by Juan Manuel Nievas
BUENOS AIRES, April 20 (Xinhua) -- Argentina's bitter-tasting yerba mate tea is definitely an acquired taste, as evident from the fact that few outside Argentina drink it, or even know about it.
But there is one aspect of the mate tea tradition that people of all backgrounds immediately delight in: the beautifully crafted cups made of calabash gourds, called mates, and silver straws, called bombillas, which comprise a typical tea set.
Craftsman Ramon Vidal is helping to keep that tradition at his workshop in San Telmo District of the capital Buenos Aires, where cobblestone streets and old mansions dictate the pace of deliberate daily life.
"I always like to work with my hands," Vidal told Xinhua, during a visit to his shop.
Dabbling in sculpture and ceramics, Vidal, who once wanted to become an electromechanical engineer, was eventually led to work with metals, where he found his true calling.
"I gradually trained through the work, making made-to-order pieces. I also learned through books and tool courses with silversmiths who were much more experienced than I was," said Vidal.
Argentines drink yerba mate not only every day, but sometimes all day long. It's not unusual to see someone head out into the streets, a gourd in one hand and a thermos in the other, to regularly replenish his cup.
According to the National Institute of Yerba Mate (INYM), more than 250 million kilograms of the caffeine-rich yerba mate were sold last year.
More than 90 percent of households consume yerba mate, with an average per capita consumption of 100 liters a year, compared with 30 for wine and 18 for mineral water in Argentina, the INYM said.
Not surprisingly, whether at home or at work, you'll often see a cup being passed around among family, friends and co-workers.
"More than just a pretty object, the cup represents getting together," said Vidal. "I try to make it beautiful, but not too beautiful, so people will use it and appreciate it."
"The cup is a piece that sells a lot. It is a tradition here in Argentina, and it is a pretty thing -- the combination of the gourd and the metal is pleasing," said the craftsman.