Mate Cups with Bombillas (detail)

From the press release:
New World Cuisine: The Histories of Chocolate, Mate y Más

Mate Cups with Bombillas

Anything drunk from such elaborate cups and straws must come with ceremony, and mate definitely does. It always has.


Traditionally, the yerba mate (the mate herb) has been something to be shared among friends. One person is designated as the cebador, or server, who prepares the cup with yerba, pours in hot water, and adds spices, if desired. The cebador drinks the first cup to make sure the flavor is right. If it is, the cup is refilled, passed, and must be drained before another cup of mate is prepared and passed to the next person in the group. The mate ceremony is a time for conversation and laughter as each takes a turn, drinking through a bombilla until the straw makes an empty sucking noise. When the cup has made its way around the circle, the cebador begins the ritual anew. An important rule to remember: only when participants have had their fill should they say “gracias;” otherwise, the delicious drink will not come their way again.


While the drinking of mate has been relatively widespread, today it is most common in Argentina, Paraguay and Southern Brazil. And though best in a social setting, mate drunk solo is thought to be a reminder that no one is ever totally alone, for the liquid fills their spirit with warmth and companionship.


The word “mate” comes from the original Guaraní name for the gourd from which mate was drunk. The first cups were hollowed out gourds; carved or incised designs were added later. Even today, some cherish the simple gourd because it’s said to enhance the flavor of mate.


In time, however, the richness of South America’s silver mines lent additional beauty to handcrafted cups of all shapes and sizes particular to distinct regions within South America. Some cups are so exquisitely made that they are considered works of art today. Mates (or mate cups) can have elaborate bases in the shapes of trunks of trees with the branches covering the cup. Others can be shaped like animals such as the guanaco-adorned cup from Argentina, dating from early-to-mid 20th century.


Photo by Kitty Leaken


Credit: Photo Kitty Leaken

Note: Representative image at left is often cropped for display purposes. Downloaded high-resolution images are not cropped.