The Guarani people called the container used for drinking mate a Caaigúa while the Quechua people called it “mati”. Mati ended up being the term adopted by the Spanish people to refer to both the cup and to the infusion prepared with yerba mate. According to JJ Paliiere (1823-1887) the word mati was simply an easier word to pronounce and for that reason it was adapted by the masses.

The first mate cup ever made was from the fruit of a climbing plant called Lagenaria vulgaris, which belongs to the native pumpkin family found within the yerba geographical region. The Guarani also used them to make bottles, cups for grain storage, and even to wash clothes. To make a mate cup, a calabash gourd is dried and hollowed out. The empty calabash is then “cured,” which is the conditioning of the calabash to prevent growth of mold or odors. This process involves cleaning and removing the skins from the inside of the gourd up to its mouth. In order to cure the gourd, first yerba mate is placed in the calabash, then warm water is poured over it and left to stand for one day. After discarding the used yerba, the insides are scraped out with a spoon to loosen any soft tissues. This operation must be repeated twice in order to clean the calabash gourd completely.

To personalize and beautify their calabash cups, people carved or painted monograms, crosses, fetishes, shields, symbols, legends and all sorts of political messages on them. Mate cups were also leather-wrapped to protect them, especially in areas where they were difficult to obtain. Later, in the mid-seventeenth century, mate became a luxury item. It was introduced into the salons and slowly people began to apply silver or gold coatings to the calabashes. They also filled them to create totally silver mate cups. Sometimes the mate cup was carved in carob or lignum wood, made from coconut or ivory horn, clay, plastic or enameled metal. In the early twentieth century mates were made of earthenware and porcelain in Germany and England. All these mates, those of aluminum, other metals, plastic, glass or crockery are incurable and a simple washing made them ready for use, while the pumpkin and wooded kinds must be cured.