Mate de Coca – The Tea of South America
Our travels recently brought us to Machu Picchu, Peru which is one of the 7 wonders of the new world. It was an estate built for an Inca emperor around 1450 and later abandoned during the Spanish conquest. It was so tucked away in the mountains that it was never discovered until 1911 when a local boy showed an American historian Hiram Bingham to the site. Bingham brought Machu Picchu to the world’s attention.
To travel to Machu Picchu you will likely have to stop in the city of Cusco before your journey. Cusco is over 11,000 feet in elevation and can cause a lot of altitude sickness for those not used to it. There is medicine you can take to prevent altitude sickness or you can drink a special tea that the locals drink — Mate de Coca.
It’s a tea that you may not have had before called Mate de Coca and is mainly found in South America. It uses the leaves from the coca plant… yes the plant that is used to make cocaine. Travelers will drink it alleviate any of symptoms of altitude sickness or they will just drink it because it’s a nice cup of hot tea.
Coca tea is very common and if locals aren’t drinking it they are chewing the leaves. One cup of coca tea is roughly 4.2 mg of alkaloid which is the chemical compound found in cocaine. (A line of cocaine can be 20 – 30 mg)
The tea had a very mild flavor and was easy to drink (some of us had 5 cups!) Restaurants and hotels have this tea easily accessible in tea bags or they will brew their own pot with whole leaves. Our hotel had a thermos of coca tea right next to the coffee.
If you find yourself in the mountains of Peru, be sure to try the coca tea as you won’t be able to find it in the U.S!