When I left home for Peace Corps Paraguay, I packed one sweatshirt. Paraguay, I reasoned, was hot and my research showed that even in the coldest times of year it was in the 50s-60s. With limited space and the daunting task of packing for two years of my life, I opted for one and only one sweatshirt.
What a mistake that was! As soon as I got settled in my new home, right on the cusp of Paraguayan winter, the temperature dipped and I quickly realized that 50s-60s in the Paraguayan campo was not the same as at home. The wooden and concrete houses were poorly insulated and that meant it was colder inside than out. We would sit in the sun to warm up during the day, and at night we would huddle around portable coal stoves called braseros. My nighttime routine in the winter involved filling a hot water bottle, slipping it into a sleeping bag, bundling up in several layers, and then drifting off to sleep. That first month, I wore my sweatshirt a questionable number of times!
One of the things that made the winter bearable – aside from the miraculous hot water bottle + sleeping bag combo – was mate. Paraguay has a huge culture of drinking mate and tereré. Yerba mate is a plant that is native to Paraguay and its surrounding areas, which can be dried up to form a caffeinated tea. The loose leaves of the tea are placed in a cup called a guampa, and water is added to it and drank through a filtered straw called a bombilla. If the water is hot, it’s considered mate. If the water is cold, it’s tereré. The cup is shared and passed between all the people who are present – same straw and all. There is also a very strong culture in Paraguay of sharing what you have with those who are with you, and mate is a big part of that.
Mate dulce is a special type of mate that Paraguayans make in the winter. I equate it to Paraguayan hot chocolate. Mate dulce is in fact not “mate” at all because it doesn’t use the yerba mate plant. Instead, the dried tea is replaced with shredded coconut, and the water is replaced with hot chocolate. The result is super sweet coconutty hot chocolate that is best shared with friends.
It only takes a few minutes and a handful of ingredients to make mate dulce. If you have a favorite hot chocolate recipe, I encourage you to substitute it! However, to make a proper mate dulce you must have the equipment on hand. I tried several varieties that didn’t involve the guampa and bombilla, but they weren’t nearly as good. You can purchase a set here.
Heat the milk, cocoa powder, sugar, and the cinnamon stick in a small pot.
Stir occasionally until all ingredients are well-mixed, about 5 minutes.
Serve by pouring hot chocolate to the brim of a guampa filled with shredded coconut. The amount of coconut needed depends on the size of your guampa. I needed 1/2 cup of shredded coconut to fill 2/3 of my guampa. Share with family and friends, filling up a guampa full of mate dulce each time.
Paraguayan Hot Chocolate (Mate Dulce)
7 minutes, hot chocolate for 2-4 people
- 2 cups milk of choice (I like almond)
- 2 tablespoons sugar (add more to taste)
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- Small pot
- Teapot or thermos for serving
- Guampa and bombilla set
- Heat the milk, cocoa powder, sugar, and cinnamon stick on high heat on the stove, stirring occasionally. Cook until all ingredients are well-mixed, about 5 minutes.
- Fill the guampa 2/3 full of shredded coconut. Store hot chocolate in a teapot or thermos and pour slowly over shredded coconut. Serve to one person at a time, refilling the hot chocolate for each person.