Tereré: A Paraguayan Custom
With a brother living in Paraguay, I have a legitimate excuse to visit South America every few years. Over my four visits, I have developed a fondness for their culture and customs. One such custom is the drinking of tereré. You cannot go anywhere in Paraguay without witnessing people drinking this customary refreshment: in church, the grocery store, the sideline of a soccer game, etc. It is the drink of Paraguay, and if you visit there, this is definitely a part of the culture in which you must partake.
Let’s start with the very basics, so you can have a better idea.
· Yerba – This is the green, tea-like substance that flavors the drink. It is simply made from the dry leaves of a tree in the holly family. It is an herb that contains a caffeine-like stimulant. The crushed up leaves are usually mixed with a mint, lemon, or other flavor to help make up the yerba.
· Guampa – This is the cup. That is the simplest way to describe it. The yerba is placed inside the guampa. Guampas are traditionally made out of palo santo (holy wood) or an animal’s horn. Sometimes they can also be metal with a leather covering.
· Bombilla – This is the straw used to drink. The bombilla is made of metal and has a filter-like base that sets in the yerba.
I realize that my descriptions probably don’t do justice or provide a good image for you. Hopefully, the pictures will help aid your imagination. Now that I have told you about the components, we can get into how it is drunk. The bombilla is placed in the guampa with the yerba. Next, you pour ice water over the yerba (if you use hot water it is called mate instead of tereré). You then use the bombilla to suck the water out of the guampa. Because the water filters through the yerba, the flavor is absorbed. You can drink a couple gallons of water using the same yerba because the flavor lasts.
Now, this isn’t just something where every person has their own individual tereré. This is a very social thing. People will stand or sit around in a group with one person pouring and serving. Everyone shares and drinks out of the same guampa and bombilla. It is a form of cultural bonding. It is a form of friendship and acceptance. There isn’t a fear of germs or contamination. I realize that as Americans, we tend to be germ freaks. We would shy away from this sort of sharing, but it is truly an enjoyable custom. I have never gotten sick from it, and I have never had any reservations about it. People have beautifully decorated thermoses that they carry around there ice water in. Sometimes they are personalized or just support their favorite soccer team.
Every time I go to visit, I make sure to purchase plenty of yerba to bring back with me. I have gotten hooked on it and truly enjoy the taste. It’s a great way to keep hydrated, and there is nothing more refreshing than some tereré on a hot summer day.