While I was living in southern Brazil I learned about a unique kind of tea that local Brazilians referred to as Chimarrão (She-ma-how-n). This little drink has since become one of my favorite hot drinks ever,
Chimarrao is wildly popular in the south of Brazil in Rio Grande Do Sul. It consists of the leaves of the Ilex Paraguariensis plant being ground down into a fine powder and served from a dried gourd and drank from a metal filter straw. Drinking Chimarrao is a popular social event amongst southern Brazilians.
While Chimarrao is very similar in nature to Argentinian Yerba Mate there are subtle differences in the consistency, texture, and overall flavor. Read on to learn more about this tasty and robust cultural experience!
How to Drink Brazilian Chimarrao?
How To Prepare Chimarrao
When preparing to drink Chimarao there are some things you may want to take into consideration. Unlike a traditional tea experience that uses one teabag per cup, setting up the cup with the tea allows the drinker to enjoy several rounds of tea.
I’ve personally used empty teabags and placed a teaspoon of Chimarrao in them for a single traditional serving. Other times I’ve added a couple of Tablespoons to the bag to be able to refill my mug for several cups in a row.
One of your first considerations would be preparing your gourd for taking the hot water. I made the mistake with my first gourd of just filling it with hot water right out of the gate. There was a massive expansion of the gourd and it cracked within a few minutes. The smarter thing to do would have been to start soaking my gourd with hot (Not Boiling) water and leaving in a well-ventilated area for the next 24 hours.
This maintenance tactic is reserved for gourds that have either never been used or haven’t been used for a long time.
Another thing you may want to take into consideration is are you drinking alone or are you making this a social gathering? For someone drinking Chimarrao alone, they may want to select a smaller Gourd to drink from. This drinking gourd is called a Cuia (Coo-e-ya). The smaller size of gourd helps you regulate how much of the tea you will want to drink. For example, a small cuia of tea may allow for 10-15 rounds of tea for one preparation while a larger gourd may allow for 20-40 rounds.
Once you’ve decided your portion size, and your equipment selected, it’s time to start preparing your beverage.
Fill your Cuia halfway full with the dry Chimarrao. Then take your other hand and cover the top of the Cuia while turning it 2/3rd upside down. This will move the herbs to the mouth of the gourd and up one of the side walls. This gives the other side of the gourd some space to be able to pour water into.
Turn the cuia back on its side. You can lightly compact the herb into its current position to help secure it for the water pouring. Just be careful not to press it too hard or you run the risk of breaking the tea’s structure.
Tip the cuia back so it is 20 degrees from being completely upright and pour the water into the empty side of the vessel. On your first pour, it is customary to use cold, warm, or tepid water. This serves two purposes, the first helps moisten the herb and to encourage it to maintain its shape. Wet, it acts like a glue keeping the rest in place. It is easier to drink if you can keep the herb diverted this way. The second purpose is to prepare the herb for hotter water.
It is believed by Chimarrao connoisseurs the pouring boiling water directly onto the dry herb will make the rest of the experience bitter. By pouring lower temp water at first, hotter temps won’t have a serious effect.
Many Brazilians will discard the first poured water by sucking it through the straw and spitting it out onto the ground.
After the first water is poured you need to get ready to insert the metal straw before discarding.
Insert the straw into the water-filled side of the cuia. This is done by grasping the cuia firmly in one hand the Metal Straw (Bomba or Bomba) in the other. Before plunging the straw in, it is customary to put your thumb on the end of the straw. This will help keep unwanted debris from getting into the Bomba.
The bomba often has a metal filter at the end of the straw in the shape of a disk. Imagine a colander with all of its little holes the width of an American silver dollar, and roughly the shape of a sand dollar. This filter is installed aiming for the bottom of the herb side of the cuia whilst underwater.
Press it in as far as you can push in and if you feel there is more space to push to reach the bottom, twist the Bomba slightly side to side to help sit it onto the position.
Enjoy your drink. Without grasping the straw, hold the cuia up and draw the warm or tepid water up and out. Spit it out and empty the vessel. Once the water is gone fill the empty side of the vessel with hot water and begin enjoying your beverage. Many Brazilians won’t use boiling water, but will always use water as hot as they can stand to drink up through the straw.
You can keep a kettle on the stove or even pre-boil your water and place it into your favorite thermos style device.
The nature of the metal Bomba helps dissipate some of the heat but not enough before it will burn your tongue so be sure to always use caution.
Enjoy with friends. The person serving the Chimarrao is considered the preparador, and in a group setting, stays the server throughout the night. They are responsible for the procedure and that the Chimarrao makes it’s way around in a timely manner. They make sure the etiquette of the session is kept.
Once they are finished starting the process they fill the cup back up with more hot water and pass it to another participant sitting in the drinking circle. This recipient should be careful to leave the bomba in place and drink the contents at their leisure. However, keeping it for too long may be considered rude.
Once they’ve completed their turn they pass off the cuia to the server who maintains the hot water and he refills the cup and passes on to the next participant. This allows for everyone to have access to the server and makes for a very sociable evening.
In many cases, Brazilians choose not to sweeten their Chimarrao.
A friend of mine who is a daily Yerba Mate drinker asked me once for some of my Chimarrao.
After tasting it, he was taken back and stated that he was surprised it was sweeter than his normal drink. I’ve never actually tried yerba mate so I couldn’t tell you but he seemed pretty happy with it.
Some Brazilians like their Chimarrao sweeter than it’s natural sweetness. Sometimes I’ve been known to add a little sugar, honey, or agave to my water, but for the most part, I like my Chimarrao plain and right from the bag.
I’ve loved drinking Chimmarrao since the moment I first attempted drinking it. In an effort to share this amazing beverage I’m compiled a collection of my favorite Chimmarrao tools on the resource page. Many of which you can find directly on Amazon. Click through this link to see all of our Chimarrao tools and suggested products!
Chimarrao Equipment Maintenance
- Never drop your Cuia. These little cups are made from dried natural fruits and veggies from nature. No matter how strong they appear, they should be considered as delicate as glass. No matter how decorative they seem. Some come plain while others are wrapped in leather, and others may be wrapped in a Cow’s foot like this one in the picture. Each one should be looked after and cared for.
- Clean and dry properly between uses. Once finished with your Cuia, you should clean it by clearing out any tea or debris, and rinse with warm water. The Cuia should then be stored at a 45-degree angle and dried. Then as a precaution, it would be good to warm the water for several hours to prepare for tea.
- Never use boiling water. Some people enjoy a boiling hot cup of tea, but in this case, boiling isn’t good for several reasons. Like stated before we don’t want to burn the herb, but we also don’t want to crack our cuia which sometimes happens.
- If mold does appear, rinse the cuia with scalding water and in more extreme cases it might be good to rise with a 50/50 water and Hydrogen Peroxide mix.