverage rituals. We do tea. We do coffee. We even learnt cappuccino. How about mate?
What’s that, you ask.
If you’ve read Julio Cortazar or any other South American fiction, you might have chanced upon the word ‘mate’ (pronounced mah-tay). And you sensed its ritualistic purpose. When nothing else is happening in the book, people are drinking mate. The feeling I got was that mate was a meditative space for two or more. Like that second glass of beer – no drunkenness, just more openness.
Essentially, there are two mates. There’s mate de coca, which is a more specialised form of intoxi-meditation, and yerba mate, which is what we’re, erm, going to focus our energies on. Exclusively grown in Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil, yerba mate is the national drink across the region, where at least 90% of the population drink it daily.
How do you drink it?
You have a little gourd-shaped metal vessel, not bigger than the palm of your hand. You fill it up to three-quarters with mate leaves and twigs. You pour in hot (not boiling) or cold water. You allow it to steep. Don’t stir. Now add a metal straw with a filter at the end. Sip, share, share, sip. Sold yet?
It wasn’t a gorgeous dreaded Brazilian who introduced me to mate. Although that would have made for a better story. It was a Russian woman in Bombay who shared a pot of mate with me. Apart from the pure sensory pleasure of the pot and the metal straw, mate has a distinct heady flavour, like a strong and complex green tea. Let’s face it – healthy tea fads tend to make cissies out of us. Not so with mate. It’s definitely got cool.
So, if you’re forced to give up coffee by health bullies or over-enthusiastic doctors, and you don’t want to become one of those dweebs, then mate has your name written all over it.
Now where do I get me those gewgaws?
Befriend a Brazilian. Or a Russian. Turns out they can find anything, as I had the good fortune to find out. The mate-drinking cult has spread to Europe and, of course, the Americans are always up for a good fad, so you can definitely make your connection somewhere.
Of course, the energy rush and the enhanced focus can get a little addictive — it’s a cross between the effects of coffee, chocolate, and green tea. In other words, send some our way if you get your hands on it.