Archive | October, 2011

Time for tereré

14 Oct

It’s officially spring here in Paraguay, and that so far has meant either rain or heat. Heat here assures one thing: it’s time for tereré.

One of the first things you’ll notice upon arriving in Paraguay is that everyone seems to be carrying thermoses around. Understanding what those thermoses are for is key to understanding Paraguayans.

The thermoses are for drinking yerba mate. Yerba mate is a beverage served in two main forms in Paraguay: hot (mate) and cold (tereré). It is sort of like a loose leaf herbal tea, that is sipped through a special straw called a bombilla. These two beverages are refreshing, but more importantly they are a shared experience. With mate and tereré Paraguayans relax, share stories, gossip, and build relationships.

Amy with terere

Mate is consumed mostly in the winter and in the early mornings the rest of the year. Tereré is consumed, almost non-stop, in all seasons not winter. Both drinks are prepared with water (hot for mate and cold for tereré) yuyos (remedies) and yerba (loose leaf herbs). Every person here has their favorite brand of yerba and their favorite yuyos. The yuyos (like lemon grass and mint) are smashed up with a mortar and pestle and added to the water (for mate, they are boiled with the water, while for tereré, they simply go in the thermos with the cold water and ice). Once the yujos are added, the water is put into a thermos (termo). The yerba goes into a special cup called a guampa from which it will be served. You fill the guampa up about 2/3rds of the way with yerba. You’ll use the same yerba for the whole thermos of water. To serve mate or tereré, you simply fill the guampa (that contains the yerba) with water from the thermos. Then people use the bombilla (special straw) to drink all the liquid in the guampa. Then the guampa is passed back to the server who fills it up with water again and passes it to the next person to drink.


The thing that makes yerba mate and tereré so special is that they are meant to be shared. People often sit in small groups to relax and talk while drinking tereré. There are special rules for who serves, in which direction the drink in passed and any number of things related to tereré and mate. I’m still learning all of these little rules. People will frequently be seen walking around carring their “kit” (equipo, see mine below), which normally consists of a thermos, guampa and bombilla. While they will occassional drink mate or tereré alone, the magic comes in the sharing.

Amy's terere kit on a bench

Here are some other random notes about mate and tereré:

  • Some Paraguayans have an insane tolerance for hot liquid from all their mate drinking. I nearly burned my lip and tongue the first time I shared a Paraguayan’s mate.
  • Many Paraguayan’s also are very loyal to their brand of yerba. The stores here have a giant selection of yerba from different companies and with different flavors. They grow most of the yerba here in Paraguay.
  • Mate (the hot variety) is also popular in Uruguay and to a lesser extent in Argentina and Brazil. But, aside from Paraguayan’s living abroad, Terere is not really found elsewhere.
  • Many people here own a lot of thermoses. One type is better for cold drinks (tereré) and another for hot ones (mate). Still it’s common for a family to own 2 or 3 of each type. Many people get thermoses that support their favorite soccer team or reflect their personality.
  • It’s considered rude to not share if you have your own mate or tereré, and also rude to refuse to share with someone who offers you some. The only real exception is if you are sick, or have just done something like eat watermelon (they have very weird superstitions about eating certain foods and then drinking mate or tereré). Watermelon+tereré=your stomach will explode (I am suspicious of this belief and intend to test it out when watermelon is in season this summer-your winter).