A trip to the Dobra tea house has a way of gathering all the elements of the day and making them a part of the tea-drinking experience. We drink beverages distractedly throughout our multi-tasking lives all the time, but a tea house makes the beverage central. The tea bowls placed in the center of the table give one a place to start, a grounding present moment that slowly circles out to include the world beyond the windows.
It was a gray morning, so cold and windy after days of warm sunlight that it made heads ache in the back and tiredness fog the body. The wind kept shifting the hair and clothing of the people on the street from one direction to the next. It was, of course, the perfect day to step inside a tea house, because every day is.
This time I tried a Chinese green tea translated as Dragon Eyes. It was shaped into tiny pearls similar to Jasmine tea. I chose it because the description mentioned mountain air, a sweet, bright taste, and the ability to uplift a mood. The first infusion tasted like hot water (which I love drinking when it’s cold, so I did not mind). The next two were okay, slightly more flavorful, but absolutely nothing in comparison to my friend’s smoky Peruvian yerba mate. After taking a sip of his while waiting for the Dragon Eyes to steep, there was no way I could really go back. I loved how the yerba (Spanish for “herb”) sat on top of the water; it was like drinking from a dark green swamp. The traditionally carved-out gourd (“mate” meaning “cup”) rested nicely between the palms, almost the way a potter might caringly cup clay in the process of creating pottery. The bombilla fit between the lips perfectly, almost as if one were playing a reed instrument. The holes in the bottom of this metal straw allow the liquid to come through without any of the floating herb.
It’s quite fitting that “bombilla” translates as “light bulb” in Spanish, as so many are aware of yerba mate’s ability to awaken and sharpen the mind. The particular blend my friend had chosen had an aftertaste of tobacco and honey. I remarked that it seemed dangerous because I felt I could easily drink a lot, and while he agreed, he said that the smokiness made him want to savor it slowly.
As we shared the yerba mate (me drinking hot water in between tiny sips), we wondered aloud about the characters on the street and their lives. When we went back into the gray wind, walking quietly, I said, “What are you thinking about?” and he replied with a very big smile, “Nothing at all, I am just in bliss.”
Share yerba mate with someone special soon, be it on a day with gray walls of clouds or sunlight warming the skin.
This article was originally posted to T Ching in May of 2010.