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Kratom & Coffee, Condemned & Cherished – Why Kratom Tea, and how to brew it.

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Table of Contents
Origins of Coffee
Khalid the Goat Herder and His Discovery
Coffee and Sufism
Fear of Coffee
The Modern Temper Regarding Coffee
What is Kratom?
Tradition of Kratom
Fear of Kratom: History of Kratom Prohibition
How is Kratom Used
Americanized Kratom
Why Kratom Tea Bags are Preferable
When to Drink Kratom Tea and How Much?
Alkaloids and Kratom Science
How to Brew Kratom Tea
A sprawling view of a Colombian coffee plantation.

Jump to the end for our guide on how to brew potentiated kratom tea.

This is a story of how some beloved plant-based foods have been rejected by the cultures they were introduced into. This isn’t an exhaustive list of all the plants that have been condemned. Nor is it describing a law of human nature. Let this story be nothing more than an exposition of a tendency that has been repeated throughout history. And as they say, those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.

Origins of Coffee

Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world. Every day, around two billion (2,000,000,000) cups of coffee are consumed! It is hard to imagine a time when coffee wasn’t common. Yet, like everything, coffee had a beginning.

Khalid the Goat Herder and His Discovery

Coffee was first popularized in the Arabic world. There are several apocryphal tales regarding its origin, spread out over several centuries. The first occurs in 850 AD, when an Ethiopian goat farmer, Khalid, noticed that his goats became very energetic when they ate a particular berry. He tried them and noticed the same energy himself. Excited, he ran to a monastery to tell the monks of his discovery.

A farmer tending his flock.

The monk did not understand Khalid’s excitement as he was unfamiliar with the bean or its effects. He threw the beans into the fire to emphasize his disapproval of the new discovery. Shortly after tossing the beans, however, a delicious aroma spread from the fire and other monks quickly gathered around and salvaged the roasted coffee from the coals. They were ground up and mixed with hot water, resulting in the first cup of joe. The delicious beverage was enough to convert the monk, who no longer disapproved, but instead recommended it for evening prayer!

Since coffee was discovered before written history, all we have are these stories. However, coprolitic evidence (petrified human poop) suggests we’ve been consuming coffee beans since at least 8000 BCE.

Coffee and Sufism

Yet another apocryphal tale of the origin of coffee comes from a famous Moroccan Sufi mystic from the 13th century: Sheikh al-Shadhili. (Other legends ascribe the discovery to his servant Omar.) While passing through Ethiopia, they noticed that the birds who consumed the berries of a particular tree were filled with vitality. Trying them himself, Sheikh or Omar experienced the same vitality but were displeased with the flavour. To try to improve the flavour he roasted them, which made them too hard. He then tried to soften them in boiling water. You guessed it, the delicious result was enough for him to replicate the process.

Other origin stories involve the Angel Gabriel bestowing coffee to Mohammad before he went to battle. Legend says that Mohammad was even cured of his narcolepsy by coffee. In another, King Soloman, given coffee yet again by the Angel Gabriel, cured entire villages sick with plague.

Throughout these early myths regarding coffee, religiosity is a constant. Yet this would not always be the case, as coffee would later catch the ire of both Islam and Christianity.

Fear of Coffee

In 1511, coffee was banned by an Islamic court in Mecca. It was classified as an intoxicant, and like alcohol, decreed haram. For 11 years coffee persisted in the underground, and finally, in 1522 a special order declared that coffee was once again halal. Even in Islam, a culture richly associated with coffee, there was a time when it was believed to be a social ill. Like the alcohol prohibition of the 1920s in the United States, cultures can wildly oscillate in their position regarding a substance – all while the item in question remains the same.

Coffee is near universally loved today, but this wasn’t always the case.

When coffee started sweeping through Europe in the mid-17th century, it rapidly gained popularity. Coffee houses started popping up everywhere. With them came the birth of the public space, where common born merchants would discuss the news of the world, facilitated in part by the semi-recent printing press.

In Germany, where the burgeoning public space encroached upon the rule of the feudal economy and the ever increasing importation of coffee resulted in the loss of substantial capital, coffee was banned. Prior to its prohibition in 1750, there was clearly a distrust for it. Johann Sebastian Bach penned a comedic secular cantata about a young girl prohibited by her father from visiting a coffee shop. Her father declared coffee to be a satanic beverage and insisted he would prohibit her from marrying if she refused to abscond from her foul habit. She refused, insisting that her love for the satanic coffee transcended any love a mere mortal could offer her.

The Modern Temper Regarding Coffee

Instantly recognisable – the coffee bean.

As we are all well aware, coffee is beloved today. Caffeine, its active alkaloid, has found its way into hundreds of beverages. There are no, or rarely any, religious condemnations of coffee. Society seems to get along just fine with it. We are not faced with hordes of withdrawing coffee addicts mugging innocents on the street to scavenge a few dollars to get their next fix. The fear regarding coffee was entirely invented. Like all fear, it was in the heads of those who were possessed by it, not grounded in reality.

Today, we can learn a lot about prohibition and new plant concoctions by looking back into the annals of history. Have we learned to temper our overreaction? Do we overlook the next coffee out of fear of unfamiliarity?

In this post, we argue that it has already happened. Kratom is a plant-based beverage that millions of people enjoy daily, yet is publicly ridiculed in the press and given many characteristics that, frankly, are not rooted in reality.

What is Kratom?

Kratom, or Mitragyna speciosa, is a tree in the Rubiaceae family, the same botanical category as coffee. Like its cousin coffee, kratom has been a part of its native South East Asian inhabitants’ diets for thousands of years. Kratom was first and still is, consumed by plucking the large, green oval leaves from the kratom tree and quickly chewing it. It is spat out within a minute, and shortly thereafter an energizing effect is noticed. In Thailand, the epicentre of kratom culture, farmers make up the majority of kratom chewers.

Mitragyna Speciosa (more commonly known as kratom) is a tropical evergreen tree.

Kratom trees are spread out from the base of the Himalayas to the Pacific Islands of SouthEast Asia. These evergreen trees can grow upwards of 80 feet tall and have been measured with trunks 12 feet in diameter. They have a tremendous thirst, and even small kratom trees will drink two gallons of water a day. As such, they are usually found in the wettest parts of the rainforest, near swamps, or on the edges of rivers. Even though they are tropical trees, some upstarts have attempted to grow kratom in other areas of the world.

Tradition of Kratom

Traditionally, kratom has been consumed in two ways. As we’ve already touched on, the leaves can be chewed and spit out. Second, there is kratom tea. Kratom tea is usually prepared with more ceremony and for social occasions. This is different from the isolated, strictly utilitarian chewing of the leaf done for labour and physical activity. It usually takes around three hours for a traditional kratom tea to be prepared. Handfuls of leaves are added to a cauldron over a fire, and the brew is left to simmer. The beverage is very strong.

The consumption of kratom entered written history in the mid-17th century. Much like coffee, the true tradition of kratom consumption begins well before then. Likely, the use of kratom has spanned thousands of years. For the majority of humanity’s engagement with kratom, there has been little fear or prohibition. There were never any social ills that were blamed on kratom, and puppet shows, art, and cultural memes were made in praise of it.

This all changed in 1943. Much like coffee’s prohibition in Germany, the instigator was money issues.

Fear of Kratom: History of Kratom Prohibition

In 1941, Thailand was sucked into WWII. Fighting in the largest conflict in world history, the country’s officials soon noticed that their coffers were starting to run dry. At that time, estimates suggest that about 17% of Thailand’s annual revenue came from taxes on legal opium purchased by their citizens. The citizens, also strapped for cash, had suddenly, and almost ubiquitously, stopped buying opium.

An opium den, 1905.

Government officials were stunned by this unforeseen change. It had been assumed that their citizens, like it or not, would be unable to stop using opium. Thai officials quickly looked into the cause. “In the words of Police Major General Pin Amornwisaisoradej, a member of the House of Representatives from Lampang in a special meeting on 7 January 1943: ‘Taxes for opium are high while kratom is currently not being taxed. With the increase of those taxes, people are starting to use kratom instead and this has had a visible impact on our government’s income.’”

Without further consideration, kratom was made illegal. Yet the cat was out of the bag, and much like coffee, the consumption of kratom didn’t end with its prohibition. That is, until the 1970s when Thailand escalated its war on kratom and mandated the cutting down of all kratom trees. With brutal efficiency, only one small section of a Thai national forest contains any old grown kratom trees today.

How is Kratom Used

Kratom only ran into trouble whenever it was realized that this run-of-the-mill daily energizing beverage had more up its sleeve. Yet kratom tea has always been viewed as a beverage, something to be drunk with food, and treated like any other food in your diet. Much like regular tea and coffee are considered today and have been throughout their unique histories as well.

In Thailand, kratom is at times portrayed as Americans portray spinach. Something to make you go all Pop-eye and have the strength to endure 12 hours days under the sun harvesting crops and working in the fields.

Kratom tea more so than chewed kratom leaf often accompanies social gatherings. As alcohol is prohibited to Muslims, many in Thailand brew potent teas to unwind with friends.

Americanized Kratom

Despite kratom rarely ever being swallowed in its traditional context, the majority of kratom consumers in the world eat their powder. This is the result of exploding popularity in the United States. Enjoyed for the same reasons kratom has been enjoyed in Thailand, more and more Americans try it every day.

To get to America, kratom has to first endure a long journey halfway around the globe. To make this process economical, the leaves are first dehydrated and then pulverized into a fine powder. The leaves then arrive in the United States with no other context than “these leaves are a popular food item in Thailand.”

Dried kratom powder.

To no one’s surprise, the consumers of imported kratom started swallowing the powder. As this method is extremely foul, several methods soon became popular. There is toss and wash, which involves swallowing a dollop of powder with a swig of water. Kratom capsules have become popular as well. A bit more extreme, and delivering a number of alkaloids unseen throughout the tradition of kratom consumption, are the concentrated kratom extracts.

Why Kratom Tea Bags are Preferable

Unsurprisingly, swallowing kratom powder of any sort may give you nausea or may even make you throw up. If you keep it down, the powder will not only dehydrate you from the inside, but like coffee, also make you pee more. The extracts also get into unknown territory in regards to the number of kratom alkaloids that enter your system all at once. In addition, many kratom extracts also contain residue solvents left over from the extraction.

As kratom has come into the consciousness of America in a “drug-like” form, it has been treated as a drug in the media and by the DEA and FDA. Fortunately, when the DEA tried to have kratom treated as a drug in 2016 thousands of people wrote in to correct them, and dozens of members of Congress agreed. In 2021, the FDA lobbied the WHO to treat kratom as a drug on the international level. Following a hearing with hundreds of scientists interested in defending kratom, the WHO stated that their concern was at the lowest level possible for kratom. Yet the damage to the public image has largely been done, and viewing kratom as it has traditionally been viewed will take a concerted effort. But renormalizing it is possible.

Kratom tea is the traditional, safest and most enjoyable way to consume kratom.

Since, unfortunately, it is next to impossible to consume fresh kratom leaves unless you are in its natural range, crushed leaf kratom tea bags are the form of kratom most closely resembling traditional kratom tea available on the market. Unlike kratom powder, crushed leaf kratom includes the stems. The stems have been linked with a slightly different chemical profile than just the blade. As of yet the significance of this difference hasn’t been further investigated.

Given kratom’s treatment as a food, it’s funny to even have to mention that kratom tea bags actually have an appealing flavour. Because they are ignorant of the story and history of kratom, millions of people miss out on this simple pleasure.

When to Drink Kratom Tea and How Much?

Again leaning on our historical knowledge, it makes sense to drink kratom tea before strenuous physical or mental activity. Kratom powder first gained market success in America through bodybuilding forums. Today kratom tea has superseded powder as a pre workout for obvious reasons.

Usually, the energizing effect of kratom will last around four hours. This is about the rate at which Thai farmers will pick and chew the leaves. One or two kratom tea bags may be energizing. However, as the serving size increases, the effects may shift. Many will drink three or more tea bags in a night to unwind and relax, or to socialize. When you trying anything for the first time, start slow and build up.

Alkaloids and Kratom Science

Coffee has an alkaloid called caffeine which is responsible for Khalid’s excited goats, Omar’s hyper birds, and the sweaty pit stains of a college student pulling an all nighter. Kratom, similarly, contains alkaloids. However, so far over 40 kratom alkaloids have been discovered and characterized. Each is assumed to be a little different from the rest, although their precise action has not been studied.

The main structure of the dominant alkaloid, mitragynine, is characterized by an indole ring. The same ring is front and centre to serotonin, melatonin, and even psilocybin. In three dimensional space, the alkaloid twists into a shape similar to endorphins and some alkaloids found in the poppy seeds.

At the moment, there are a group of scientists at the University of Florida who have received millions of dollars in grants to study these alkaloids. They produce the most cutting edge science and their research is always exciting.

How to Brew Kratom Tea

Just as the past informs the present, so too can the present inform the past. Combining what is known about the chemistry of kratom alkaloids with the ancient tradition of brewing kratom tea, we’ve been able to optimize the brewing process. The traditional three-hour brewing process is no longer necessary to make a delicious mug of kratom tea in the 21st century. All we need is one piece of modern technology, the thermos.

Kratom tea takes so long to brew because the kratom alkaloids do not like to leave the leaf and dissolve into the water. The ideal gas law tells us that solubility increases with temperature and pressure. So simply putting your kratom tea bags into a thermos with boiling water will reduce the time you need to steep. Adding lemon juice, or another food safe acid will also increase the solubility of the alkaloids. (Plus it makes it delicious!)

Steep your kratom teabags in a thermos flask with lemon juice to potentiate the brew.

Taken all together, lemon juice and boiling water in a thermos will produce a ready-to-drink kratom tea after only 20 minutes of steeping. Finally, tradition is made easier and more accessible.

Whether you drink a coffee or a kratom tea in the morning, we hope that this post has allowed you to reflect on the history behind that brew in your cup. Nor should we pass judgment on a plant that has roots in a different culture. Who knows, perhaps there’s a reason everyone is picking on the plant that they’re not talking about.

Authored by Soren Shade – Co-Founder of Top Tree Herbs and former producer of Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia

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