Some countries are coffee countries, some countries are tea countries, Paraguay is neither.
Like, for real it is neither, the only international coffee chain that operates in Paraguay is The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, who have one location in Asuncion. I went there, it was hot, dark and silent, they literally had to power up the espresso machines to make my cappuccino. Paraguay is definitely not a coffee or tea country.
Paraguay is a tereré country.
Tereré is basically an iced caffeinated beverage made from yerba mate leaves along with various other herbs such as lemon balm, sarsaparilla, crocus saffron, mint, etc.
When the United Nations added Paraguayan tereré culture to their list of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity they found 90% of Paraguayans consume tereré regularly.
Seemingly everyone in Paraguay drinks tereré all day long. How do I know? Because everyone carries their tereré kit with them all day. A container of cold water and ice, called a termo, a drinking vessel, called a guampa and a filter straw, called a bombilla.
I was excited to try this beverage, so I looked on every restaurant menu everywhere I went, I never saw it once. Turns out it’s not really sold commercially because everyone leaves home in the morning already equipped.
I looked for prepared tereré to purchase every day I was in Paraguay and by my last day had given up hope. As I waited for my bus that would take me to the Paraguay/Brazil border I heard a woman calling out “Mate! Tereré! Mate! Tereré!” from the lower level of the bus station. Even though I knew the tereré would be made with water I was very much not supposed to consume I decided it was worth the risk and pulled up a stool to her stand.
I told her in my terrible Spanish that I had never had tereré before, she looked skeptical but showed me how it works. She opened a cooler, took out a cylinder of ice that made from water infused with the various herbs (other than the yerba mate itself), added the ice to a pitcher of cold water (the termo), filled a cup (the guampa) to the brim with yerba mate leaves, and handed me a metal straw with a built in filter (the bombilla). She poured some water into my cup and indicated that I am to drink it immediately, no steeping, and to then repeat, forever.
I do so. It doesn’t taste bad, it’s quite mild, a bit like green tea and lawn clippings, with a herbal kick.
I sat at the bus station tereré stand nursing my termo of ice water until I’d sucked all the flavour from the experience, paid her $5,000 guarani (about $1.50) and felt happy and calm.
Everyone carrying their tereré kit