“Ritual is important to us as human beings. It ties us to our traditions and to our histories” -Miller Williams
Óga Ita, Paraguay
I believe that I’ve mentioned either terere or mate in previous posts, but I thought I’d finally take some time to fully explain the traditional Paraguayan beverage of choice, how it is done, and it’s significance for Paraguayans and myself.
Firstly, both terere and mate are made from chopped up leaves and stems from the Yerba Mate plant, a bush that grows extremely well in this region. Really, both terere and mate are just a type of tea made with Yerba Mate, but it goes way beyond that into something deeper and meaningful in Paraguayan culture. In fact, I would say that the drink may be the most important cultural tradition for Paraguay.
You need several things to make terere or mate: a guampa, a bombilla, a jarra or termo, Yerba, water, and ice. There are optional ingredients, but I’ll explain further.
The Guampa: the guampa is really just a special cup used to drink terere or mate. Guampa actually means cow horn and I’ve seen many people drinking out of just that, but your guampa can really be anything. For mate they tend to be made out of metal, but it can be wood, plastic, or really just a cup if you have no other option, although most families have a special, more beautifully designed guampa especially for terere.
The Bombilla: Bombilla means straw (as in for beverages), but the straw used for this purpose is metal, with a wider base that has a filter, in order to prevent Yerba from being sucked up. Bombillas can also have intricate designs to make you seem more chuchi fancy.
Jarra/Termo: Jarra means pitcher and Termo means thermos. It really depends on who you’re drinking with and where you are. People use termos all the time and take them to work, on the bus, or into the field. Some are really chuchi and have cool designs or the persons name embroidered in leather or cool pouches for all the other equipment. If you’re just at home, sitting casually under the shade of a mango tree, any old pitcher will do.
Water: This is where you can differentiate between terere and mate. Terere is cold, with a nice big chunk of ice in the pitcher, while mate is hot. Mate is only drunk in the early mornings or maybe in the late evenings, or really when it’s not blazing hot. On rainy cool days, I’ll sit with my host mom and drink mate by our cook stove.
Optional: Remedio Yuyos–
Yuyo means weed, but sometimes it’s also a plant you put into your terere or mate. There are different Yuyos for either terere or mate and they supposedly do different things for your health, but I’m still wary on that. I usually put lemongrass or mint in my terere or rosemary in my mate, but my mom always goes full shaman on me and pulls weird lichens off of trees or digs up strange roots and then says weird names in Guaraní. I can only hope she knows what she’s doing. After, if you have all the chuchi equipment, you mash them with a mortar and pestle, but anything will do: a knife, big stick, rock. Feel free to be primitive. Then throw it in the water.
How to “make” it-
1. Take your Guampa and stick your Bombilla in at an angle. Pour in your favorite brand of Yerba Mate (mine’s La Rubia) about 3/4 of the way full.
2. Take your water (with or without yuyos) and fill the guampa to the top. Let it sit. The Yerba will soak up all the water and Paraguayans always say that this Ha or turn, is for San Tomás.
3. The person who “makes” terere is usually the youngest, although it really depends on who you’re with. During training, I was the baby in my community and had to do the serving. Typically, terere is done with at least two people. The server pours water and passes to each person, one by one in a circle, and each person gets their turn. This continues in a circle until each person has had their fill. The amount of water poured really depends on the server. I hate drinking with pourers who put only a piddly little drop of water in the guampa. Completely unsatisfying. Drink terere with me and I promise your thirst will be wholly quenched.
4. When you’re full (and believe me, you get really full), you say Gracias as you pass back the guampa, and the poor server has to keep track of who still wants terere and who doesn’t. Then you go pee because it’s a natural diuretic.
5. During terere, you chat, you catch up with your friends, you relax in the shade. It’s a social tradition and it also helps you cool down as you slowly drink cold water in the shade. It’s typically done multiple times a day and I’m always invited to terere with families as I walk through my community in the sun, my skin red, my shirt soaked, sweat pouring from my very being.
Argentinians also drink terere and mate, but they do it wrong. All wrong. It’s disgusting. Absolutely horrendous. They put SUGAR in their mate! Ugh. And they drink terere with JUICE! How barbaric. And they drink it all out of a GOURD! What clowns. Stay on your side of the border.
Not only does this tradition help me get to know my community and host family, but Yerba Mate itself will most likely be the very essence of my service. The plant is good for the soil and when it is young, requires a lot of shade. By doing a Yerba project with the farmers in my community (which they’re already excited for), I can conserve the soil and persuade them to plant native species of trees for shade, all while they get a crop that will make them money. We all win. For that reason, as well as Yerba’s significance in Paraguayan culture, terere means a lot to me as a volunteer in Paraguay. And to that, cheers. Jaterereta oñondivepa.