I honor of Uruguay's world cup victory, I decided to break out my bombilla, and treat myself to some hot, bracing yerba maté. Yerba maté is a tea-like infusion of the pulverized leaves of a South American tree of the genus Ilex, a close relative of the holly tree. This infusion is a popular beverage in southern South America (Argentina, southern Brazil, and the "Axis of 'Guay"). It is commonly drunk from a gourd (maté), using a bombilla, a metal straw with a strainer at the tip which is inserted into the gourd. Yerba maté contains caffeine and other alkaloids, so it has a stimulant effect. Traditionally, the beverage is consumed in communal style, the leaves are placed in the gourd, then hot water is poured over the leaves. The consumer drinks the beverage, then passes the gourd to the designated pourer, who refills the gourd for the next consumer. The first "fill" of the mug is extremely strong and bitter, and care must be taken not to drink any of the "sediment" of finely-ground leaves that may rest on the gourd's bottom. Each additional refill of the gourd results in a weaker infusion, and the beverage actually has a pleasant flavor by the third or fourth "fill" (one has to grit one's teeth and put up with the stuff before this). Of course, those not used to drinking the stuff can brew it as if it were tea (when pressed for time, I'll throw some of the stuff in the coffee pot, and brew a thermos-full).
Rather than a gourd, my maté is an embossed-leather wrapped wooden cup, advertising Pajarito brand yerba maté from Paraguay. Other brands I have tried are Argentina's Cruz de Malta, and the pictured brand, Canarias, from Uruguay:
Locally, yerba maté can be purchased in the C-Town supermarket in Tarrytown, which has a wide variety of South American products (including cuy). Another source for yerba maté (and the best source for bombillas and matés in Westchester) is the Panaderia Uruguaya Las Gemelas, a Uruguayan bakery in Port Chester, which also makes very good empanadas and pastries (their tres leches cake and dulce de leche-filled pastries are top-notch). Also on Westchester Avenue in Port Chester, one can find Inca y Gaucho, a Peruvian/Uruguayan restaurant (and possible future post topic).
UPDATE: For the sake of accuracy, please note that the Canarias company seems to be headquartered in Uruguay, but the actual product in the bag pictured above is Brazilian. The label, however, is in Spanish.