Tea Around The World: Maté and Guayusa in South America

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Preparing the perfect cup of tea is an art form. But depending on where you are, rituals and techniques will vary. Here, we take a look at tea culture in South America, and explore their customs and traditions.

Argentinians and Maté

Sweet, toasty, smoky and smooth, maté is an important part of Argentinian, Bolivian, Paraguayan, Uruguayan, Chilean and Brazilian culture. Enjoyed by the Guarani tribe since pre-Columbian times, this South American beverage is not your average cup of tea. Packed with caffeine and other stimulants, it’s the perfect drink for early mornings or long nights.

Part of maté’s charm is how it’s prepared. Steeped in a hollowed out gourd and sipped through a metal straw known as a bombilla, the beverage is the focal point of social gatherings. Known as the drink of friendship, friends and family will traditionally sip from the gourd and pass it around for everyone in the group to enjoy.

In a traditional maté ceremony, one person assumes the task of cebador. The cebador is responsible for preparing and serving the maté, always ensuring that it’s properly steeped. And while steeping technique might vary from region to region, the cebador’s duty always remains the same: to ensure a rich and smooth-tasting brew.

Tea Around The World: South American Maté and Guayusa


So you’re invited to a maté party, but don’t know how it’s done. Don’t worry… we’re here to help. When passed the gourd, don’t feel rushed. The maté is there for you to enjoy at your leisure. Once you’re ready to pass the gourd on, simply thank the cebador. This indicates you’ve had enough maté, and the gourd can be presented to the next person. And if you’re ever unsure of what to do, let the cebador take the lead. If necessary, they’ll refill the gourd and pass it to the next drinker.

Kichwa and Guayusa

Discovered by the Kichwa people of Ecuador, guayusa has strong ties to dreams and spirituality. In fact, legend has it that the tribe prayed for a plant that would teach them how to dream. Lucky for them, their prayers were answered when a pair of Kichwa twins had a vision. They awoke one night and saw stairs leading up to the heavens. At the top of the stairs, their ancestors presented them with guayusa, a plant that would help their people connect with the dream world. Generations later, it’s a fundamental part of Kichwa culture.


Steep now in the fire

Guayusa is a drink of hospitality and welcome. And as with maté, drinking guayusa is largely a social event. Every morning before sunrise, Kichwa families gather around a fire, sip guayusa, and share their dreams, knowledge and stories. As we saw above, dreams are incredibly important to the Kichwa, as they help guide present and future decisions. This simple morning ritual reinforces their culture and traditions.

The Night Watchman

Revered as one of South America’s super-leafs, guayusa is said to have many powers. Often referred to as the “Night Watchman,” the plant is renowned for its ability to keep you awake and alert. If a woman rubs guayusa leaves before preparing them as a tea, it’s also said that the man who drinks the infusion will fall in love with her. Some even believe that guayusa has the power to ward off snakebites. But we wouldn’t recommend putting that one to the test.


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