With my time in Argentina coming to an end, I decided to make a trip to the city of Posadas. Located about 13 hours to the northwest of Buenos Aires in the province of Misiones, Posadas may be considered the center of yerba mate production. In Argentina, yerba mate is only grown in a small portion of the country including the north of Corrientes province and Misiones. Thus Posadas, as the provincial capital of Misiones, depends in a large way on the success of the yerba industry as it is heavily involved in the commercial side of production. The National Institute of Yerba Mate (INYM) and the tourist organization Ruta de la Yerba Mate are both located here along with the headquarters of all the major producers and smaller collectives. Interestingly, the yerba producing group Amanda is all over the place, sponsoring several of the major bus lines and even has a prominent running advertisement in the main international airport. This company’s financial power and stake in the economic success of yerba should not be underestimated.
Beyond the fact that yerba mate is crucial to the economy in Posadas much more so than in Buenos Aires, I noticed several important differences. First, many people I spoke with in Posadas, in contrast to in Buenos Aires, hardly mentioned the use of yerba mate in Uruguay and did not initially emphasize its traditional use. This most likely has to do with the increased importance of yerba as a commodity to inhabitants of Misiones. Another distinction was the presence of mate in the streets during the early afternoon hours. Of course, many in Buenos Aires share a mate in parks or other open spaces. However, it seems in Posadas people will stop in the street, lean against a wall, take out a mate, and in some cases share it with a friend who passes by randomly. The faster pace of a city like Buenos Aires, as with any large city, does not allow for such random moments of leisure. Buenos Aires, I came to conclude, along with the United States and Europe, is an important target for the yerba mate industry.
I also had the chance to see a presentation by one of the leading, and probably only, yerba mate sommeliers in Argentina. Karla Johan Lorenzo is now somewhat of a celebrity, appearing on morning talk shows and at local events sponsored by The Rural Society. Typically, she gives a short explanation of the history of yerba mate, the tradition, talks about the origins of the various mates and bombillas and then mentions the health benefits of the drink. On television and in person, I heard her talk about North Americans aversion to sharing the bombilla or straw apparatus. She did add, however, that the drink was becoming well known as a powerful antioxidant. In order to assess the accuracy of this assertion, I will be contacting health food stores or stores carrying natural products when I return to the United States.
Posted by Ashley Roseberry – MA Candidate at CLACS at NYU