Black tea is somewhat expensive in Brazil since it doesn’t grow here. The most popular alternative is erva mate (or simply mate, pronounced “MA-chee”) better known in US by it’s Spanish name “yerba mate.” In Rio, mate is omnipresent in form of an iced tea, branded as “Matte Leão"”. Matte Leão is made of toasted mate leaves and tastes roughly like any other iced tea, just with a somewhat peculiar flavor.
Down south in Rio Grande de Sul, however, people drink mate in form of “chimarrão.” Chimarrão is made from un-toasted mate, which is green in color and has much more grassy taste than tea. Green mate is brewed in a cuia – a special container made from a pumpkin-like fruit of the calabash tree (crescentia cujete). After you put your mate into the cuia and added hot water, you drink it through a metal straw called “bomba” (also Portuguese for “pump”). Cuias are sold all over Porto Alegre, ranging in prices from R$3 to over R$30, depending on the how decorated they are. For R$3 you just get a piece of calabash with the top cut off, a R$25 version comes covered in leather.) Bombas similarly range from R$6 to R$30, though I couldn’t tell the difference. After looking at the equipment in several stores and being utterly unable to chose one out of all the variety, I stumbled across a store that had just one kind decorated with a sign “Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais sem Terra” (“Movement of Landless Rural Workers”). As it turned out, the store belonged to the Landless Movement, or at least claimed to. I decided to get that my chimarrão gear there to please all my left-leaning Berkeley friends. I hope I won’t later get stopped at US border for providing “material support” to a “terrorist” organization. (Did I also mention the word “bomba” in this post?)
After you drink a cuia-full of chimarrão you are supposed to just add more water and keep going. I saw people walking around Porto Alegre with their chimarrão and a thermos.