Mate is the name of a kind of beverage which is commonly drunk in Argentina and other South American countries like Uruguay and Paraguay and the South of Brazil.
The right pronunciation of the word mate by English-speakers could be guided by the following examples. The m is pronounced as in "mountain". The a is pronounced as in "bat". The t and e are pronounced as in "technical".
It was presumably discovered by the Guaraníes: aborigines living in an area which mostly occupies Paraguay, South West of Brazil and North East of Argentina.
Basically, MATE is an infusion based on an herb called Yerba Mate. Usually it is taken with hot water with the help of a straw. Straws are usually metallic or made of bone. Water can be kept on a tea kettle, pava in Spanish, or in a thermo bottle. The name Mate is also given to the container where the yerba is put and taken from. Some mates are made with wood from typical trees of the region like caldén and algarrobo (carob tree).
Some people like to use a mix of hill's herbs. Other people like to add pieces of dry orange's skin, yerba mate with orange, lemon, etc.
How to prepare it:a) put herbs approximately filling 75 % of the mate
b) put the palm of the hand covering the hole
c) shake the mate
d) clean the palm
e) repeat steps c and d a couple of times
f) put lukewarm water in one side
g) wait a bit
h) introduce the straw in the wet side of the herbs
i) put hot water and drink it by the straw.
Bitter mate, sweet mate... Others prefer to put honey instead of sugar. Mate can also be prepared with cold water and a bit of lemon or orange juice. This is called Tereré.
Yes, it is true we share the straw when taking mate in a group of people (Usually if you know the guests). Some people do it with unknown people and in some circles it is an offence not to accept it when it is offered.
Pros and cons: it has characteristics very close to other popular infusions like coffee and tea.
Mate is not a drug. But, the same as with coffee or tea, some people miss mate if they do not have it.
Yerba Mate can be bought (outside Argentina) in places which sell food of different countries, especially Latin American products. If you would like to try it ask to a South American where to get it... He/she will know.