About Mate's Secret. Discovering the World of South America - Rivertea Blog
Carmen Rotaru | On 01, Feb 2013
South America has its own special tea. Find out why yerba mate is truly special and what makes it different from other teas.
Although it has the name of a tea, mate is in fact an infusion. I guess you all wonder what is the difference between an infusion and a tea? Isn’t it the same thing? In fact it isn’t and the explanation comes from the origins of teas and infusions.
Tea originates from just one plant which with time has evolved into many varieties, but it is still the same plant. This plant is native to China and it is known as the tea plant or more specifically as Camellia Sinensis. So tea, from green to black, from white to oolong, originates from Camellia Sinensis, the tea plant.
Other beverages which have their origin in different other plants are known as infusions or tisanes. This is also the case of mate. Mate comes from a plant known as Yerba Mate that is native to subtropical South America.
Yerba Mate’s Story
Mate plant, or Yerba mate also spelled in English as “maté” has its name from Spanish: “yerba mate”. This is a popular name, but specialists and botanists know this plant as Ilex Paraguariensis.
It is strange that the plant is called “yerba” in Spanish because it isn’t at all an herb, but a tree. When reaching maturity, this tree species can grow up to 15 meters tall. It has its origins in the subtropical climate of South America. To be more specific, yerba mate can be found in northeastern Argentina, Bolivia, southern Brazil, Uruguay and also Paraguay.
The plant history is long. It was first cultivated and used by the Guaraní people, and also in some Tupí communities in southern Brazil, before the European colonization. It was scientifically discovered and classified by a Swiss botanist named Moses Bertoni who chose to settle in Paraguay in 1895.
Mate’s Popularity in the World
This wonderful infusion known as mate from Spanish or “chimarrão” in the south of Brazil, is prepared similarly as tea is. The dry mate leaves are steeped into hot water, not boiling water. The flavor of mate is known to be vegetal, herbal if you like and grassy, reminding the consumers of the original green tea. There are some popular mate blends which involve mate and citrus rind or mate and peppermint.
It is a highly cultural beverage, very popular in the Spanish speaking countries from America and also in Brazil. It is really a national drink in Uruguay which is known to be the largest consumer of mate per capita. It is in fact considered to be one of the traditions of rural populations from South America.
The Birth of Mate. History and Legend.
Mate was a beverage consumed by a population who lived in Paraguay before European colonization. This population was called Guaraní. From them the beverage also spread to other tribe from South Brazil called the Tupí.
There’s an interesting legend about the origins of yerba mate and the Guarani tribe. It seems that one day the goddesses of the moon and the clouds were bored and decided to make a visit to Earth to distract themselves. While walking through the forest, a jaguar attacked them, but a Guarani old man showed up and saved them. As a reward for saving them, the goddesses gave to the old man a new plant which they called the “drink of friendship”.
After the European colonization, the consumption of this drink became popular in the colonies and it was also adopted not just by indigenous, but also by the Europeans who came to live in South America. In the 17th century the Jesuits (Christian monks belonging to the religious order of the Roman Catholic Church) came in the area to spread the word of God to the native populations there. They were the first who managed to domesticate the mate tree and to make various plantations.
The history was turbulent and violent in South America, with many wars, fights and destruction. After the wars and fights settled a bit, the Brazilians tried to domesticate Yerba Mate once more. They managed to organize some plantations and they were the ones to open the way for plantation systems (large wild spaces were now beginning to being cultivated and transformed into plantations) in early 20th century, thus making Brazil one of the largest producers of mate.
Drink of friendship
Indeed mate is considered a drink of friendship as it is usually consumed in public places and it is shared with friends. In South America mate represents a social and cultural leant the same as tea and coffee are for Europe and Asia. In the big cities of Uruguay, Paraguay or Argentina, you can even find special devices on the street containing warm water for the people to refill their thermos.
There are even some rituals around mate drinking, especially in Argentine and Paraguay. For instance, in a circle of friends and family, just one person has to assume the task of serving the others with the beverage. He or she fills the cup and drinks it first to verify the quality of the beverage. It is considered rude to pass the cup with the first brew to other persons because the drink can be either too cold or too hot. The person who assumed the role of the server is the only responsible for passing around the cup.
Mate features a vegetal taste most similar to green tea and it’s usually served with a metal straw from a shared hollow. It is truly a drink a friendship and also features some natural health benefits. Follow us and find out more about mate’s unique taste and health related effects.
We’ll soon launch our new incredible tasty tea blends. Join us, there are lots of special gifts waiting for you.