In a story being disseminated by the AFP, backpackers in Bolivia are drinking beer brewed with coca leaves – yep the stuff that makes cocaine – as it is believed to help with altitude sickness and other mild illnesses.

Would you try it? Read the original story below:

LA PAZ (AFP) – A Bolivian brewer has come up with an innovative
solution for quenching thirst and coping with altitude sickness: coca
beer, based on the same leaf used to make cocaine.

Coca has only
recently acquired its nefarious reputation: for millennia, people living
along the Andes mountains have chewed coca leaves. The juice from the
leaves has a mild stimulant effect, easing stomach pain and helping
people from the lowlands cope with altitude sickness, known locally as
soroche.

Visitors to high mountain cities like La Paz — located
3,600 meters (11,800 feet) above sea level — often rest and drink coca
tea to deal with soroche. Now there is another option.

“As good
Germans we love beer,” said Hamburg native Malina, who sipped her beer
along with her traveling companion Timo. The friends are students in
their late 20s traveling across South America.

“There are many
types in Germany, but this coca beer is good because here in La Paz it
helps us handle altitude sickness,” she said.

She compared the taste to Hefeweizen, a full-bodied unfiltered wheat beer from Bavaria.

Her
companion agreed. “This is a very good beer, just like that from
southern Germany, but not as heavy — and the alcohol gets to you
faster,” he said.

The beer in question is called Ch’ama, or
“Strength” in the Aymara language of the Lake Titicaca area natives. It
is made from malt, yeast, hops and soaked coca leaves, with no additives
or preservatives.

The beer is in demand among tourists “who want
to try something new,” said Alejandra Orihuela, owner of a bar named
K’umara (“Healthy” in Aymara).

She said that a group of German and
American tourists liked it so much they came by several times a day for
their coca beer, “as if it were breakfast and lunch.”

Coca beer has been produced since 2011 by Cerveceria Vicos, a brewery based in the southeastern city of Sucre.

“This
is a highly fermented white beer with five percent alcohol content,
unfiltered, unpasteurized, and has the moderate aroma, color and flavor
of coca leaf and hops,” Vicos owner and manager Victor Escobar told AFP.

He claims the beverage is an “energizing” tonic.

To
produce Ch’ama coca beer, Escobar first soaks coca leaves in water,
then adds malted barley and hops until the mix reaches its proper
consistency. After a 20-day fermentation process, the concoction is
bottled.

Cerveceria Vicos is a small brewery, producing 10 hectoliters of coca beer a day.

Retail
prices vary, but Ch’ama beer sells for up to $3.60 per bottle. It is
sold in Bolivia and towns just across the borders with Peru and Chile.

But what about coca leaves and that nasty illegal drug cocaine?

Cocaine
is also produced by soaking coca leaves, but instead of water drug
dealers use kerosene, gasoline and chemicals like hydrochloric acid and
ammonia. A solution from the leaves is then filtered, refined and
crystallized.

Bolivia opposes the use of cocaine, but deplores the demonization of the coca plant.

President
Evo Morales, a former head of the country’s coca growers union, is a
strong supporter of finding legal ways of using the plant and of
rehabilitating its reputation.

Bolivia withdrew from the
Vienna-based UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs last year, angry that the
coca leaf was labeled an illegal drug. It was readmitted in January
after winning an opt-out allowing its population to keep legally chewing
the leaves.

The coca bush grows exclusively in the eastern slopes of the Andes.

Bolivia is the world’s third largest producer of coca leaves after Peru and Colombia.

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