Mate is such an institution it deserves a dedicated section of this phrasebook. The word mate refers specifically to the hollow gourd from which it is drunk, but also to the drink more generally. However, the green herb that you use to make the infusion is not called mate, it’s yerba, or yerba mate. There are countless different brands and types, with varying levels of strength and diverse herbal mixes and corresponding claims regarding health benefits.

el mate = the mate gourd (made from a type of pumpkin or calabaza)

la bombilla = the metal straw with a filter at one end

el termo = thermos flask

la tapa del termo = the thermos lid

la yerba = the green stuff (or, to be more specific, the leaves of the Ilex paraguariensis plant, dried, toasted and ground into a powder)

la yerba compuesta = a mix of yerba and other yuyos or herbs

una ronda de mate = a round of mate

mate dulce / amargo = sweet / bitter mate (it’s not common to add sugar to your mate but some people do)

hinchar = to swell (as you begin a round of mate, you have to wait for the yerba to swell up so that it releases the flavour and doesn’t go up the straw)

chupar = to suck (make sure you finish ALL the liquid in the mate when it’s your turn, so the next person doesn’t have to drink your saliva! Gross but true!)

darle vuelta (al mate) = to turn the mate (as you keep topping up with hot water, you gradually work your way around the mate to wet the dry yerba bit by bit, not all at once).

lavar = to lose flavour (literally, wash out, this is what happens when you’ve been drinking the same mate for a while. It’s time to stop, or start again with fresh yerba. But, if you get all the yerba wet at the beginning, it wil wash out very quickly. That’s why the step above is important).

¿Tomás mate? = Do you drink mate? (This is among the first questions foreigners in Uruguay will be asked, right after where do you come from.)

Está muy caliente / medio lavado. = It’s really hot / a bit washed out.

¡Ay! ¡Me quemé la mano! = Ow! I burned my hand! (one of the hazards of drinking mate)


Exercise: Send us a photo of you with your mate! 


Any questions? If you’re not sure about the content of today’s class or have something to add, leave us a comment below and we’ll get back to you. Your questions and comments will help other students too. Our Spanish immersion programs at La Herradura in Uruguay and Spain teach you an international form of Spanish, but the teachers are all native speakers and will offer guidance on local expressions and words.

Coming up next… Class 25: La Parilla


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