Drinking yerba mate is such an ingrained culture in the Mercosur region of South America. Starbucks in Brazil sells ice cold mate tea. Surprisingly, mate is absent in the Argentinian Starbucks. In Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, you would see people walking around with their mate cup, thermos, and bombilla (the metal straw). When we were visiting Iguassu Falls, we see people bringing their mate cup and thermos, and some design of the thermos even comes with a space to put the cup. Our guide for the Jungle Jeep safari is even funnier. We were traveling in the jeep and we would go down to make stops to look at some plants (for like 2 minutes from the jeep), and he would hold his thermos all the time! In and out of the jeep! The thermos is attached to his arm!
Mate is so prevalent that even trendy gift shops in these countries would have various designs of mate cups and matching thermos (luxurious ones from high quality leather to funkier newer designs from silicon on the outer part).
And they share the mate with everyone and anyone, even strangers. When we visited some offices, they would just have the mate cup and thermos at the reception desks and anyone can just fill it up and drink from it. It is a bit of questionable hygiene standard, but I suppose they have had no epidemic outbreak, so all is good. I did share mate with one of my local contact, forgetting about my flu. The next day he got pretty sick, worse than me. Whooops! This time around I quite like the flavor of the mate. I suppose it is an acquired taste. Eight years ago, I loved my coffee sweet (with sugar or sweeteners). These days I can drink them black with no sugar.
In Paraguay, they drink their mate cold due to the hot and humid weather. They add lemon to the mate. It tastes milder and very refreshing. In the other countries, they drink it hot. And on one of our road trips, we made a stop at one of the gas stations to prepare our mate. And they have a machine that sells hot water for mate.
They also sell mate everywhere! In the supermarkets, you can see various brands and blends of mate. I saw one for the “nervios” (nerves) and one that is blended with gingko biloba. I suppose the connoisseurs of mate would be able to tell the difference.
In Asia, yerba mate has been promoted as one of the drink for weight loss. I say losing weight always comes down to what you eat and how much you move. I still see many obese people in Brazil. And many guys in Argentina and Uruguay have massive bellies/beer paunches. And these people drink mate every day. So you decide whether this is for real or a fad.
There is one regret I have from the trip: I did not buy any yerba mate to bring back!!!
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