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Tereré - Paraguay's national beverage & the yerba mate boom

Tereré, a healthy, economical and refreshing beverage is an infusion made of yerba mate, similar to mate, but prepared with ice water rather than with hot water.

I am sure you have heard of maté, a tea made with hot water and yerba maté leaves, commonly found in Argentina, Uruguay and southern Brazil. Coffee shops across the US and some European countries are offering yerba maté tea bags as it grows rapidly in popularity.

Mate is delicious, but can you imagine drinking the hot beverage in temperatures over 100°F (38°C)? So in the beautiful landlocked country Paraguay the ice cold tereré is the nation’s drink of choice.

Yerba mate tea bags bought in Paraguay

What is tereré?

The name tereré originated in the Guaraní language.

Guarani is with Spanish one of the two official languages in Paraguay. Guarani is an indigenous language and is one of the most widely spoken indigenous languages of the Americas and the only one whose speakers include a large proportion of non – indigenous people.

This refreshing drink is originally from Paraguay and is found also in northeastern Argentina, southern and western Brazil. The beverage tereré is basically a drink made of yerba mate herbs and ice cold water (which is sometimes enhanced with medicinal herbs). Yerba mate was initially utilized and cultivated by the Guaraní people. They call this infusion ka'ay, where ka'a means herb and y means water. Yerba mate can also be found in various energy drinks on the market today.

The preparation of tereré

Step 1: the tereré gear consisting of -->

  • Guampa → a cup shaped like a cow’s horn

  • Bombilla → a straw often made of metal that looks like a spoon and has a filter in the bottom which prevents the herbs from getting stuck in the tube

  • Termo → isolated thermos for the icewater

The tereré is prepared in the traditional cup called “guampa” which is originally made out of cattle horn. One fills up the “guampa” with 2/3rd of yerba mate, holding the guampa slightly aslope in order to be able to arrange the “bombilla” on the side into the yerba. Here agian the bombilla is the special straw one uses to drink tereré. It has a filter on the base so you won't swallow the leaves of the herbs nor will they get stuck.

Step 2: agua medicinal y los yuyos remedios - enhanced water

Once the yerba is nicely arranged in the cattle horn the next step is to prepare the ice water. The preparation of the ice water is an important detail in the whole tereré – prepping – process. People like to add “yuyos – remedios” = medical herbs, leaves and roots to their water. Depending on your needs or preferences you may chose the ingredients. Actually all you do is tell the herb – seller what effect you would like your water to have. Popular choices are herb preparations which help:

  • lower blood pressure

  • energize in the morning

  • detoxify

  • enhance the flavor

  • help lose weight

The most common herbs are: menta'i (mint in Guaraní), Cedrón Kapi’i (Guaraní for citrus plant), katî (Kyllinga), manzanita or Santa Lucia plant, cedron (simaba cedron), root of the batatilla (root of batatilla plant), ginger and agrial (latin name: begonia cucullata)

--> These are examples of "yuyos remedios" that are offered throughout the country.

I wanted to find out more about the “healthy water”. So I went with my tereré equipment and looked for someone to prepare a nice mix of herbs for my ice water. Luckily I did not have to search long. It is not difficult to find someone along the streets in Paraguay that has a selection of ingredients and a big mortero (mortar). The mortero is used to pound the chosen herbs, roots and leaves. I chose a traditional mix of different herbs to enhance the taste of my tereré.

This is Epifano. He has his stand only a few blocks from where I stayed and I had seen him many times when passing by. He was happy I asked him to make me a nice "yuyo - mix" and he enjoyed the photos =)

I then added the yerba at home as I already had a selection of the brand I like.

.... photo of me drinking

Refresing – Delicious!

El paraguayo y su tereré!!! The Paraguayan and his Terere

The tereré has a unique social function in the Paraguayan culture. During lunch breaks, in the office, when hanging out with friends or simply when sitting in the backyard , there is always tereré.

A Paraguayan rarely leaves his home without their “equipo de tereré” = his tereré gear “guampa” (a cup shaped like a cow’s horn), “bombilla” (filtered straw) and “termo” (isolated thermos).

The way of serving the tereré is crucial and there are rules that should be kept. The tea is often drunk while sitting in a circle, and the youngest person of the group is usually the server. Everyone in the circle uses the same bombilla, but each person must finish a cupful of the tea. You share the tools, but not the liquid. The youngest serves the guampa with water and hands it to the person to his right which is an unwritten rule, but is generally intuitively practiced by Paraguayans. Polite people beware! Saying “gracias” means you are done and would not like to be served again. So keep your thank-yous to yourself until you’re really finished. Another common foreigner faux pas is moving the bombilla. The bombilla is carefully placed to keep the tereré from being too bitter. Swirling it around will ruin the drink and earn you rolled eyes and exclamations of protest.

Some participants wait a few rounds for the terere to get more “lavado,” which means washed-out or flat. The taste of yerba maté is smoky and bitter, and the bitterness can be toned down after the first few drinks.

Although often consumed in groups tereré is also an every – day beverage that people drink by themselves instead of water. As mentioned before, a Paraguayan rarely leaves his house without his tereré.

The tereré was declared Paraguay's national drink and each last Saturday in February there is the fest of “"Día Nacional del Tereré” (The National Day of Tereré).

Group of man drinking tereré on a hot day.

Taking my dogs for a walk - of course carrying my tereré with me to stay hydrated =)

In Paraguay the termos themselves are a fashion statement. People often carry their simple thermos on a day – to – day basis, but at home, on weekends or when out with friends they have their personalized termo with different colors and designs, their favorite sports team or their names on it.

No matter where you go in this beautiful world, you will always recognize a Paraguayan because they so often carry their tereré ensemble with them!

I hope you get to try this refreshing drink sometime - if you do, let me know how you liked it!!

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