Let's start off without the obvious, but entirely too frequently misunderstood: Coca leaves are not the same as cocaine. It's like comparing a candle to a jet engine, aspirin to oxycontin or a fudge ripple cookie to an entire tree of coked up Keebler elves.
Not the same bag.
A lovely mate de coca.
Coca has a many thousand year history across a large swath of South America. It's used for religious ceremonies, to combat altitude sickness, to assuage fatigue, as a mild analgesic, it brews into a lovely beverage, and it even makes a fairly comely shrubbery. The plant is an all around badass multi-tasker.
While the locals of Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and several other countries grow up knowing what to do with the stuff, it's generally a big old mystery to people who come in for a visit.
Since I like coca, and since I had a hard time getting any straight info on exactly how to properly chew it, I thought I'd put together a little step by step tutorial. This way, when you come down to do a little touring, you won't have to waste any time not enjoying a pleasant little mouthful of leaves.
Definitely a likely candidate for procurement.
First, get yourself some coca. Look for a nice guy or lady in the market who seems to have a lot of medicinal looking herbs, bark, and/or hunks of various textures and colors. She is likey to have coca.
Smile. Say something similar to "Buenos dais. Tiene hoja de coca?" Continue smiling. If she nods or starts to root around for something, you're in business. Often the coca won't be out on dispaly, as they store it in multiple layers of plastic bags to keep it from drying out.
Your leaves should be dark green, pliable, and slightly waxy looking. Dry ones still work fine, they just get a lot messier in the craw, leaving your teeth looking like they lost an epic spinach battle. The leaves also range widely in strength. As far as I know there is no way to tell by just looking which ones are mas fuerte, but if you buy a couple of different samples it'll become obvious pretty quick.
Once you have the leaves, you're halfway there. Next you need an activator; something that serves as a catalyst for the alkaloids, making the leaves more potent and less bitter (which also happens to be a personal goal of mine.)
Ilucta with a pile of already de-stemmed leaves. No it's not coke.
Lots of things work for this in theory, but what you really want it a natural base or lye. One of the best is called ilucta and comes from the ashes of the quinoa plant. It's a fine off-white powder and is relatively flavorless.
With all essential ingredients in hand, you're ready to get started. Pick out ten or twelve promising looking leaves and remove the stems by folding each leaf in half and pulling the thickest part down toward the tip. Don't worry if the whole thing doesn't come out- you just want to get rid of the woodiest parts.
Next, stack the leaves in a pile and sprinkle on some of the ilucta. Properly powdered, start at one end and roll the whole thing up like a tiny blanket. You can fold it in half if it seems too long.
With the little packet all wrapped up, stick it between your molars on one side and hold it gently. The goal here is to get the whole mess wet and supple, like…well, I'll forgo an analogy for the sake of the children.
Ready for gnawin'.
Once it seems properly softened, you can bite down gently on it a few times to help mix up the lye.
Successfully masticated, you can move the packet between your back cheek and gum and hold it there for an hour or two, occasionally bringing it out for a light chew. It can seem a bit bitter at first, but it should rapidly numb whatever side of the mouth it's on.
Once the leaves start to fall apart or have lost their flavor, daintily spit them out into a proper receptacle. And a good swish of water won't hurt either. Congratulations- you are no longer a coca virgin.
I should note however, that this is possibly the prissiest way to chew coca. It's kind of like eating your pizza with a knife and fork or wearing a top in San Tropez. You can do it, but it's not going to win you any style points.
Lipta for they hardcore among you. Or maybe just for folks who've always wanted to chew on a rock.
After a couple days if carefully prepping the leaves, I had a few locals show me how they did it. Without ceremony, one lady crammed a think pinch of unadulterated coca in her mouth and gave it a quick and furious chew. No de-stemming, no rolling, no nada. She then pulled out a black rock (called lipta or llipta) took a hearty chomp and sloshed the whole wad around for a bit before settling it in her cheek.
Not as pretty maybe, but it sure is a time saver.
Happy coca-ing everybody! And remind your congressperson to stop wasting your money dumping millions of pounds of herbicides on our neighbors' agricultural lands and forests after leveraging permission based on the withholding of humanitarian aid. It's kind of a dickish thing to do. Just sayin'.