While participating in a conference on drug policy in Buenos Aires last weekend, I had a chance to sample a can of "Coca Sek," the lightly carbonated soft drink made by an indigenous enterprise in Cauca, Colombia. It is being marketed as an energy drink, with coca leaves providing the kick.
Coca Sek is part of a larger effort underway throughout the Andes to promote legal, marketable uses of the coca leaf – used by indigenous groups in the region for centuries, if not millennia, before the Spanish conquest – and to distinguish it from cocaine. It received much media coverage when it was first marketed earlier this year, and this is the second conference at which I’ve seen the drink, though I have yet to see it for sale in a store.
How to describe the taste? If you grew up in a temperate climate, did you ever jump into a pile of newly raked autumn leaves, only to get a bunch of dead, dried leaves in your mouth? The taste is sort of reminiscent of that, only with lots of added sugar.
The representative of the Coca Sek company (which, he said, may be facing trademark-infringement legal action from the Coca-Cola Company) assured me that the beverage will soon come in new flavors, like cola. He added that they are planning an energy drink that will combine coca and guaraná, a Brazilian fruit that contains a compound chemically identical to caffeine. (Hopefully it comes with a spatula to help the consumer scrape himself off the ceiling afterward.)
The can of Coca Sek woke me up quite noticeably, which was greatly appreciated because my plane to Buenos Aires had arrived at 5:00 that very morning, and I still had a dinner engagement (and they eat dinner late in Buenos Aires). Not only did it keep me awake, it also made it a bit easier to string words together in Spanish.
If given a drug test, however, right now I would produce a big, huge "positive."