ON LOCATION >
Patagonia, Chile and Corrientes Province, Argentina.
COWBOY CUISINE >
Maté is the original cowboy coffee.
In keeping with centuries-old tradition, nearly every cowboy in coffee-rich South America drinks maté, a tea made from the dried and shredded leaves of a small holly-like tree of the same name. Maté contains a compound very similar to caffeine, called mateine, which provides a similar kick, but without the nervous edge often associated with coffee. It's also said to pack a wealth of trace minerals and beneficial phytochemicals, proof that South American cowboys know a good thing when they taste it.
Maté can be prepared several ways, but the most popular is to place a wad of the leaves in the bottom of a small hollowed gourd (it, too, is called a maté), cover with hot water, and drink the strong infusion using a straw, called a bombilla, which has a strainer on the end. Cowboys usually pass one or two maté gourds around a group, leading to the creation of elaborate, usually unspoken, rituals regarding who prepares the gourd, who pours, and to whom is passed the first and last servings.
Maté is gaining popularity in the US and other parts of the world, where it's turning up at specialty grocery stores and coffee shops. With its clean, grassy flavor, smooth boost and health benefits, it seems that maté could well become the next latte. Sure, one serving at your local Starbucks might cost the same as a kilo in Corrientes, but at least you'll get your own straw!