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Food

A Bevy Of Beverages

By Iris Brooks
Published August 25, 2008

Whether you prefer medicinal infusions, native mate (pronounced mah-tay), or the trendier Malbec wine, the country has a refreshing beverage for every taste.

It’s possible to drink in more than just the scenery in Argentina—a precious land named for silver (argentums in Latin) and known internationally for its grand landscapes, glaciers and gauchos, as well as a thriving cosmopolitan city life.

In Buenos Aires, you can sip the traditional yerba mate outside the government’s famed Pink House (while mothers gather at the Plaza De Mayo), or you can opt for espresso in the Café Tortoni—a historic meeting place for writers and artists dating back to 1858, with a clientele that has included playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, Italian dramatist Luigi Pirandello and the legendary tango singer Carlos Gardel. And of course, you can always try a Malbec—the fruity red wine varietal that’s grown not only in Argentina, but in France, Chile, Australia and parts of California.

It had been a while since I’d gone tangohopping in Argentina, so I consulted with several natives and wine consultants about their favorite beverages. I caught up with Pablo Aslan, a tanguero, producer and bass player currently living in New York and writing for his group Avantango, while he was sipping yerba mate, a typical herbal infusion from Argentina. It doesn’t leave him jittery like his favored French roast coffee does (a taste he acquired in California), but as Pablo explains, he isn’t from a mate-drinking home. “It was more of a class thing,” he says, recalling his childhood in Argentina. “The kitchen help drank mate—not middle- or upper-middleclass families.”

Indeed, yerba mate is a non-alcoholic beverage associated with rural and working- class roots. The drink is made by fireroasting the leaves and twigs from a South American species of holly, which are then dried and crushed to produce a vitaminpacked antioxidant akin to tea. The mixture is steeped in hot (but not boiling) water, and shared by an intimate group of friends or family, perhaps over a discussion of family affairs, local gossip or the state of the world. It has traditionally been a popular drink with the gaucho cowboys it complements their meat-heavy diet and serves as a digestive.

Nowadays, mate can be found as far away as Alaska, with online accessibility for the intrepid drinker, and sometimes its flavor is augmen