In the wake of our discussion about exchange and Latin American foods, I decided to blog about one of my favorite Paraguayan traditions I encountered while studying abroad: drinking Tereré. Tereré refers to the consumption of yerba mate in a specific way. Yerba mate is enjoyed in Bolivia, Paraguay, and parts of Brazil and Argentina. An herb native to Paraguay and reminiscent of tea, it has recently appealed to U.S. corporations like Smoothie King for its natural stimulant effects, antioxidants, and ability to boost metabolism. It is better for you than caffeine because no crash follows the consumption of Yerba Mate, but it provides as much stimulation and increase in alertness as coffee and energy drinks. Its antioxidants are similar to those found in green tea, and the herb has been found to boost your metabolism.
Paraguayans drink tereré at least two or three times a day. They generally sit in a circle outside, on the ground or in porch chairs. One person holds a pitcher of ice water that is often infused with mint or lemon leaves. A “bombilla” (a metal straw with a strainer at the bottom) is placed in a gourd (basically a cup). The yerba mate is then poured on top of the bombilla to rest inside the gourd. The person with the pitches pours water into the gourd and drinks all the water, which has strained to the bottom through the yerba mate, from the gourd through the bombilla. The server then fills the gourd again with water and passes it to the person next to him/her, who drinks all of the water and passes the gourd back to the server. The server pours more water in and passes it to the next person, and así it continues.
Tereré is an acquired taste. I brought an entire set of supplies needed to drink tereré, as well as 10 lbs of yerba mate, back with me from Paraguay (I was surprised I made it through customs!). Some of my American friends have fallen in love with the drink and its effects, while others can’t stand the taste. I personally couldn’t live without it.
Go to GoYerbaMate.com to buy your own supplies and yerba mate. Campesino is my preferred brand, probably because it was the brand generally favored among the Paraguayans I knew. Order the yerba mate with mint leaves for an extra kick. Or just ask for some of my supply!