The proliferation of coca leaf tea is on the horizon, but is America ready for it?

Coca leaf tea has been a staple of South American culture for hundreds of years. It’s medical benefits are well documented and have been used to treat various ailments. It wasn’t until infamous cocaine trade proliferation that the coca leaf was demonized. Decades later, open-minded people are realizing coca leaf tea can have health benefits. Is the U.S. ready for societal acceptance?

Tea has become one of the most ubiquitous beverages in the world. Its worldwide consumption is only rivaled by water and its origins can be traced back 5,000 years to China. In the U.S. alone, over half of its population drinks tea on a daily basis.

Hot Tea on the Rise

Demand for hot tea has steadily increased in the past several years. As a result of social responsibility becoming a top priority for consumers, high-quality specialty tea has also grown in popularity.

With such rising demands for high-quality, ethically sourced tea in the U.S., one is left to wonder if this will cause the tide to turn on the coca leaf, which has been shunned by the U.S. for its use in cocaine production. Coca leaf has been proven to have many medicinal purposes and continues to be used as a source for some of the most high-quality tea in the world. Still, the question remains: is the U.S. ready for coca leaf tea and its possible proliferation?

Colombia Focuses on the Benefits


The popularity of coca leaf tea and the plant it’s made from has been on the rise in South America. Colombia’s newly strengthened support and protection of the plant came last year after learning that the Monsanto-made pesticide, glyphosate—which Colombia allowed the U.S. to aerially spray on its crops—is highly carcinogenic. By discontinuing their consent of the pesticide use, they join the ranks of fellow Andean countries Peru and Bolivia who have fought back against the demonization of the coca leaf at the hands of neo-colonial forces by legalizing the plant.

Traditional Uses

Proponents of the lea leaf spurred this movement in an attempt to “promote the proper use of this plant, as it has been perverted for centuries, and show how it is actually used as indigenous tradition,” said Ximena Robayo, head of Embajada de la Coca (The Coca Embassy). The traditional way indigenous people have used the plant varies, from using it to brew coca leaf tea to grinding the leaves into a flour to make cooked or baked goods. Coca leaf is even chewed by itself, like gum.

Nutritional Powerhouse

Interestingly, the last in-depth study of coca leaf’s nutritional properties was conducted at Harvard University in 1975 and found it to be a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals. According to the study’s author, James A. Duke—world-renowned ethnobotanist—coca leaves are higher in calories, fiber, iron, protein, phosphorus, riboflavin, and vitamin A than the other 50 vegetable foods they were compared to. They were also found to contain more calcium than any other item on the international nutritional database of food.

Here are a few benefits of Coca Leaf Tea:

  • Alleviates altitude sickness
  • Lowers risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Boosts immune system

Controversial Content

The plant’s benefits have been known and appreciated by South Americans for many generations, especially because it also provides an energetic boost to both body and brain. In many cases, the U.S. and other countries condemn the coca leaf because it is a major component in the production of cocaine. Mainstream belief is not so welcoming to the idea of using the coca leaf medicinally.

The Coca Leaf Censorship

In 1961, the plant was placed on the Schedule I list at the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which was then followed by an enforced ban on the cultivation of the plant with threats to destroy any coca bushes that were illegally grown.

As for the U.S., they classified cocaine itself as a Schedule II drug due to its high potential for misuse. Considering the drug is powerfully addictive, it’s not hard to see why this measure was taken. However, the leaves themselves are comparatively harmless as they only contain up to 1 percent cocaine and would have to go through extensive chemical processing to have the same effect as the street drug.

The Coca Leaf is not Cocaine

It is important to note coca leaves need to remain dry in order to successfully produce the crude coca paste needed to properly make the dangerous street drug. This means the process of making coca leaf tea would render the plant useless to anyone looking to misuse.

Coca Leaf: The Superfood

The knowledge that coca leaf tea would serve as a sacred medicine and powerful superfood that has been properly used for centuries is quickly spreading. This is what led to the inevitable introduction of the plant to Colombia’s mainstream culture. It seems that at this rate, it won’t be long before this movement impacts other parts of the world.

While coca leaf tea may have a way to go before making it to market in the U.S., Robayo remains hopeful in the work being doing in the plant’s motherland. “We believe that in the future, the leaf will take its traditional place as a food and medicine for the people,” she added.

Is the U.S. ready?

Will the U.S. be a part of this future? Is it ready for the proliferation of coca leaf tea?  Considering large corporations like Unilever with products like Lipton Tea, have noticed the shift toward sustainability and high quality-tea and responded by making their own Sustainable Living brands, it seems the answer will come from consumers. Only time and the ever-increasing demand for high-quality, ethically sourced tea will tell.