Few of us have heard of the Paraguayan holly plant. Probably because it grows only in South America, in Argentina and Paraguay. But it is this unpretentious and nondescript plant that gives people mate – or yerbu mate, a drink presented to the Indians by the blue-eyed god Paya Sharume. Mate for many centuries helped first the Indians living in the harsh conditions of the selva, and then the shepherds-gauchos. Now residents of megacities, whose life resembles a squirrel in a wheel, are increasingly resorting to its unique properties. It invigorates and warms, soothes and nourishes, and the traditions of drinking it resemble a real ritual – mysterious and charming, like South America itself.
Mate is rightfully considered the oldest drink on earth: as early as the beginning of the seventh millennium BC, South American Indians revered it as a gift from the gods. There is a legend of the Indians of Paraguay about the mat. Somehow, the blue-eyed god Paya Sharume decided to descend from the Mountain World to Earth to see how people live. He and several of his entourage walked for a long time through the selva, without food and water, until, finally, they saw a lonely hut. In it lived an old man with a daughter of wondrous beauty. The old man graciously greeted the guests, served his only chicken for dinner and left them to spend the night. The next morning, Paya Sharume asked why they lived in such seclusion? After all, a girl of such rare beauty needs a rich groom. To which the old man replied that the beauty of his daughter belongs to the gods. Surprised, Paya Sharume decided to thank the hospitable hosts: he taught the old man farming, passed on the knowledge of healing to him, and turned his beautiful daughter into a plant that would help people not with its beauty, but with its benefits – into a Paraguayan holly.
In the XNUMXth century, the European colonization of the continent began, and the Spanish Jesuit monks learned about the mat. It was from them that the drink took its historical name “mate”, but this word means dried pumpkin – mati, from which “Paraguayan tea” is drunk. The Guarani Indians themselves called it “yerba”, which means “grass”.
The Jesuits considered the tradition of drinking mate in a circle a diabolical ritual, and the drink itself was a potion designed to bewitch and destroy, so the culture of mate drinking was brutally eradicated. So, Padre Diego de Torres claimed that the Indians drink mate in order to consolidate their collusion with the devil.
However, one way or another, mate – like a curiosity – began to penetrate into Europe under the name “Jesuit tea”.
В XIX century, after a series of liberation revolutions in South America, the mat was again remembered: as a symbol of national identity, it took pride of place at the table not only of ordinary people, but also of the new aristocracy of Argentina and Paraguay. There was a salon fashion of drinking mate. So, with the help of a calabash with a closed lid, a young lady could show a too persistent gentleman that he was not nice to her. Sweet mate with honey meant friendship, bitter – indifference, mate with molasses spoke of the longing of lovers.
For simple gauchos, shepherds from the South American selva, mate has always been more than just a drink. He was able to quench his thirst in the midday heat, warm at night, nourish with strength for a new long drive of cattle. Traditionally, gauchos drank bitter mate, strongly brewed – a symbol of a real man, laconic and accustomed to nomadic life. As some researchers of South American traditions have noted, it is better for a gaucho to get up two hours earlier than expected just to slowly drink mate.
There are many drinking traditions, all of which are regional in nature.
For Argentina, the main supplier of the drink today, mother drinking is a family event, only for a narrow circle of people.
And if you were invited to Argentina for an evening mate, be sure that you are trusted and considered a loved one. It is customary to joke around the table, share news, and mate plays the role of a unifying factor, as a pumpkin jug is passed around. The owner of the house personally brews mate and serves it first to the most respected member of the family.
However, in Paraguay, a completely different story is connected with the first sip of mate: the one who makes it is considered a fool. All the participants in the matepita disown him, and the one who nevertheless had such a fate will always spit over his shoulder with the words: “I’m not a fool, but the one who neglects him.”
Brazilians brew mate in a large vat, and the one who pours tea for the audience is called “cebador” – “stoker”. The stoker ensures that there is always wood and coal in the oven, and the “cebador” is responsible for ensuring that guests always have a drink in calabash.
Only in the 30s XX century on the mat again drew attention not only in his homeland. European scientists were interested in the fact that Argentine gauchos during long cattle drives can spend a day in the saddle – without rest, under the scorching sun, using only an infusion of Paraguayan holly. In the course of research conducted by the Pasteur Institute in Paris, it turned out that the raw material of an inconspicuous selva plant contains almost all the nutrients and vitamins a person needs daily! Paraguayan holly leaves contain vitamin A, B vitamins, vitamins C, E, P, potassium, manganese, sodium, iron and about 196 more active trace elements! It is this “cocktail” that makes mate an indispensable tool in the fight against chronic fatigue, depression, and neurosis: it invigorates and relieves anxiety at the same time. Mate is simply necessary for people who have problems with pressure: it increases low pressure, and lowers high pressure. And then, mate is a very tasty drink with sweetish and at the same time tart notes.
What is the right way to cook mate? Traditionally, it is cooked in a vessel of dried gourd but to youas the South American Indians call it. In Russia, the name “kalabas” or “calabash” (from the Spanish “pumpkin”) has taken root. It is the pumpkin, having a porous structure, that gives the mat that unique and recognizable flavor.
But before the first mate, calabash needs to be revived: for this, mate is poured into it (about half of the calabash is filled with a dry mixture), poured with water and left for two or three days. This is done so that the tannins contained in the mat “work through” the porous structure of the gourd and clean it of excess odors. After this time, the pumpkin is cleaned and dried. In general, proper care is necessary for calabash: after each matepita, it must be thoroughly cleaned and dried.
Another necessary element for proper matepita is bombilla – a tube-strainer through which the drink is slowly sipped. Traditionally, it is made of silver, which is an excellent disinfectant, and given the South American tradition of drinking mate from one vessel in a circle, this is simply necessary. The stick is immersed in a vessel with a drink, turns towards the drinker. It is considered unacceptable after that to move the bombilla and even more so to pull it out.
And of course, one cannot but say about the pave – a special neighbor with a narrow spout in which water is heated for mate. Water must be brought to a boil, then left to cool to 70-80 degrees.
Of course, in the modern world, it is increasingly rare to find hours for a leisurely mate-drinking, but mate can also be brewed in a regular French press. The “zest” will disappear, but this will not affect the beneficial properties of the product.
Mate, the tea of the Incas and the Jesuits, is a unique natural cocktail that gives people the Paraguayan holly, an unpretentious plant growing in the Argentine selva, driven out by the sun. The drink of courageous gauchos and charming Argentine senoritas has firmly taken its place in the culture of the metropolis.
Of course, within the framework of modern life, where everything is fussy and it is not clear where and why they are in a hurry, there is not always time and opportunity for real mother drinking. However, someone who appreciates calabash and bombilla mate will not be able to drink mate made in a French press. Snobbery? Maybe. But how nice, sipping mate through the bombilla, imagine yourself as a brave gaucho, looking into the harsh selva.
Text: Lilia Ostapenko