18th
Jun
2014

Posted in Kafevend Blog

Mate de coca or coca leaf tea is commonly drunk in the many countries of South America that lay along the Andes mountain range, such as Peru, Colombia and Bolivia. The use of this herbal tea, along with the more simple act of chewing the leaves, can be traced back several millenia. Coca has played a large part in the agricultural sectors of many of the Andean countries, with almost 100% of the global land area planted with coca in those three countries.

As you no doubt either know or have guessed, the coca plant is also used in the production of the drug cocaine. Coca leaves all contain the alkaloid used in the production of the drug, but in much smaller amounts than this super concentrated form. As a result, chewing the leaves or drinking coca tea causes a stimulating effect; though the small, less refined amounts mean that people don't experience the highs that the drug produces. Consuming it in its basic form has apparently resulted in no documented cases of addiction over the last 5,000 years, and has even been used to help recovering addicts kick the habit.

Despite the similarities between the stimulating effects of coca and coffee, the negative connotations of the former mean that it is banned in most countries. However, like the decaffeination of coffee, coca can similarly be decocanized, leaving only trace amounts of the alkaloid. Alongside its stimulative properties, coca can be used as a remedy for altitude sickness- a boon in the Andes- along with providing anaesthetic and analgesic effects, helping to reduce bleeding and even improving longevity!

Despite the relatively tame effects of the coca plant itself, its use in the drugs trade has led to a fight back against the growing cocaine industry in the country. Many groups, including Peru's own government, have tried to encourage coca farmers to switch to the more above board crop of cacao, or cocoa as we more commonly call it. This drive has been met with some success, as new cooperatives have sprung up around the country to support the new crop, along with infrastructure to make it easier for farmers to switch. The sweet, chocolatey benefits of this change over have even made their way to the UK.

In 1999, Helen and Simon Pattinson returned from a holiday through Central and South America with chocolate on the brain. With no prior experience or training in the field, they decided to start making chocolate- quite a change of pace for a pair of lawyers. They started out with one small chocolate making machine, but are now at the head of the popular and successful chocolate company Montezuma's. Helen and Simon are committed to persuing a fairtrade policy, with the chocolate they use coming from cooperatives in both the Dominican Republic and the new ones springing up in Peru. If you consider yourself something of a chocolate connoisseur, why not give it a go?

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