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Bombilla! Something more than just a tube with a strainer

2023-03-06
Bombilla! Something more than just a tube with a strainer

Apparently, there is no philosophy. A bombilla is, in theory, just a simple tube ending with a strainer to keep the yerba mate grounds out. It is made of wood or metal, with a straight or curved shape. In practice, this simple tool has an impact on the taste and purity of the brew and the overall feel of drinking yerba mate. A good bombilla is a treasure and an indispensable companion on the yerba mate journey.

Summary:

  1. What is a bombilla? Is it some kind of strange spoon?
  2. A bombilla for everyone. Which one to choose?
  3. "Oh no… My bombilla is clogging up. What should I do?"
  4. Bombilla - the power of simplicity

What is a bombilla? Is it some kind of strange spoon?

If you are reading this article, you have probably already had your first contact with yerba mate, or at least you heard about it somewhere. Surely you also know that mate tea is drunk through a metal "straw", called bombilla. We have just imagined this scene: the first time a person who is not familiar with the Guarani’s brew sees a yerba mate lover, holding a large mate gourd with a tube sticking out of it, through which they slurp the muddy green drink. On the face of such a person, we see a look of consternation and, at the same time, a bit of interest. And then such a freshman learns that this strange tube is a bombilla. "A bawm-bee-yah? What is that? Is it some kind of strange teaspoon?" No, a bombilla is used to filter the brew, to separate the fine leaves of the holly from the drink, not to stir in it!

How it all started...

Yerba mate was discovered by the Guarani Indians. They collected leaves from the wild-growing trees of Ilex paraguariensis, which they simply chewed. The leaves gave them energy and improved their concentration, which was very useful for hunting. Later, the Indians noticed that a decoction of the dried and crushed leaves had the same effect. However, drinking the decoction was very troublesome - small pieces of leaves and twigs would get between the teeth and tickle the throat. The Indians came up with a clever way to deal with this. They began drinking their brew through a bamboo tube, which they plugged at one end and punched small holes, thus constructing a makeshift filter. For centuries, they used such a prototype bombilla to filter yerba mate. To this day, tubes made of bamboo are still available on the market as part of tradition. However, the bamboo tube was not perfect - it let the dry product through. It was flimsy; left in wet yerba mate residue, it rotted, making the straw no longer suitable for use. It was also originally not curved, so drinking the brew through it was not as comfortable as it is today. The design of the yerba mate drinking straw was improved after the arrival of the Jesuits in South America. Enthralled by the culture of the Guarani Indians, they became familiar with their favourite drink - yerba mate. They appreciated its benefits and tried to spread drinking mate in Europe. The bamboo tube with a makeshift filter was no longer a convenient tool for drinking the brew, so it was replaced by a metal one, which was called a bombilla - the word is a diminutive of the Spanish "bomba", which can be literally translated as "little pump". According to the author of the book El Mate: Bebida Nacional Argentina, Francisco N. Scutellá, the idea for the curved bombilla came from an Italian immigrant, Annio Silvio Pizzoni, who arrived in Buenos Aires after the First World War to initially work as a taxi driver. He later opened a production of bombillas that had a slightly curved shape, and soon he found many imitators.

Bombillas for yerba mate

A bombilla for everyone. Which one to choose?

Nowadays, we can choose from different types of bombilla, adapted to the size of the mate gourds, the type of dried product and the drinker's preference. Which bombilla will be the best? What should you pay attention to? Let's take a closer look at which bombillas are currently available on the yerba mate accessories market.

Filtering

  • The most common, most versatile of all types of bombillas, and preferred by most mateists, is the straight tube fitted with a “spoon” filter. It resembles a perforated teaspoon. Such bombillas are, for example, those available in our shop: Mercedes, Gringo or Grande. It is a compromise giving the possibility of an attractive appearance, good filtration and resistance to clogging, thanks to its large absorbing surface. You can drink different types of yerba mate, but the "spoon" bombilla is the most optimal choice.
  • Similar to the “spoon” bombilla is the one called “bomba” - equipped with a larger, flattened and round filter with lots of tiny holes that perfectly filter even the finest yerba mate. This is the ideal bombilla for dusty types of mate - it is particularly popular with Brazilians who love to drink yerba mate chimarrão ground to a fine dust.
  • An interesting alternative is a ”coil” bombilla with a spring filter - instead of holes, a spring-like filter is placed at one end. This type of bombilla is recommended more for coarse-cut mate, as it does not filter as well with dusty mate. It clogs up much more often than "spoon" bombillas. However, it is worth having one, as it works perfectly with the right type of yerba mate.
  • Quite unusual in its construction is the ”fanned” bombilla. Instead of holes or a spring, one end has notches whose function is to separate the grounds from the yerba mate infusion. Like the bombilla with spring filter, it will not work well for finely-cut dried yerba mate, which can easily fall through the notches.
  • A good option is to choose a “multi-action” bombilla - with double or even triple filter. Such bombillas are usually notched or perforated tubes to which a spring is additionally attached.

Material

In addition to the filtering method, the material of the bombilla is also of great importance. Tubes on the market range from bamboo, through those made of nickel-plated steel or stainless steel, to exclusive bombillas made of alpaca or silver. More often than not, good quality is followed by a higher price. The more noble the material, the more durable and the better the bombilla looks. It is worth investing in something better. Which bombilla should you choose? Which bombilla is the cheapest and which is the most expensive?

  • The most optimal in terms of value for money are bombillas made of stainless steel and alpaca. Stainless steel is relatively cheap, does not oxidise and therefore does not rust, so that with proper care and regular cleaning, it can last for many years.
  • Alpaca is a special metal alloy (copper, nickel and zinc in various proportions). It is often referred to as “nickel silver” or “German silver”. It imitates silver and has hypoallergenic properties. Like stainless steel, alpaca is very strong and corrosion-resistant. It does not darken and presents itself beautifully. Bombillas made of alpaca are more expensive than those made of stainless steel, but they are definitely worth the price.
  • The cheapest bombillas are those made of wood or bamboo. This is an interesting reference to tradition. On top of this, bombillas made from palo santo can add delicate hints of aromatic wood to the yerba mate taste and aroma. The disadvantage of bombillas made of organic material is their impermanence. If left in the residual brew, they can rot and cracks can appear after some use.
  • The most expensive bombillas are made of silver. These are exclusive high-end accessories, often artfully decorated, which are treated more as jewellery than as everyday objects. Interesting fact - silver shows antibacterial properties, as described by Hippocrates centuries ago.

Special bombillas with a cooling ring are also an interesting option, which prevents the mouth from burning when drinking hot yerba mate. The function of the ring is to absorb the heat of the brew just before the mouthpiece of the bombilla. In this way, a gently cooled drink enters the mouth. A seemingly simple and small mechanism, but it makes all the difference! The cooling rings themselves are not large and do not change much in the design or appearance of the bombilla, although they are often made in a different colour to the tube for the aesthetics of the accessory. Often, decorations - coloured, decorative stones or the manufacturer's logo - are placed on the bombilla along with the ring. When considering which bombilla to choose for yerba mate, it is worth paying attention to the possibility of unscrewing it, the solidity of the connections of the individual parts, the length of the bombilla and the weight of the cooling rings, so that they do not knock over the smaller mate gourds.

"Oh no… My bombilla is clogging up. What should I do?"

Even the best and most expensive equipment won't help much if you don't follow the basic rules of drinking yerba mate. Drinking mate tea can turn out to be a horrible experience if you get dust and tiny bits of dried product into your mouth. While it is true that the grounds are not poisonous, too many particles can disrupt the experience of drinking mate. A bombilla can easily become clogged, but cleaning it can be much more difficult. What can you do to avoid clogging your bombilla? How do you drink yerba mate to get the most pleasure from it?

Rules to follow when drinking yerba mate:

  1. Choose the type of bombilla suitable for the type of yerba mate you intend to drink. Which bombilla will be the best? A quick reminder of what we wrote above: the most universal bombilla is the one with a “spoon” filter, for very fine yerba mate the “bomba” will be the best, and coarse-cut yerba mate will filter well with “spring” and “fanned” bombillas, which at the same time will not work at all well for filtering finer dried products. If this doesn't convince you, double or triple filtered bombillas are a safe option.
  2. Try not to leave the very stump of yerba mate in the pack. If you are nearing the end of the pack, stir the dry product so that the fine dust that has fallen to the bottom is mixed in with the larger pieces of leaves.
  3. Prepare the brew in this order: pour the dry product into the mate gourd, place the bombilla in it and pour in the water. This way you have a better chance of the grounds not getting through the filter of the bombilla.
  4. If you have already poured the dry mate with water before placing the bombilla in the vessel, insert the bombilla by plugging the mouthpiece with your thumb. The pressure created in the tube will ensure that no dried particles enter the filter.
  5. Do not stir the bombilla in the mate gourd! Any uncontrolled movements when drinking yerba mate will cause the tiny leaves and twigs to start moving around in the water and can get inside the bombilla. Yerba mate is not like tea in which you stir with a spoon!
  6. Drink slowly. Large, strong sips can cause you to pull in grounds in addition to the brew, which will make their way through the filter into the tube and then into your mouth.
  7. Take care of your bombilla by cleaning it after each use. As you drink, sediment collects in the tube and filter and clogs the holes of the bombilla, making it impossible to drink your brew through it. Simply rinsing with water may not be enough, so it is a good idea to get a special cleaner.

Bombilla - the power of simplicity

Bombilla is a simple, inconspicuous device that completely changes the experience of drinking yerba mate. A simple tube with a filter that makes sure the pure brew goes straight into the mouth, without the particles of leaves, dust and twigs that irritate the throat and settle on the teeth. It is an essential tool for every yerba mate lover and an integral part of the yerba mate drinking ritual. Which bombilla you choose - it already depends on your preferences. One thing is certain: a well-chosen bombilla is a life-changing gadget for any mate drinker!


Source of information:

  1. Wikipedia: yerba mate, bombilla.
  2. F. N. Scutellá, El Mate: Bebida Nacional Argentina, 1989.

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