A common treatment for poisonings and overdoses, raw activated charcoal — aka coal or carbon — has moved into the spotlight at unlikely places. In L.A., charcoal is showing up at juice bars, and recently as a cocktail ingredient at the newly opened Tacoteca in Santa Monica.
The Punchbowl, a juice bar in Los Feliz, mixes charcoal into their Witches’ Brew juice. A mix of pear cider, anise, clove, cinnamon and noni (the fruit from a tree that grows amidst lava flow), the concoction “binds to pharmaceuticals and pesticides and kicks them out,” according to co-owner Jonathon Wright. He adds, “It gets them the fuck out of there.”
Another local juicery, Juice Served Here, puts the carbon in their lemonade, calling the blend #19. Purported to help with hangover recovery, this refreshment combines alkaline water, lemon, raw sugar cane juice and Montmorillonite clay (found in caves, absorbs heavy metals) with the coal. Together, this blend is said to soak up whatever toxins may be in your stomach, reducing the ill effects of having been a crapulous wastrel.
Ironically, Tacoteca in Santa Monica’s new La Bruja cocktail leads the horse to water (so to speak) by combining jalapeño-infused mescal with a touch of activated charcoal, so you can imbibe your poison and the cure in one glass.
La Bruja also includes banana syrup, lime juice, a slice of pineapple and a dash of cilantro. You may just want two — or five — and if you're lucky, the only ill effects will be a trace amount of grit leftover from the carbon.
The drama of the charcoal is almost as astonishing as its reputed palliative benefits. In Tacoteca’s hands, the charcoal sits at the top of the glass, leaking slowly down into the drink in what looks like a miniature tornado. An inky blackness descends quickly if you stir the liquid, resulting in a completely clouded, dark gray drink.
Does any of this charcoal mumbo jumbo work?
The Punchbowl’s Wright thinks so, at least as far as his Witches’ Brew goes. “I totally recommend it as a hangover cure. It works wonders,” he says. As far as combining the alcohol with the medicine goes, Wright isn’t so confident, but he does say, “It doesn’t surprise me that someone has done it. Someone had to do it at some point. It’s pretty clever.”