While Malbec wine is making the Argentine wine bars famous, and esspresso dominates Buenos Aires cafés, the national drink of Argentina is mate. It's rarely on the menu, but it's the most important social drink in the country which binds the Argentines in a ritual of friendship and hospitality. Drinking mate is considered a defining ritual of daily life, giving friends and family the opportunity to nurture relationships, share stories, and enjoy their time together.
Mate is made from dried, shredded leaves of yerba mate, an herb native to the forests of the upper Rio Parana Delta. The mate infusion drink has a pungent taste between green tea and coffee, with hints of tobacco and oak. Yerba mate was grown in plantations on colonial Jesuit missions, but unlike coffee and tea, it never established markets across the Atlantic or elsewhere in the Americas. Production diminished with the Jesuits' expulsion from the Americas in 1767, but the so-called "Paraguayan tea" kept its place in homes, estancias and palaces of South America.
Argentines of all ethnic groups and classes prepare and serve mate according to a ritual that goes back hundreds of years. A server (cebador) fills a gourd cup almost to the rim with chopped yerba mate leaves and then pours heated water into the gourd. Drinkers sip the hot liquid through a bombilla, a silver straw with a bulbous filter at the end. The mate cup is passed clockwise around the group, and each person drinks the entire cup before it is passed to the next one. The serving gourds are commonly decorated with silver, with decorative or heraldic designs with floral motifs.