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It took me a while (because it is an acquired taste) but one day in Argentina I suddenly decided I liked mate. I liked mate so much I bought myself all the mate making equipment and located a bag of yerba in the cupboard. But the first mate I made myself was disgusting. Truly foul and bitter. Here’s why:

1. I didn’t cure the mate (special gourd used for drinking mate) before I used it
2. I let the water boil
3. I filled the mate to the top with yerba (herbs that are infused with water to make the mate)
4. I didn’t shake or tip the yerba to distribute the dust
6. I poured water onto the yerba from a great height, straight into the centre
7. I took the bombilla (little metal straw with a filter) out several times, shook it a bit and inspected it before putting it back on the other side of the mate
8. I topped up the mate from the boiled, steadily cooling kettle and not a thermos

So here’s how to make a mate that doesn’t have you spitting scolding-hot mouthfuls of wet herbs into the sink. This is the bare-bones idea, and there are many subtle variations on the technique which are said to enhance the flavour and make the mate experience spectacular. When I have learnt them, I will let you know.

1. Fill the mate three-quarters full with yerba. Covering the mouth of the mate with one hand, tip and softly shake it.

2. Take your hand away, tip the mate so the yerba is inclined at an angle of around 45 degrees. Pour the water into the emptiest side and then place the bombilla filter-end down where you just poured the water, against the mate wall.

3. Drink and then refill, always from the same place, keeping the bombilla in the same position.

I think the worst mistake was letting the water boil. It was all downhill from there, as boiled water kills the flavours of the yerba and makes it bitter. I have got better, but I’m still no expert.

Coming soon in our new series on how to ruin Argentina’s culinary favourites: How to spoil polenta; How not to make ñoquis; How to burn the asado; and, How to spend five hours making empanadas that end up tasting like old shoes

Photo courtesy of Lonely Planet

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