Tereré: Paraguayan Cold Tea

Mate guampa on table against blue wallYerba mate, a brew of tea leaves reminiscent of foliage, packed into a gourd and slurped through a metal straw by the residents of the Cono Sur, continually mystifies and entertains unsuspecting yanquis new to this neck of woods. Mate is more than just a drink- it is a pastime, a daily ritual, and a social tradition. For those that don’t know spanish, the proper pronunciation of mate is “MAH-tay” and can often be found written as maté in english, helping our tongues correctly pronounce yet incorrectly stress the ending vowel.
I will leave the description at that, as just about every english- speaking blogger in Argentina/Uruguay/Paraguay feels compelled to explain the full process in great detail. There is already a wealth of information that I don’t have to write, so go forth and Google!

I am going to write about tereré, or mate frio, instead.

Tereré* is essentially cold-brewed mate and is the popular way of preparing the yerba in Paraguay and the northern regions of Argentina. A jug of cold or iced water is used in place of a steaming kettle or thermos. One may add dried herbs or sweeteners to the water or the leaves for extra flavor and, depending on the region and season, the concoction may be steeped with fruit juice instead of water. Popular fruit choices are lime, orange, lemon or pineapple. I rarely add flavor or sweeteners to any type of tea so I consume my tereré (and mate) straight, though I might try a splash of chilled juice when the humid summer arrives. The beverage is normally served in a dried and hollowed gourd or animal horn.
[*Don’t even dare pronouncing those r’s like in the english word rug. And do not try to roll them like a latino… Make them sound like very soft d’s, with your tongue barely touching the roof of your mouth.]

A kilo package of Amanda brand mate.

Our favorite brand of mate, Amanda, has a strong flavor, lots of twig pieces and little fine powder.

My first experience with tereré was the result of what I thought was tummy problems. Several days of pseudoephedrine-laden cold pills had my innards in a state of confusion and left me searching for ways to regain intestinal balance. Lots of water, a large bowl of oatmeal, and a thermos of hot mate didn’t do a thing to make me feel better; I was left holding my tender tummy and pacing the path from the desk (aka the dining table) to the bathroom for several hours until Fernando arrived home. After listening to my whining, he recommended I take some mate frio to get things moving.

Though I was not pleased about why I would soon be imbibing, I was excited to try the Paraguayan version of mate since having heard about it several weeks ago. For my first experience, I had pictured myself lounging in a park on a hot summer afternoon, cupping a guampa and merrily sucking the cool liquid into my overheated body. Alas, I would be drinking the tereré for medicinal purposes.  It is rumored that mate in all forms is a remedy for a variety of stomach ailments, particularly the blockages that can accompany a diet heavy in meats and refined carbohydrates, as is popular here.

Top view of mate gourd full of green mate with bombilla.

My day starts with a cup of coffee and a round of mate, hot or cold. This was today's first pour of tereré.

Ahh… The first sip was refreshing and much more earthy tasting than I was expecting. It went down smoothly without the slight mouth-burn I get from the hot version. I refilled my gourd and happily slurped down five or six more rounds without Fernando noticing, until he caught me refilling once again with a goofy smile on my face. I was a bit embarrassed by how much I drank, as surely seven rounds of cold-brewed tea would induce something spectacular, right? Fer’s look of horror made it pretty clear that he was sure I was going to pull a Puyehue and blow all over the place very soon. He didn’t want to take me to the market for dinner groceries because he imagined me sprinting home to use the bathroom in a fit of panic.

I can proudly report that mate frio makes the toilet no more my destiny than a bottle of water does. In fact, I am now drinking cold mate more frequently than hot, as it is so much more pleasant to put a cool metal straw against my lips than a burning hot one. It’s also easier for me to turn on the tap than boil a thermos of water. My laziness knows no limits.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my tereré is getting warm.

Two bombillas resting on a yellow book.

I like my mate cooler than most Argentines because these special straws, called bombillas, tend to burn my mouth before the hot water has a chance.

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88 thoughts on “Tereré: Paraguayan Cold Tea

    • The straws are very unique, indeed! I will be bringing a handful back to the States as souvenirs for friends and family- they are such a lovely symbol of the culture here.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  1. Looking at the photo of loose tea leaf on your tea cup, you do strain them, do you? I have to try that in a few moments, I wonder how long the dried tea leaf would diffuse into cold liquid. Just imagine making chocolate drink without having to melt down the cocoa. Cold temperature creates curdle.

    • The only straining that happens is through the straw as you suck up the tea. The leaves and twigs just hang out in the gourd, which you keep refilling with liquid until your tea loses its flavor (it becomes “washed”, or llavado). I find I get the best infusion if I let the water slowly soak into the leaves for several minutes before drinking the first round. The steeping process is much quicker with mate than with regular tea bags!

    • I highly recommend giving it a shot! Try some health food markets and stores like Whole Foods, and look for brands like Eco Teas or Guayaki. It’s not quite the same experience, but you can probably find mate in teabags if you can’t find loose leaf. I would love to know what you think of it if you are able to find some!

  2. There is a guy named Patrick Falternan who has been hitchhiking in South America for a while now. You may want to read some of his hitchhiking stories–they are very good. Patrick’s username on Digihitch.com is ModernNomad. Here is his road profile from Digihitch:

    http://www.digihitch.com/userinfo-themodernnomad.html

    Here are some of my hitchhiking stories”

    “Hitchhiking Stories”

    http://tim-shey.blogspot.com/p/hitchhiking-stories.html

  3. the most important thing about drinking mate is that you have to share it, using the same cup and “bombilla” or straw. Drinking mate is a social event where you share the mate with friends, family and even stranger.

    • You are absolutely correct about sharing being the most important part of the experience. Mate truly is more than just a beverage. My partner isn’t too keen on much mate frio, particularly in winter, so I get to drink it all.
      Thanks for reading!

    • I am from the Northwestern United States- also dreary and rainy year round! It’s currently winter here and I can’t wait for the summer sun! Thanks for commenting!

  4. I’m from Louisana and have become so desenitized to french words that
    hearing a northerner say ee – TOO – fee makes me wonder what the heck
    he is talking about, he writes out ettuffe and then I get it – and I don’t even
    speak french. Mate sounds like something I would like to try – I order green
    tea at every vaguley asian restraunt I come across, and find that it is often
    prepared hot, and served in a tea pot along side a small handel less mug.
    My friends think the mug is inconvient, I think it’s ingenious, as it gets cool
    enough to touch exactly when it gets cool enough to drink.

    • Isn’t it funny how little accents can totally change the sound and, sometimes, the meaning of words? Argentina has adopted some english proper names for places and if I weren’t seeing it printed, I would have no idea they were of english origin because of the spanish pronunciation! I, too, love the oriental tea sets- proper tea cups allow you to feel the temperature before drinking, plus they are just so dang cute.
      Thanks for reading!

  5. I’m Brazilian and I live in the south of Brazil. Our traditional drink is this tea, but our tea isn’t cold. It is hot, very hot. The water need to be boiled. Its name here is “chimarrão”. Who drink chimarrão is called “gaúcho”. Gaúchos are people who live in the south of Brazil. So I’m a gaúcha :)
    Hugs

    • In Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, mate cimarrón (chimarrão, in Portuguese) refers to mate “as is”, no flavors added: no sugar, no herbs, no fruits juice or peel. Just mate and water. And yes, mate cimarrón is a Gaucho specialty, all over South America.

    • I did forget to mention that southern Brazilians drink mate, too! Do you guys drink it cold in the summer, or do you generally prefer it with hot water?
      Besos!

    • Tererê is also drank in the south of Brazil by some gaúchos – and “cowboys” in both Argentina and Brazil are called gaúchos. I loved going to the south of Brazil and watch people drinking chimarrão and tererê on the beach – it was so surreal – and like a glorified pipe! I’m from São Paulo and we lost track of our Tupi Guarany heritage, I guess…

  6. Nice post.
    It´s really part of the culture to share mate with others in South America. I still remember while being in Paraguay – while having (then) absolutely no knowledge of the Spanish language – learning the sentence: “No, gracias. Es muy amargo.” when I wanted to avoid using the bombilla with certain persons …
    Have you ever tried it with a caramell or sweet? Lots of people have their special recipes to create their own “brand”.

    • I love hearing people from the northern hemisphere mention the germ factor inherent in sharing the bombilla. I’ve never been grossed out by it, though it is a general practice to pass if you are ill so you don’t spread your sickness. Your “muy amargo” is a clever way to decline if I am ever in the presence of an ill mate-sharer! I have not yet tried it with anything added- I drank mate before moving to South America so I might just be used to the bitterness.

    • Gracias por tu comentario! Sos hincha de Estudiantes, no? You must be happy with Gimnasia’s relegation! I am looking forward to reading your blog- literature, football, and Argentina is a fabulous mix!

  7. Pingback: Tereré: Paraguayan Cold Tea (via My Argentine Adventure) « It's impossible to be unhappy on a skateboard.

    • I hear you on short summers- I am from Oregon. I actually missed summer by leaving the northern hemisphere in spring. Even though the winter is far more mild here, I feel like I’ve been stuck in the longest grey season of my life. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. I knew those straws looked familiar! I dated an Argentine boy once and his parents had those. I wasn’t into tea then, pity :) Great post and very informative!

  9. I’ve recently spent a lot of time in the studio with two mate drinking musicians. Seems to mean a lot to those guys :) At first I found it a bit too bitter, but I must admit that it’s been growing on me..!

      • Thank you! I thought mate tasted like dried grass the first time I tried it years ago, but I still enjoyed the unique taste. I now consume it multiple times daily. Perhaps the ritual will grow on you and you’ll find yourself sharing the mate tradition with others!

  10. I was introduced to mate last summer by a friend in Costa Rica. I’m always intrigued and excited by new cultural experiences and this was no exception. Returning home to Washington state, I found a close enough version so I could continue to imbibe. You have me curious now about the cold version — expect I’ll give it a whirl tomorrow. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    • Were you able to find a bombilla? I am from Oregon and didn’t have many problems finding the yerba, albeit not in the kilo-sized bag I know buy, but I can’t recall finding the straws.

  11. How interesting! I love tea and I’d definitely want to try this. I wonder where I can get such tea leaves here in Manila.

    I’m only familiar with yerba maté because of Kiehl’s facial products (lol).

    Congrats on getting FP!

  12. I feel proud when foreigners show interest in our culture. I was born in Buenos Aires and now I live in Vancouver, BC. Here it’s very easy to find Yerba. We can get it from a supermarket chain called Superstore; in the foreign foods aisle of course.
    The first time I visited Paraguay I was offered a terere; it was a little of an experience since I was used to the Hot version of it. Also I have to mention that the water they were pouring in wasn’t ‘transparent’ at all… I was told they use ‘yuyos medicinales’ to add flavour and medicinal side effects into the mix. They have ‘yuyos’ for heart, bowels, liver, and all kinds of different problems. Does it work? I don’t know.

    • I was used to drinking hot mate and this was a nice change for me. I have heard about the herbal additions for ailments, but I’ve not yet tried it. Hopefully I can make it to Paraguay to try the real thing and not just my version.

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  14. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! I spent 6 months living in Paraguay last year and can say definitively that I actually prefer Terrere to Mate! At first I thought it was strange, but perhaps after experiencing Paraguayan summer heat, I realized why it’s so vital. They even squeeze some lemon into the cold water source to add a little extra refreshing flavor. Enjoy your Argentine adventure!

  15. I love to try different herbal infusions. This sounds like an amazing alternative to ice-cold peppermint tea. Wonder where I can find it?

    Great blog. Am going to stroll around.

  16. How interesting your post. In Argentina and neighboring countries mate is like the tango, has a culture built. Congratulations and welcome you to my country for any questions, please write to my liking will help a fellow writer.
    Adiós y un saludo para ti…
    Cruz del Sur

    • Chai is anything but ‘bleh’! That’s one of my absolute favorites and the one tea I have been missing the most; I could drink chai all day long. A dirty chai is the best (chai latte with a shot of espresso)!

      • I can send you a recipe for homemade chai. You can find all the ingredients at the dietética, and it’s simple to make! Shoot me an email, and I’ll write back with the recipe.

  17. Hi..! I’m Paraguayan and always find it interesting how foreigners see our drink, it is the truth, something that identifies us completely.
    The terere historically is an energizer, Aborigines and Jesuits discovered that this herb (Ilex paraguariensis), yerba mate, or herb of Paraguay (Guarani ka’a) had the potential to encourage hard work in the sun.
    And until today works so I can not be a day without terere, the preparation is now done in a thermos to keep the cold but always in a guampa made ​​of cow horn, weeds refreshing, and it is always a way to bring friends.
    The terere is something that is not denied to anyone who invites you a terere always be a good friend, usually no one here has a terere sharing problems with a stranger, is a culture. Good post!

    • Gracias por la historia y tu comentario! I appreciate the energy boost mate gives as it certainly helps get through work. Now I just need to work on convincing my Argentine boyfriend to drink it cold more often!

      • Haha! tienes que tomar mucho terere entonces!.. good luck with that hard work! I don’t know why Argentines don’t like the terere .. only in the border areas that were previously the territory of Paraguay,Paraguayan terere taken, but you can try!..

    • Yes, you certainly can find it in the States! Try natural foods stores (maybe Whole Foods, if you have one). I used to buy Guayaki brand loose-leaf in pound-sized bags, though I know there are now several companies that make mate in single serving tea bags. If you can’t find it locally, there are websites that will ship- http://www.gauchogourmet.com has a nice selection and their prices aren’t ridiculous. Good luck!

  18. You have not drank terere you are just drinking COLD MATE and I can´t understand you liking same.
    Original MATE is hot (just first boiled water about 85/90 ° Celsius (185/194F) nobody drins cold mate.
    The tummy cleansing can be obtained when drinking “MATE LAVADO” (Washed Mate) which occurs when the yerba has lost its taste and the remaining water is cold (Believe the results will be outstanding and more if you are not acostumed to mate).
    The terere which is of guarani origien (natives of Paraguay, Chaco, Southern Brazil and Northen Argentina) is made with cold lemon orangde juice (a lot of people use Tang or Minute Maid) never with water.
    To finish, another comment, the yerba in tea bags is used to make “mate cocido” (just like with a tea bag) but it is not the same as Mate itself

    • Hey George, amazing how simple topics like this make for excellent discussion starters, right?
      First off, let’s say that tereré (with an accented é) is cold mate. I’d love to be able to refrain from pointing you to Wikipedia since that’s not the idea behind the narration, as the author of the blog clearly stated at the beginning of the post. But hey! I’m a latino after all, and since you seem to be able to get some spanish… thar ya go: http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tereré
      Secondly, how people like their mate is a matter of their own, so there is nothing like “original” mate. And I can assure you, lots of my fellow South Americans drink cold mate, or tereré, as they call it.
      As for the tummy cleansing (and I presume you refer to the bowel lavage) can be performed by drinking “mate lavado” very well, although I have to say that it is the water temperature that causes the peristalsis. Remember that there is few to none mate products left dissolved in the water…
      Now, to the juice thingy. It’s true that some folks have their tereré served with fruit juice instead of water. They’d use the peel, juice, even whole pieces of fruit in it. Let me say that using Tang or Cepita (Cepita is Minute Maid for Argentina. Minute Maid is Coca-Cola’s juice division and it doesn’t exist per se) is not common at all . ;)
      I believe it was not the author’s idea to lecture on how a proper mate should be prepared or served. It was an outsider’s take on a widespread and defining tradition of this neck o’ the woods, thus giving the rest of the world a refreshing insight on what otherwise is seen as mystic or complex social activity. Pretty much like Tereré does. ;)

  19. Oh… That’s really popular in Brazil as well.
    Tereré is spread along the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, São Paulo, and I believe that in some other states of Brazil. It’s a really good ice “tea” for the heat. Furthermore, it’s a healthy drink with some caffeine… I have been drinking tereré since I was a child. I recommend it.
    This post was really nostalgic to me, in a good way.

  20. Great writing about a wonder plant, Ilex Paraguariensis, and its power to heal and restore.
    I’m introducing yerba mate to anyone who desire a change for better in their life.

    I wrote a little on the subject myself, I like Amanda, but Tarragui, Cruz de Malta, all air dried, and sin palo.

    George.

    • I really need to try some different brands of mate. I am amazed by the selection at the stores! Maybe I will try to sneak some Rosamonte or Taragui into the house. Thanks for reading!

  21. I love the way that cup looks.
    Its pretty intense looking, like something out of a movie like waterworld.
    Or like something I’d find at Renfest. Straw and all.

    I know I’m late to the party but feel better soon!
    If you’d like I can send you some of my favorite tea :)

    • I’ll stash a mate set in my bags for you on my visit to the States! What is your favorite tea? I’d totally ask you to send me some if it wasn’t such a hassle for me to pick it up. A trip to the post office is a half-day affair!

  22. Hi! nice post…but I think its a little confused description about “terere”… The pics you posted belong more to Brazilian way of drinking cold mate (chimarrao). Terere is originally from Paraguay, and you should tell about tons of ice and medicinal herbs that are the most important part of our drink. Weather is warm pretty much all year long, and during summer time drinking “terere” is just part of our lifes. ;) Hope you like it! should come to Paraguay to really taste this fantastic drink…

    • Thanks for the additions! I suppose I should have written about the real way of preparing terere, but since I live with an Argentine I only got his recommendation; I didn’t have the slightest idea of what herbs to add. I would love to experience traditional terere made by a Paraguayan, and I will be sure to write an updated post on it!

  23. My husband’s cousin visited Argentina and brought me back one of those “gourds” and “bombillas” I still have them but had no idea how I was supposed to use it. Thanks!

  24. I went to Paraguay last august, for a whole month (second time in the last two years). I never in a day skipped without drinking tereré! It was like, in the morning it’s tereré, and at night it’s mate. The People i visited made it a habit to always serve terere/mate to every visitors that visits them. I prefer my terere/mate infused with lime in my water.. Maybe because of my crave of everything tangy haha.. I came back to the USA 3 weeks ago, and brought with me a very cool guampa, gourd, and bombillas to share my new cool drink, and/or have my own mate/terere time.

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