Mate (pronounced máh-teh), despite what you may have heard, is not an herbal green tea. That makes it sound sissy. It is a tea-like drink made from a green-colored yerba (herb), but it is much more robust than tea. For Argentines, mate is the very heart of life.
Mate is drunk by the old and young, rich and poor, Peronists and Radicals, parents and children, among students while they study, during winter and summer. After years of conflict, Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner greeted the new Pope Francis with . . . a beautiful mate set—el “mate de la paz”—after which the pope asked her to stay for lunch with “unos mates” to follow.
“A longstanding Vatican protocol forbids the Pope being seen consuming anything but the Eucharist,” as Rocco Palmo noted on the occasion, but that did not stop Francis from being photographed enjoying the drink.
A text on mate given to me by a friend puts it this way (my translation):
When you meet someone for the first time, you drink mate. People ask, if they’re unsure: “Sweet or bitter?” The other responds: “However you take it.” The cracks in the keyboards in Argentina are filled with yerba. Yerba is the only thing that is always around, in every house. Always. With inflation, with hunger, with militaries, with democracy, with whichever of our eternal plagues and curses. And if one day there is no yerba, a neighbor has some and he’ll offer it. Yerba is denied to no one.