Terere is Paraguay’s national beverage. It is also part of it’s cultural heritage. Since 2020 terere has been listed by UNESCO as part of the worlds intangible cultural heritage.
Terere is an infusion of crushed yerba mate with ice cold water. Only in Paraguay is yerba mate drunk with iced water. Elsewhere in places such as Argentina and Uruguay it is taken with hot water. In that from it is known as mate.
Yerba mate is sometimes also drunk in that from in Paraguay. However only first thing in the morning or on a cold evening.
At all other times Paraguayans drink terere. It is to be seen in houses, in offices and out in the streets. Often the second thing to be offered on arrival at a Paraguayan house, after a chair, is some terere.
A taste for terere is one that must be acquired. Soon though the realisation arrives as to how refreshing it is on a hot day.
It is not something that is simply mixed in a cup like coffee. Instead there is a whole ritual behind the preparing of terere, as there is with drinking it.
The first things that are needed are the correct pieces of equipment. Yerba mate is an infusion and not something that dissolves in water. To prepare and drink terere you will need the right vessels.
The first of these is the guampa. That is the beaker like pot that will hold the yerba mate. Traditionally a guampa is made of wood or horn.
It is a round flat bottomed cup that stands a little taller than a coffee cup. There is no handle as the guampa is always slim enough to be held comfortably in one hand.
The exterior is brightly decorated. Most commonly the decoration takes the form of Paraguayan scenes. On occasions rather than that there will be an advert displaying clearly where it has come from. That may take the form of the name of a shop or an advertising promotion for just about anything.
Once you have your guampa the next thing you are going to need is a bombilla.
A bombilla is the perforated straw though which the infused terere is drunk.
The best are made of silver and engraved but on the whole a bombilla will simply be made of metal, with possibly a bit of decoration.
It is a specialised straw which flares out in the shape of a spoon. This is the bottom of the bombilla and is placed inside the guampa. The spoon shaped base of the bombilla is enclosed and perforated with small holes which allow only the infused water and not the yerba mate to pass though.
And that brings us on to the yerba mate.
Yerba mate is a native plant of the region . It’s scientific name is Ilex paraguariensis. It was used to make an infused beverage by the people of the region long before the arrival of the Spanish.
Leaves from the yerba mate bush are cut, dried and ground. Then packaged for sale in every corner of Paraguay.
These days a small number of firms grow and process vast quantities for the mass market. In recent time they have been joined by an ever growing number of businesses offering a more boutique product.
In every supermarket in Paraguay various yerba mates will fill at least one aisle.
To differentiate the many similar products available additives are often added to the yerba mate, either for flavour or for medicinal reasons. Two of the most common additives are mint and lemon, but there are many more.
By now you will have the guampa and bombilla required for drinking terere and the yerba mate from which it is created.
Now you can put everything together.
Take first the guampa and fill it about half full with yerba mate. Some people do fill the guampa higher, but I like to leave plenty of room for the water.
Next give the guampa a little shake to loosen up any clumps of yerba mate and insert the bombilla. When you are doing that it is best to trip guampa a little to the side so that when water is added it can more easily get to the very bottom. Otherwise the water may have trouble filtering down through the yerba mate.
This can be put to the side now for a moment whilst the water is prepared.
Water is usually held in a plastic thermos flask. A large glass jug could be used. That looks better than a flask, but can be a little impractical if no tables are to hand.
It is best to fill the flask with ice first and then pour the water over the top. On a hot day there really cannot be too much ice.
Something else that can be added to the flask is herbs. On the whole these herbs added are medicinal.
These are known in Paraguay as yuyo. A name that covers all the many native herbs and plants that can be picked and added to terere.
It is not unusual to see people on the roadside searching through the grass and hedgerows for yuyo. These are then sold, either on the small market stalls that can be found in every Paraguayan town or by itinerant sellers walking the streets with their baskets of freshly picked herbs.
Another option would be to slice up a lemon or two and add that to the flask.
With ice and possibly yuyo inside the flask can be topped up with water and the terere is ready to be drunk.
To do that pour some of the iced water into the guampa on top of the yerba mate and let it soak in. Just enough to cover completely the yerba mate.
Now suck the infusion up the bombilla and repeat.
The first two or three fillings are always a little bitter. After that the yerba mate soon releases it’s flavour and the taste becomes much smoother.
With everything prepared and in order you can now enjoy your terere under the shade of a tree or wherever else you happen to be.
Just though one final word. In Paraguay terere is a communal drink, something that is shared.
One person will be delegated server and will be responsible for refilling the water in the guampa and for passing it to the next person in the group.
There will be only be one guampa so if you were to partake in terere with a group you will be using the same straw as everyone else.
And that then is how to prepare terere.
To make your own you will of course need yerba mate, but after that any cup and perforated straw will make temporary guampas and bombillas. And just something to hold the iced water.
Oh, and of course, someone to share it with.