Before I came to Argentina, I had no idea what “yerba mate” was. By reading about mate online before my trip, I learned that it is a plant-based beverage that is very common here and I was very excited to try it, expecting it to taste somewhat like green tea. The first time I tried mate was at Mate Club, and I was very disappointed to say the least. I thought it was too bitter, and I was also very confused about the social rules of drinking mate, since no one had explained the system to me before! Luckily, the people sitting at my table were very kind and showed me the different parts of the mate: the bombilla is the straw, the mate is the cup and the beverage, and the yerba is the leaves. They also explained that one person makes the mate by pouring hot water from the thermos over the yerba, and that the mate is passed around the table as everyone drinks and shares the same straw! It took me a while to get the hang of it, and to understand that I had to drink all of the mate before handing it back, as well as other unspoken rules such as that I was NOT supposed to move the bombilla around. I am happy to say that the flavor of mate has grown on me and I very much enjoy it now (especially since I have discovered that I can drink it with sugar, which makes it much better in my opinion).
More than the taste of mate, I really like what sharing mates represents for Argentine people. My family is from India and mate culture is very similar to chai culture. I had a great chat with my professor in which we discussed and compared mate and chai. For both beverages, it is a warm drink that people can enjoy with family and friends multiple times a day. Many people start their morning off with these caffeinated beverages! Drinking mate or chai is a chance to unwind and chat with loved ones, and it is very common to invite someone to your house and to ask “unos mates?” in Spanish, or “chai peangay?” in Hindi. Because of this connection, I immediately felt at home in the world of mate, and understood how important it is in the hearts of people. It is not just a drink! My favorite memory involving mate in these last few weeks was when my local friend invited me to her house for mate and I ended up meeting her entire group of friends. We all passed around the pink mate and chatted for hours, and they were all so sweet and accepting of an exchange student into their longtime group! I am so happy that through the tradition of sharing mate, I got to know many new people and I had so much fun experiencing this aspect of the local culture.