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Syria’s Fascination with Yerba Mate

In 2009 Syria bought 67% of the yerba mate exported by Argentina.
President Bashar Al Assad of Syria’s visit to Argentina is not the only thing these two countries have in common. Argentines and Syrians share the yerba mate tradition, making it the largest importer of yerba in the Middle East.

Dr. Ahmad Ali started drinking yerba mate in his hometown of Aleppo in Syria, when he was 10 years old and has never stopped.

"For us yerba mate is an important social component." When close friend visit we we always offer them yerba mate.  But if someone who is not a close visits and there is no intention to spend a lot of time with them we offer them coffee.

"With family and friends, on the other hand, we can drink yerba mate for hours", tells BBC World.  This Syrian who is based in London, “who every time I travel to Syria I bring more than seven packages of yerba mate in my luggage”.

The introduction of the yerba mate to Syria was initiated with the large immigration from that country to Argentina that occurred between 1850 and 1860, according to the Manager of the Arab-Argentine Chamber of Commerce, Paul Fodaro.

"These immigrants were rooted throughout the territory and over the years became accustomed to drinking yerba mate."  When many of them returned to their home land, they took with them this custom. "They shared the infusion with relatives and friends and, with the passage of time, the Syrians became regular drinkers of mate," adds Fodaro.

Largest importer

So common is the yerba mate to the Syrians, that it is the largest importer of Argentine yerba.  

Syria was the largest importer in value and volume, with 71.2% and 67% respectively of the total exported by Argentina in 2009.

Other relevant markets for the export of Argentine mate are Chile, United States, Spain, Brazil and Uruguay, although all to a lesser extent, adds a report issued by the Argentine Agricul-ture Ministry.

"Certainly Syria remains the most relevant market destination of Argentine yerba mate", told BBC World - Engineer Patricia Parra, author of the report.

The May 2009 study further confirms that imports of yerba mate to Syria now come in its entirety from Argentina.

For the Syrians, yerba mate is so entrenched in their culture that some even think that it is a custom of the Middle East. Thus tells Sanaa Bishani, a student from Tartous, the city where the most yerba mate is drunk.

Al - Swaida, close to Damascus, and Al-kalamoon are two other cities known to mate.

"Drinking yerba mate has become so normal that we feel that it is our." We drink it in the small traditional tea glass vessels, and with the bombilla.  Everyone has their own glass.

“Drinking mate has become so normal that we feel that it is ours.  We drink it in small traditional glass tea vessels, and with the bombilla”. 
Sanaa Bishani, a Syrian student

For me it is a daily routine.  I drink mate when I study, my family sits down to drink mate after the seven o’clock every day. "In Syria we got together to drink mate with my friends", expresses this 25 year old Syrian student.     She adds that they even sell yerba mate at the beach along with juices and ice-cream.


Yerba mate has even brought Sanaa some problems.

"Usually when I return to London from Syria I bring with me 25 packages of yerba mate."

Once at Heathrow Airport they opened my suitcase and found 50 packages of yerba mate, because I also had brought yerba mate for my family and friends.     "I had to explain everything that I knew about Argentine yerba mate to the immigration officer", says Bishani.

Doctor Ali indicates that in Syria yerba mate is cheap and is found in all stores. "Always where there is tea and coffee, yerba mate is also sold", he says.

Each package of 250 grams has a value between 25 and 30 Syrian pounds, a price below US$ 1.

Both Sanaa and Ahmed hope to go someday to Argentina and drink yerba mate there.

Meanwhile, Sanaa said with his mate in hand, “all Syria speaks of the visit of the President to Argentina.

Perhaps President Cristina Fernandez should consider that the best way to entertain her Syrian counterpart is by inviting him to drink some yerba mate.

Everyone with their own mate, of course. . .    That’s Syrian style.

Source: BBC Mundo


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