Grocery Ninja: Have a Mate, Mate?

The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read her past market missions here.

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I don't know about you, but I'm still full from Thanksgiving and it's mighty uncomfortable sitting for hours before the computer, trying to churn out a halfway decent paper while feeling (and looking, no doubt) like an overstuffed turkey.

Thankfully, I have company, and the company is just as stuffed. So, in between moaning about how we're ready to explode and helping prune each other's bloated academic prose, the Argentinean housemate and I have been taking turns brewing mate.

When we first moved in, we introduced each other (with great ceremony and detailed instructions for care) to our houseplants, fighting fish (better known as bettas), sourdough starters, and last but not least, our burgeoning tea stash.

I made her say hi to my collection of jujube, ginger, osmanthus flower, pine nut, ginseng, and honey citron teas. She got me to embrace mate, along with its drinking gourd and ingenious filter-cum-straw (bombilla). Mate is made from the dried leaves of the evergreen yerba mate shrub, she explained, and is Argentina's national beverage.

The great draw was when she revealed, "I can just drink this all day, skip my coffee, and not feel hungry or cranky."

Now, the housemate is not one of those "Oh, this would make me fat, and that has real sugar, and I can only eat carrot sticks, boo hoo!" girls. And she is "grind just enough beans for her morning cuppa every morning" serious about her coffee. So this was no casual statement.

She was, however, not amused when I transferred the mate in the gourd she had fixed me to my giant tea mug—pleading "efficiency." (Seriously, do you know how many times I would have to refill the tiny thing just to get a decent cuppa tea?)

"You can't do that!" she gasped, "Drinking mate is a social thing—not about efficiency!"

"But I have work to do!" I protested.

"You need to drink mate in the proper spirit," she chastised me.

Since then, I obediently drink mate out of the tiny gourd and "in the proper spirit" when the two of us are catching up late at night. It leads to a wonderfully relaxed camaraderie. When no one's around, though, or when I'm burning the midnight oil and there's no time for "real" food, I sip mate from my giant tea mug. Because it's true—mate keeps you feeling full (or, if you read the literature, it "suppresses appetite") and more important, it keeps you alert without making you jittery the way too much coffee or tea can. Which means you don't have trouble falling asleep when you finally get to crawl into bed—even if you've been downing it all day.

Mate tastes pleasantly woody, almost (to my palate) like Japanese kukicha (twig tea), but smokier. And as with most modern popularized and trendified beverages (like rooibos and white tea), there are flavored varieties like mint, citrus, chai, and chocolate available.

Allow me to gush about the bombilla—the brilliant metal filter-cum-straw. Instead of messing with mesh tea balls and strainers, all you do is pack mate in the gourd, add hot water, and sip your brew with the bombilla. Because you don't brew mate with boiling water, it doesn't get uncomfortably warm. Also, if the gourd's packed right (the Argentinean housemate cups it with her palm and does a series of upside down flips and shakes), the finest mate particles are dispersed to the top, while the chunkiest nestle snugly at the bottom, so there's no chance of you sucking up tea leaves with your tea.

According to the housemate, Argentineans carry mate gourds and thermoses of hot water around with them. Entire university lecture halls are filled with people sipping mate out of ecofriendly gourds, rather than lattes out of paper cups. Now, that's something I'd love to see catch on.

About the author: Wan Yan Ling is an impoverished grad student and sourdough finger-crosser living in Rhode Island. She can usually be found in the kitchen procrastinating on "real work" or online tracking down obscure recipes. Ling thinks eating alone is no fun, and she still believes in hand-mixing.

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