Maté Con Sentido

23 May

I remember the first time I tried maté while living abroad in Buenos Aires with a host family. The Guzmans introduced me to a number of traditions, and I showed them cheese grits and hot sauce. Cultural exchange just goes better with pepper sauce.

My two daily meals with the family were distinct: breakfast would be toasted pan con miel with long conversations about everything my host father, Alejandro, saw wrong with Argentinian politics. We’d often get engrossed in our chats, and I’d have to make the 25-minute walk to class in 15 minutes. Dinners were pizzas or gnocchi, with three kids and a mom trying to keep everyone in check (my 12-year-old sister loved to spar with my 13-year-old brother about boys at school; I loved to debate Brüno Mars’ musical legitimacy with her). It was a microcosm of chaos. That’s one human characteristic that doesn’t stop at borders.

In the mornings before class, I’d see my host father researching software (or funny videos) on his laptop. He’d always have this gourd-shaped bowl with a metal tube sticking out of it. The gourd looked like a pre-Columbus smoking pipe. Alejandro caught my curious glances and offered a taste of maté. The gourd for serving the tea felt warm in my hand.

“You pour on just a little bit of water and sugar if you like,” he said.

The hot water made the herb rise in the gourd, then sink as the steam started to rise.

“A little bit more.”

The smells started wafting. It was like green tea with the odor of a grassy pasture. I wasn’t sure about this, but the bombilla de maté was in the right place, and the tea had steeped long enough. I took a sip.

My first impression was a burning. The metal straw is traditional, but did it jolt me! The taste was a lot like the smell, like a grassy tea. I wasn’t crazy about it. Alejandro looked disappointed.

“You will one day love it.”

Like most things, he was right. The next time I had it was in a park, seconds before getting my tarot read. My companion had traveled extensively and had settled on a vocal degree in Belgrano, Buenos Aires. At least, that was the plan. She had mixed the maté with other teas, said a quick convocation of gratitude to me, then offered the bombilla. The tradition is to finish the water in the gourd before passing it to your next partner, who will fill the gourd themselves and linger before continuing to pass. I overlooked the apathetic initial reaction, gave a sip, then passed the gourd back. We talked about our pasts, and she was interested in talking about the future. The gourd was making rounds, and I started feeling this rushing flow of words. I was really chatty suddenly.

Hm. This mate stuff’s pretty good.

It was like having a cup of espresso without the bull-in-a-China-shop jitters. I loved it and the way Argentinians used it as a communal conversation piece, or in this case, as a primer for the esoteric sciences.

In the video, Alex Pryor of Guayaki maté asks why he makes maté. He says it “allows us to construct bridges between these different cultures,” to “generate a conversation, a common meaning.”

Based on his talkative interview, I’d say he’s been sipping a lot, but he’s also absolutely right. The common thread in all of these food experiences is a conversation, a cultural exchange. That’s why you go abroad in the first place: to learn, exchange your ideas, and get some new ones, including those of the occult.

I never thought that tea could teach me so much.


One Response to “Maté Con Sentido”

  1. joyskitchen May 27, 2014 at 1:21 pm #

    Reblogged this on Blogging from Joy's Kitchen.

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