By Stella Katsipoutis-Varkanis

Headshot of Rebekah Pite, professor of history and department head at Lafayette College

Prof. Rebekah Pite, professor of history and department head at Lafayette College

Sharing Yerba Mate: How South America’s Most Popular Drink Defined a Region, published by University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill)

Released Sept. 19, 2023

Sharing Yerba Mate, a summary:

Drinking yerba mate is a daily communal ritual that has brought together South Americans for some five centuries. In lively prose and with vivid illustrations, Pite’s Sharing Yerba Mate explores how this Indigenous infusion, made from the naturally caffeinated leaves of a local holly tree, became one of the most distinctive and widely consumed beverages in the region. Latin American food and commodity studies have focused on consumption in the global north, but Pite tells the story of yerba mate in South America, illuminating dynamic and exploitative circuits of production, promotion, and consumption. Ideas about who should harvest and serve yerba mate, along with visions of the archetypical mate drinker, persisted and were transformed alongside the shifting politics of class, race, and gender.

This global history takes us from the colonial Río de la Plata to the top yerba-consuming and producing nations of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, with excursions to Chile, the Middle East, Europe, and the United States, where yerba mate is now sold as a “superfood.” For readers eager to understand South America and its unique drink, Sharing Yerba Mate is an essential text that delves into an everyday ritual to expose systems of power and the taste of belonging.

Where is it available?

The book is available in ebook/Kindle, hardcover, and paperback editions, and it can be purchased on the University of North Carolina Press website as well as on major online retail sites such as Amazon and Signed copies will be available through Kitchen Arts & Letters in New York City after Oct. 17. Additional links and information can be found on

Why did you write this book, and why should people at Lafayette and beyond read it?

I wrote this book because I think it is important to understand South American history from a new vantage point. While most studies that analyze the Southern Cone (Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, South Brazil) as a region focus on political and economic strife, my book highlights a ritual that has brought people across the region together on a daily basis for more than five centuries. This ritual persisted and even expanded in the face of colonialism, wars of independence, dictatorships, and economic crises. 

People should read this book because it will give them new insight into South America and its rich social and cultural history. It also will help them to think about how food and drink have brought people together and help them to form a sense of community, a process anthropologists refer to as ‘commensalism.’ In addition, it is a lively read with good storytelling and beautiful visual sources. Lastly, I think we have a lot to learn from the mate ritual and from South Americans about the importance of honoring rituals of connection over those of isolation.

How will this research impact your work and/or classroom at Lafayette?

This research has already impacted my teaching at Lafayette. I introduced a new course called Global Stimulants: Histories of Coffee, Tea, and Yerba Mate, which most directly relates. In this course, students learn about the history of these caffeinated stimulants. They also become adept at using visual sources and the digital humanities to create compelling online exhibits. Students—working in collaboration with our research librarians, Special Collections archivists, and digital humanists—have produced compelling exhibits about topics ranging from the representation of South Asian laborers on tea plantation postcards to the gendered and racializing dynamics of yerba mate advertisements.  

I also teach about this history in my surveys of Latin America during the colonial and national eras. I even plan to teach about it this spring during a course I am teaching in Madrid, Spain, for Lafayette’s engineering students called Food, Power, and Movement: A Global History of Spain.

Is there anything else we should know?

I will be holding a book discussion Tues., Oct. 17, 7-8:30 p.m. at Chelsea Market Maker’s Studio space. It is hosted by the Museum of Food and Drink in collaboration with Chelsea Market and the bookstore, Kitchen Arts & Letters, which is supplying the books. Tickets can be purchased online on the Museum of Food and Drink website.  

At the event, I will be joined onstage by NPR journalist Jasmine Garsd. She is an Argentine-American journalist and is currently NPR’s criminal justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup (about Lionel Messi). 

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