[guest post] yerba maté: a love story written by torre deroche

I’d never heard of yerba maté until I met an Argentinean man.

In the early days of our fling, I’d stay over at his apartment, and the first thing he’d do in the morning was prepare his maté. He’d spoon tea leaves into a rustic wooden cup, stick a decorative metal straw inside it and fill the cup with boiling water to infuse the leaves. Then he’d suck at the straw with an uninhibited slurping sound.

“Can I try?” I asked him, curious to taste this exotic tea. I was already in love with the woody aroma that I could taste on his lips when he’d kiss me.

He handed me the cup and I instinctively began stirring with the straw.

“No stirring!” he said, scorning me as though I’d broken a cardinal rule of maté ritual. “You’ll upset the tea leaves. Just sip.”

The boiling tea water hit my tongue and I recoiled – it was disgusting. If I’d been blindfolded, I would’ve assumed that I’d just taken in a mouthful of boiling water mixed with cigarette ash and dirt. These are not the qualities I look for in a tea.

“Don’t worry,” my Argentinean lover said. “I’ll grow on you in time.”

We’d go for walks around the neighborhood and he’d always take his tea. With the thermos of hot water in one hand and the maté cup in the other, he’d pour, sip, slurp, pour, sip, slurp for the duration of our walk. Passing teenagers would see the bong-like apparatus in his hand and stab the air with an approving thumbs-up, while elderly ladies would shake their heads and shoot daggers with their disapproving eyes.  How dare you smoke drugs in public! their eyes said, not realizing the man was sipping at an antioxidant-rich green tea, with anti-obesity, anti-cancer and cholesterol lowering properties. You, young man, should be ashamed of yourself!

I’ll never forget the time we encountered a Uruguayan on the street and – after an explosion of excited Spanish between the two men that I couldn’t understand – my Argentinean lover topped up his maté cup and extended it out to the Uruguayan stranger like a handshake. In a time when many are rubbing their hands down with antibacterial gels, or wearing surgical masks to stop the spread of cooties, it was unusual to witness two complete strangers drinking from the same straw, bound together by their shared cultural ritual and gaining one more added nutritional benefit from the maté: immunity building.

When we’d go to his parents house, the first thing they’d do after we’d walk in the door was boil the water, spoon the tea, then, pour, sip, slurp, and pass it on. Long silences would pass while the maté did the rounds, its drinkers relaxed in yerba maté bliss. I learned, during these times, that maté is much more than just tea – it’s an activity that binds its drinkers together; breaking through barriers to speak an unspoken message: We are family, we are connected, we love and accept each other.

Clearly, this socially binding, highly nutritional tea has superpowers.

A year and a half after I met the Argentinean, I tried maté again but this time with buttered crackers. Pour, sip, slurp. The crackers enhanced the flavor, so that the tea tasted like the warm aroma of freshly chopped wood, like grass and earth, and like the smoke that crackles off a bonfire.

“You know what?” I told my lover. “This is actually pretty good.”

He smiled and kissed my nose. “You really do love me,” he said earnestly.

And I’ve been drinking maté every day for six years since.

_____

Torre DeRoche

Torre DeRoche has written a memoir titled, Swept – Love With a Chance of Drowning. At age 24, Aussie-born Torre’s year of fun and work abroad was interrupted when, after a encounter in a San Francisco cocktail bar, she fell for a handsome Argentinean with a humble boat and an ambitious plan: to sail across the Pacific Ocean. It would have been a dream come true … if only Torre didn’t suffer from a debilitating fear of the ocean (thanks to Jaws). But struck stupid by love, she jumped aboard and journeyed through storms and paradise towards her home in Australia, struggling to keep the old boat, the new relationship, and her floundering sanity afloat.

You can find Torre at fearfuladventurer.com, on Twitter as @FearfulGirl and on Facebook.

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Comments
6 Responses to “[guest post] yerba maté: a love story written by torre deroche”
  1. Fun post. I’ve not tried mate myself yet, but this inspires me to.

  2. I love this post, particularly “… freshly chopped wood, like grass and earth, and like the smoke that crackles off a bonfire.” I have tears in my eyes.
    Great photos too. very evocative.

  3. Juan A Alcantara says:

    Hi Torre,

    I like thispost. It brings good memories, particularly when you are referring to sharing mate with complete strangers! When “you_know_who” (not Voldemort) and I started working together and shared mate, the same thing happened! I tried to stir the tea too (as I do with all hot teas) and got the same response! then I asked for my own straw and he gave me the evil eye as if I was from another planet! he said: drink from the same straw as if the straw was part of the cup! The only difference though is that I did not develop the taste like you!
    Great job! keep writting like this please!

    Juan

    • Oh no, Juan! You really DID break a cardinal rule by asking for a separate straw! The only time a separate straw is acceptable is when someone is in the throws of a nasty illness. Then, the Argentineans give a 2nd cup / straw of maté to the sick person.

  4. Maria says:

    I’m from Argentina and it is always funny to look at foreigners when they try it for the first time, not many of them like it. I loved the post BUT I would not call mate (without é) a tea, it’s an infusion.

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