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Agwa de Bolivia: para tu salud!


As some of you know, I spent two weeks in South America (Peru & Ecuador) in December 2009.  I fell in love with this region's rich culture, gorgeous varying terrains, tropical climate, friendly people, and delicious cuisine (among so many other things). 

With all of the talk these days about living a more "natural life" (for example, trading in one Splenda packet for three teaspoons of real sugar despite the extra calories; choosing grass-fed beef over corn-fed; free-roaming chicken over caged; eating organic produce, etc.), I embraced many of South America's unique practices and remedies.  One, in particular, was used to lessen the effects of altitude sickness, which I suffered from in Cusco: sipping coca tea, available nearly everywhere in both Peru and Ecuador. 

What is coca tea, you ask?  By "coca," do you mean, gasp, cocaine?  Here's how our friends at Wikipedia define and describe "coca tea":

  • Coca tea, also called mate de coca, is a tisane (herbal tea) made using the leaves of the coca plant. It is made either by submerging the coca leaf or dipping a tea bag in hot water. The tea originates from the Andes mountain range, particularly Peru.
  • The leaves of the coca plant contain several alkaloids including cocaine;[1] in fact, they comprise the sources for cocaine's chemical production, though the amount of cocaine in the leaves is so small, around 0.4%,[1][2] that in order to make a gram of cocaine, 250 grams of coca leaves would be needed.[3][4] A cup of coca tea prepared from one gram of coca leaves contains approximately 4.21 mg of cocaine.[5]
  • Owing to the presence of the stimulant alkaloids, the coca tea provides a stimulant similar to coffee. The tea is often sold commercially in filtering bags, each of which usually contains approximately one gram of the leaf. As coffee can be decaffeinated, the coca tea can also be decocainized. Just like "decaf" coffee does retain a minute quantity of caffeine, "de-cocainated" coca tea will still contain a minute quantity of the drug. When the cocaine is removed, the amount of cocaine is small enough for the product to legally sell in the USA according to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. In the 1980s the tea was used to wean cocaine addicts off of the drug.

Recently, I heard about a brand new liquor called Agwa de Bolivia, which is made with the coca leaf.  Don't get the wrong idea, folks: the coca leaves used to make the product are "decocainised Bolivian Coca. The finest hand picked wild Bolivian Coca leaves are shipped to Amsterdam under armed guard where they are first decocainised before being infused with alcohol and 36 other natural herbs and botanicals to enable the maximum effect."  Apparently, if the liquor is mixed/paired with lime, it activates the alkaloids in the Agwa and gives you an "oxygen buzz," similar to the effects felt when drinking coca tea in the Andes.  Oh, and FYI, it's 30% alcohol (60 proof). 

After perusing the Agwa website, I came across some yummy-sounding recipes and am considering buying a bottle.  Have any of you tried this liquor yet?  If so, what are your thoughts?

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