The other day, after we made this guy,

the Large One and the Small One were cold and began begging for hot chocolate. A recent email from an old friend (hi old friend!) had me thinking about the time I spent in South America many years ago. I was feeling a bit nostalgic so I pulled out my drug drinking paraphernalia and decided to introduce them to one of my favorite traditions: Mate Dulce.

If you've spent any time in Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, southern parts of Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, and weirdly even some places in the Middle East (Which amuses me to imagine as being a side effect of when the world's land mass was one big supercontinent called Pangea. Yes, I know the flaw in that logic; let me have my visual.) you'll know what mate is: basically an herbal tea. But to consume mate in any other but the traditional way would be blasphemy, so you've gotta know what you're doing before you begin. Fortunately, I am here to school you and help avoid any mate-related calamitous incidents in your future.

First you must have the appropriate gear. If you choose to drink mate out of a plastic cup with a disposable straw from McDonalds, you are doing it wrong and we can no longer
be friends. Also: you'd end up with a mouth full of grass-like substance and spend the next day and a half spitting bits of it out... or.... so... I've heard. All the mate paraphenalia can be purchased online, but I generally wait until someone I know is going to South America and then I beg them to bring me back whatever I need: you can often get away with not paying for it that way. Of course this means that the next time I take a trip to another country, I'm gonna have to bring an extra suitcase just for all the souvenirs I owe people.

To begin, you fill a glass, called a
guampa, with tea leaves which are chopped up and called Yerba Mate. Pour water over them. Then you drink the infusion through a metal straw called a bombilla.

That's really it. Did I make it sound too complicated?

In Paraguay, where I lived, they drank it cold during the summer months (which were most months there) and called it Tereré. Both mate and tereré are community building activities. One might say it's the South American version of the Beer Summit. Everyone sits outside in a circle, someone (who is dubbed the preparador) is responsible for refilling the glass with water after each person drinks, and everyone passes the cup from person to person, while talking until the sun sits low in the sky. All these years later, it is still one of my favorite traditions and whenever I happen to know someone who's heading to South America for a visit, I always ask them to bring me back a bag of fresh herb. Oh, I know that I could order that on the interweb too and have it mailed to me any time I wanted, but the possibility of getting my friends strip-searched in customs is just too propitious.

Mate is an acquired taste; traditionally, there's no sweetening the drink like there is with tea. And the herb is quite bitter so I tend to like it's warm-weather counterpart a bit better because the yerba doesn't steep as strongly in cold water. When I lived in super hot climates, I used to keep a thermos and a guampa filled with yerba in my refrigerator too cool off whenever I felt the urge. You keep the leaves moist and then just pour refrigerator-cold water in for a quick fix.

But what I really loved? Was the kids' version of Mate the locals served us called Mate Dulce. In that Wikipedia article, mate dulce is simply adding sugar or honey to the mélange, but in my humble opinion, that article was written by Wrongy McWrongerson. Where I lived, it was a whole other thing. With mate dulce, you replace the yerba with shredded coconut, the water with hot chocolate and then you experience The Sugar Rush of Your Lifetime.

Officially, you have to make the hot chocolate from scratch, but this was for kids and Easy Powdered Stuff is appreciated as much as Something That Takes Hours To Prepare by children who don't know any better. So Easy
was good enough for These Children on This Day.

Regardless of your chocolate choices, you whip up a nice batch of hot chocolate in a pourable container:

Then you fill the guampa with the shredded coconut:

You can actually use regular shredded coconut instead of that stuff that is sweetened and sold in the cake baking supplies aisle of the grocery store. It might be a little bit less sweet that way. For some reason I have never come to understand, though I seldom use coconut for anything in the kitchen, I almost always have a bag of sweetened, shredded coconut leftover in my pantry. It seems to never go bad (or if it does, I'm not intelligent enough to notice). I'm embarrassed to admit just how long I've been nursing this particular bag along; I believe it was leftover from a cake project I did for work several months a couple of years ago.
All that is to say that what kind of coconut you use - sweetened, unsweetened, picked directly from a tree by a barefooted Samoan man - depends more on convenience than anything else.

I was once in Nashville at a conference with a group of friends and we all went out to a restaurant near the hotel. When the waitress came around for our drink orders, one member of our group, Southern himself, asked for "sweet tea" and the waitress asked in her drawl,

"Would ya'll like that sweetened or unsweetened, honey?"

This perplexed even him for a moment and he paused for a second before he just got a deadpan look on his face and simply answered, "Sweetened."

Mate dulce is kind of like that. You can have it Sweet or More Sweet.

Once you have your guampa stuffed full of coconut, you simply pour the hot chocolate over it,

and then enjoy.

That last part was easy for The Shortlings. The Dormouse declared this activity "A great sharing technique." She is so the daughter of a therapist.