Thursday 10 September 2015

Staying refreshed in South America

Following on from our earlier post on the drinks to unwind with/get a bit tipsy on in South America, this post looks at the hot and soft drinks that you should try (or avoid!) while travelling across the continent.

1) Coca Tea
Prolific in the high Andes, Peruvians and Bolivians swear by the properties of the coca plant (yes of cocaine fame) to prevent altitude sickness, for pain relief and to suppress hunger. 

Lots of people in South America chew coca leaves, keeping a wad of them pressed to their gums in a ball that make their cheeks stick out, in hamster-like fashion. We did try this, but decided we'd rather consume the coca leaf, infused in tea. This was just as well really as we were greeted with coca tea every morning by our porters on the Inca Trail to get us moving. 

Coca tea
It was quite a bitter taste, but I became quite partial to it. And I don't know if it was the tea, but I didn't get any altitude sickness.

The tea either comes in a tea bag or you simply put about 8-10 leaves in a cup and pour over the hot water.

2) Mate Tea
Sharing a mate with friends in Argentina is quite the ritual, with a number of rules to learn if you want to partake. 

A gourd, bombilla and thermos
 - let the mate drinking begin
One person in the group is the 'cebador' in charge of serving the mate. They put the yerba tea in the 'gourd' cup and pour over the hot water. The cebador drinks first to test it out and will then fill up the gourd with the hot water again before passing it to a member of the group. They will drink and then pass it back to the cebador to refill and pass to the next member of the group. 

Mate is drunk through a 'bombilla' straw, which mustn't be moved while you are drinking from it as some of the yerba leaf can get stuck in the straw.

While I enjoyed the social nature of mate and loved the gourds, try as I might I couldn't quite make myself like the mate itself! It's very bitter, even with sugar added (which I was told by some Argentines was cheating).

3) Coffee
Despite great coffee being grown in South America, most of the coffee available across the continent is disappointing. This is particularly notable in Colombia. 

Coffee beans
While we were there, we got ourselves to a coffee farm to try the good stuff. At the same time, on the streets, we found vendors selling 'tinto'. This a best described as a 'coffee flavoured drink' made from the beans that don't make it through the quality control for the export market. It is best avoided if you are a coffee lover!

4) Chicha morada
In our post on South American tipples, we highlighted (and warned you about) chicha - a fermented maize drink, popular mostly along older men in South America.  Maize is also used to make (nicer) soft drinks, like chicha morada. This is made by boiling purple corn with a range of fruits and spice, including cinnamons and cloves. 

Purple drink!
The one we tried had a great mix of spice and sweetness and was quite refreshing. The colour was also very impressive.

5) Juices
Wow the juices! My mouth just waters thinking about all the juices available across the continent. 
Lashings of lemonade
From the lashings and lashings of fresh lemonade we enjoyed at La Recoleta overlooking the city of Sucre to the market stalls of Lima and the particularly unusual fruits available in Colombia. I particularly enjoyed luli in the market in Medellin - a combination of lulo (an exotic fruit that in English is apparently called little orange) and lemons. 

We'd also recommend maracuya juice. Maracuya is a deliciously refreshing type of passion fruit.

6) Inca Cola
While in the land of the Incas, what better way to cool off than with an Inca Cola?

An odd yellow colour, I thought it tasted a bit like Irn Bru. We bought it on a hot day, thinking it was good to buy a 'local' product. We later discovered to our disappointment that it is part owned by Coca Cola. However, Coca Cola only invested in it after they found that coke just couldn't compete. 

Peruvians love it and it remains more popular than Coca Cola and Pepsi.

Related posts:
South American top tipples
Getting Fruity: A Real City Fruit Tour in Medellin
A Breakfast of Acai

Eff It, I'm On Holiday


  1. How funny you found something that tastes a bit like Irn Bru! When I lived in Scotland, people could never understand why I didn't love Irn Bru :-)

    1. I know! I thought it was unique! Did you learn to like it while you were there?

  2. I love Mate Tea, I always order it when I go to a tea house. Also, I think there aren't enough purple drinks out there :D

    1. Purple drinks are definitely not common enough! Glad to find a fan of mate - I love the ritual of it, but just too strong for me...

  3. These are all great ways to stay refreshed. Would like to try the Coca Tea

  4. I drank coca tea when we lived in Ecuador, though the flavor was less than impressive. To me it had a taste similar to what I'd get if I made a tea from the dried grass clippings after my lawn was mowed. Still, it did what it promised and became my go-to when I had a headache. I was actually sad that I couldn't bring it with me when we left the country.

    I agree with you - mate tea is far improved by sweetener. I enjoy one from Paraguay called Yerba Mate Royale it contains mate, licorice root, and stevia leaf. Maybe it's the licorice and stevia that make it palatable, but anyway I like it. :)

    Must go in search of a purple drink that isn't grape juice or wine. That one sounded yummy.

  5. Interesting post, wonderfull fotos, greeting from Belgium