Yerba Maté

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Yerba Maté

Yerba Maté, Ilex paraguariensis, tea made from the maté plant, a hollylike bush. Pre-Columbian peoples in South America developed a liking for the tea. The gaucho and other inhabitants of the Río de la Plata adopted the beverage, which remains very popular. The plant is now cultivated in Paraguay and the northern riverine provinces of Argentina. The highly caffeinic beverage is traditionally served in a pear-shaped gourd (also called a maté). Tea leaves are placed in the gourd and hot water is poured over them. The gourd is passed from person to person, and each sips the hot drink through a metal straw called a bombilla. More hot water and leaves are added as needed.

Many folk beliefs and rituals have grown up around the drink. According to a traditional poem, maté served with milk means respect. Sweetened maté indicates friendship; flavored with balm mint, it communicates displeasure. The beverage is most often consumed "straight," with nothing added.

See alsoFood and Cookery; Gauchos.


Richard W. Slatta, Gauchos and the Vanishing Frontier (1983), pp. 78-79.

Amaro Villanueva, El maté: Arte de cebar (1960).

Additional Bibliography

Whigham, Thomas. La yerba mate del Paraguay, 1780–1870. Asunción, Paraguay: Centro Paraguayo de Estudios Sociológicos, 1991.

                                   Richard W. Slatta