Whilst traveling, I always make it a point to eat and live like a local, trying their most famous cuisine and beverages.
In my first week in Paraguay, I repeatedly heard locals and other tourists talking about tereré, but what on earth was it? It was never described the same way twice and seemed to be enjoyed in so many different ways.
Terere is the national drink of Paraguay. I would best describe it as a flavoured iced tea made with fresh herbs. The drink originates from the native Americans of Paraguay, the Guarani, who drank this religiously.
Health benefits are believed to include weight loss, energy boosts and lowered blood pressure from its antioxidants. Locals also add in extra herbs to aid with more specific ailments.
Social conventions surrounding the drink are intriguing.
Friends and family gather around and sit in a terere circle all sharing the drink from the same cup. One person in the circle, normally the head of the house, prepares the terere for the group.
Guarani Indians have been drinking terere since the 1500s.
In the old days, poisoning was not uncommon. It became an unwritten rule that whoever prepared the terere always drank the first cup to prove that the drink had not been tampered with.
The tradition continues even now. After the head of the house has drunk all of the infused water in the cup, they then refill the cup with water from a jug or thermos flask, and pass it to the next person in the circle. Tradition dictates that the drink is passed along to the left. This is repeated until the water in the jug or thermos has run out.
Preparation is simple: fill the cup (guampa) half way with yerba mate, infuse with warm or cold water, let it steep for a couple of minutes, add ice cubes and any additional fruit, herbs or juice, sip and enjoy.
A special drinking straw, called a bombilla, helps prevent the insoluble tea leaves traveling up the straw, leaving all the yerba mate and herbs at the bottom of the cup.
There are some thing you should never do whilst enjoying this drink:
- Do not stir or mix the mate or herbs, as this can make the drink bitter.
- Do not sip the terere and pass it on; your host will be insulted if you do not finish all of your water.
- Do not hog the terere; remember that everyone wants some.
- Do not ask for sugar.
- Do not wipe the top of the straw before drinking. Sharing together as a group is a large part of terere culture!
- Guampa – The horn shaped cup which terere is served in. Traditionally, it would be served in a real horn.
- Bombilla – A metal straw with a filter on the bottom which only allows liquid up and not any herbs.
- Yerba Mate – The main ingredient in terere, a native plant from Paraguay. Specialist shops worldwide sell imported Yerba Mate from Paraguay and Argentina. Can also refer to the hot version of the drink.
- Cocido – The correct name for the hot version of the drink, when prepared with caramelized sugar and milk.
- Yuyos – Medical herbs which are sometimes added to the drink to help with stomach problems or aid sleep.
The best way to experience a true terere circle is off the beaten track away from the cities.
Paraguay isn’t exactly on most people’s bucket lists, so it doesn’t have the tourist infrastructure that most countries do, which makes it hard to get around. The best way to get under the skin of this little-known country is through spending time living alongside local people. Here are some organisations which can match long stay travelers to suitable projects in Paraguay: