A bombilla is a Latin American tea straw used to drink yerba mate. Why not use it to enjoy all kinds of loose herbal teas?
I learned about yerba mate from Denise. Denise volunteers on our farm. She drives an hour from the city to spend the day on the farm, a connection to nature for her and a reminder of her mother land of Brazil. One cold day she came to the farm with a canteen of hot water and a traditional drinking gourd filled with tea leaves. She told me they were yerba mate leaves, and she described the traditional ceremony of adding water and passing a drinking gourd around a circle of friends. She showed me the beautiful stainless steel drinking straw, a bombilla, which strained the loose tea from the bottom of the straw. She pours the water at drinking temperature, not piping hot, so she can sip it through the straw.
I was intrigued. I bought yerba mate and a bombilla tea straw at my local food co-op. Yerba mate is a strong caffeinated tea, without the caffeine effects of coffee and with a reputation for significant health benefits. I am not used to caffeine and it still gave me a shaky reaction. But really, it wasn’t the mate I was after. It was the tea straw. I love drinking from stainless steel straws. I love the aesthetic of a collection of tea straws in a mug, ready for friends and tea. I broadened my tea collection to include quality loose teas from Mountain Rose Herbs. I will never go back to Celestial Seasonings. No more “natural flavors” flavoring my tea. I can use the straw to strain a mug of dried herbs from my herb garden, like my own chamomile flowers. Perhaps I will begin to mix my own tea combinations, another branch of the DIY passion. I can personalize the herbs in my mixes. But even without getting into mixing my own teas, drinking loose tea has improved the quality of tea in my life.
I was excited to see Denise the next week. I showed her my mug of herb tea and my tea straw. She looked at my tea and then she looked at me. She smiled and shook her head with an expression that said “Silly American…” She clucked her tongue and said, “Wait ‘til I tell my friends back in Brazil.”
What?! Here I am, taking in the cultural tools, but I am still breaking the social rules? I know that I am not drinking from a gourd or passing the cup around the circle in traditional manner. But apparently, it is enough of a social faux pas to drink anything but mate from the bombilla. I chuckled. I’m always breaking the rules. I asked Denise, “How do you drink a cup of chamomile tea?” She described the familiar process of putting loose herbs in a tea ball strainer. But, of course.
Wikipedia’s definition confirms Denise’s apprehension of using tea straws for general tea use: “A bombilla (Spanish), bomba (Portuguese) or masassa (Arabic) is a type of drinking straw, used to drink mate.” Not with tea, but specifically with mate.
I will, yet again, break the social rules. Always picking the traditions I follow and those I revise, I will morph my newly adopted Brazilian tradition too. Tea straws will be for any herbal tea I wish. They are fun to use and more convenient than tea ball strainers. They don’t snap open accidentally. And they open my world to more creative, more pleasing and more quality tea drinking. I will enjoy tea from a straw.
I haven’t made my own tea mix, but my friend Sarah Frost gave me a gift of some of her blend. It is naturally sweet and full of healthy herbs. She calls it Relax Tea, a blend she created from Mountain Rose herbs, adding a little of this and that until she liked the balance of herbs. I include it here with her permission, to share her gift with you.
I recommend Mountain Rose Herbs for quality loose teas. You can buy the ingredients there to make your own blends as well. Also check your local food co-op for a bulk tea section. See if you can bring your own mason jar to fill with tea right at the store. Buy in small quantities so it won’t sit in your tea drawer for years.
Go to my Pinterest board for lovely images of traditional drinking gourds and bombillas, as well as links to DIY tea blends.
Sarah’s Relax Tea Recipe - by Sarah Frost
• 8 parts catnip
• 6 parts lemon balm
• 6 parts Holy Basil
• 5 parts skull cap
• 5 parts rose hips
• 5 parts elderberry
• 5 parts hawthorne berry
• 3 parts lavender
• 2 parts chamomile
• 2 parts rose petals
• 2 parts elderflower
Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 MOTHER EARTH NEWS Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life at MOTHER EARTH NEWS and House In The Woods, easy to follow from our Facebook Page.