Tereré, the national drink of Paraguay, is similar to an iced herbal tea, except it’s made with cold water right off the bat, rather than brewed with hot water, which is then cooled. It can be drunk plain, or amped up with the addition of citrus fruits and herbs.
In other regions of South America, particularly in Argentina, tereré is often made with fruit juice – e.g. orange – or lemonade. In the summer, I really like mine with cucumber, grapefruit juice, and fresh mint leaves. It’s even more refreshing when made in a hollowed out grapefruit!
In Paraguay, where temperatures can soar to more than 100°F, it’s not unusual to see people carrying around a matera to school or work, so deeply ingrained into the Guaraní lifestyle is drinking tereré.
The matera is a container (usually made from leather), which holds a thermal vacuum flask (termo) of water, a bombilla (a straw with a filter on the end), a horn-shaped cup (guampa), extra yerba, and any additional herbs which may be added to the tereré.
An alternative to a matera is a termo, to which a sleeve is attached for the guampa, and a leather strap for slinging across the shoulders!
Like yerba mate, tereré is sipped through a bombilla, which filters the plant material. However, unlike its hot counterpart (which is served in a mate – traditionally a hollowed out gourd), tereré is made and served in a larger vessel, called a guampa. A guampa can be a hollowed out bull’s horn, or made from leather, ceramic, or glass.
Interestingly, to the Guaraní, whether hot or cold, the drink is called ka’ay, which means simply, herb water (ka’a = herb, y = water).
What is yerba mate?
Millions of modern-day Guaraní all over South America still drink yerba mate, with time-honored rituals and customs persisting to this day; most notably, drinking yerba mate and tereré with a group of friends or family gathered in a circle.
This practice, symbolic of friendship and acceptance, begins with the cebador(a) (the person making the yerba/tereré) preparing the beverage, and drinking the first infusion him or herself. Why? Because the first one can be bitter, so you don’t want to be serving that to your guests!
Also, in the bad old days, it’s said that mate circles were a prime opportunity for poisoning, so the cebador would have the first cup in order to demonstrate that the beverage was safe.
After drinking the first cup, the cebador then refills the drinking vessel with water, and passes it to the next person. When they have finished, the cup is refilled again, and passed to the next person in the circle. And so on.
When the “mountain has gone flat”, that is, the mound of tea has collapsed, it’s time to stop passing.
By the way, you should never stir or agitate your yerba mate (or tereré), as this can make the drink bitter. If the bombilla seems to be clogged, pass the guampa or mate back to your cebador, and let them sort it out.
You should also never pour boiling water onto the yerba, not only will it deplete its goodness but it will scald the herb, and make it very bitter. Always moisten with room temperature or cold water first, before adding hot – not boiling – water (around 170°F).
The etiquette of drinking yerba mate and tereré
In addition to not messing with the bombilla, here are a few golden rules to abide by when drinking in a yerba mate circle…
Don’t ask to add sugar! Fruits, herbs, and pieces of sugar cane are acceptable but not processed sugar.
Hygiene – some folk can be a bit squeamish about drinking from the same straw as other people; the South American view however, is that if the idea of sharing a straw with your friends grosses you out, maybe you have the wrong friends!
Never leave your guampa or gourd half full.
It’s perfectly fine to sip until the bombilla makes a slurpy noise (called a roar). No judgment here! For some Guaraní, the drinking vessel is always passed one way – to the right. It’s believed that to pass from the left is a sign of disrespect.
Don’t hog the mate (or guampa) – it’s considered rude. Everyone in the circle is there to socialise and drink, so don’t keep your friends waiting. And certainly don’t make your family wait!
What are the health benefits of tereré ?
Tereré boasts a number of health benefits, ranging from boosting energy to being a good source of B Vitamins (1, 2, 5 & 6), calcium, magnesium, and iron. It’s also said to be an effective weight loss aid, and eases digestion. It also apparently contains lots of antioxidants, and, according to some, it can lower blood pressure and help to bring down inflammation.
In Paraguay, it’s not unknown for folk to add medicinal herbs to their tereré in order to alleviate stomach troubles and headaches. Some of the most common herbs – yuyos, as they’re referred to – that are used are lemon verbena (which also aids sleep), lemongrass, mint, and boldo, a relative of the laurel family.
Perhaps one of the most healthy benefits of drinking tereré though, is that it’s a highly social and fun thing to do. Can you think of anything nicer than sitting outside on a sunny day, chatting and laughing, and sharing delicious iced tea with your friends and loved ones?
- 6 tablespoons yerba mate (tea from Paraguay)
- Ice cubes (a couple of handfuls)
- Cold water
- 2 limes , sliced (with the skin)
- A few mint leaves (optional)
- Place the ice into the bottom of a 4-cup thermos flask, add the lime and mint, and fill with cold water.
- Fill your guampa about half-full of yerba mate.
- Place your palm over the mouth of the guampa, and give it a good shake. This will settle the plant material.
- Carefully tip the guampa diagonally, and remove your hand. The yerba mate will now have made a slope inside the guampa.
- Making sure not to disturb the yerba, carefully pour a little of the infused iced water from the flask down into the hollow, and let it stand for a few seconds to allow the yerba to absorb the liquid, which will help to not clog up the bombilla.
- Covering the mouthpiece with your thumb, place the bombilla into the space, and gently slide it just under the yerba at the bottom.
- Top up with more water, and sip the tereré. Refill as desired, until the yerba loses its flavor.