I dream of enjoying tereré in Paraguay… In many parts of South America, drinking tea is a much more social and culturally relevant practice than it is here in the United States.
For example, how often do you meet a friend or colleague at Starbucks for a drink? Probably pretty often. But how often do you sit in a circle at Starbucks, prepare the coffee yourself and share the same customized cup? Probably never. But this is how the people of Paraguay enjoy their tea.
Drinking tereré in Paraguay is a lot like drinking Yerba Mate in Uruguay and Brazil. In fact tereré is also a tea that uses mate leaves but there is one crucial difference in the preparation that goes down in Paraguay; instead of being served hot, tereré is drank with cold water and some people even add ice cubes.
This is not a difference just for the sake of being different. There is a very practical reason why Paraguayans drink the mate tea cold: it is hot all year round in Paraguay.
Enjoying Tereré in Paraguay – The Social Drink
So what is tereré? In essence there is very little difference between tereré and yerba mate. One important similarity is that that drinking of both yerba mate and tereré is a very social event.
Groups of friends, coworkers and students can be seen all over Paraguay gathering in a circle and preparing their tereré gear which consist of the guampa (the vessel from which the tereré is drank, similar to the hollowed out gourd used in the mate ceremony) the bombilla (the filtered straw used to drink the tereré) and the termo (basically a thermos).
Once the tereré is prepared, all participants remain in a circle and pass the guampa around and drink from the straw. However, unlike the Uruguayan mate ceremony, in Paraguay, they replace the water after each person has their share. In other words, no one actually drinks the same tereré.
Another difference between the two drinks is that it is pretty common for Paraguayans to add additional herbs or even fruit juices to the cold drink although, purists look down on the whole fruit juice thing. Termos and Guampas are often customized by their owner to express their personal style, support for a sports team or simply emblazoned with the owner’s name.
The history of tereré stretches back to the indigenous tribe of the Guaraní who invented the drink and like in modern times drank it in a ceremony style for communion and socialization.
The Social Aspect of Enjoying Tereré in Paraguay
Drinking tereré is considered a normal part of daily life in Paraguay. It is also an important aspect of socialization and bonding among friends and family. At its purest, drinking tereré is supposed to symbolize trust and community. People gather, share the tereré and talk to one another just as you would talk to your friend at Starbucks. Of course, the process of drinking tereré in Paraguay is much more ceremonial than the manner in which we have coffee with a friend here in the States.
The Essence of Tereré
Of course, on the surface people drink tereré because of the mate leave’s natural antioxidant and energizing effects but the true essence of tereré drinking is to feel a close bond with the people you care about. Not much about the ritual has changed over the centuries which speaks to the primal function of this tradition and the basic, human need that it fills.