Out in Israel: Got Gat?

6.21.2012

By Mike Berlin

Stumbling upon the (as of now) legal stimulant with an ancient past and a trendy following in Israel.

Last night, Out hosted a party on the roof of Tel Aviv's gorgeous Brown Hotel (photos of hot gay Israelis forthcoming!), and I met a friend of a friend, a journalist living in Tel Aviv. While trying best not to be gauche (but clearly failing), I began to grill her on what trends she saw emerging among the pretty young things here, who seemingly party every day of the week, until about two or three in the morning, if not later.

After considering it for a little bit, she mentioned khat (or gat, and pronounced "got"), a plant from the Arabian Peninsula, which induces a similar high to coke--alertness, chattiness, loss of appetite, heightened sex drive, and euphoria. It is legal in Israel, but illegal in many other countries. She said that many partiers were drinking it as a tea, and, although the government may be looking to ban the leafy drug, the religious significance it carries--especially in Muslim-dominant countries like Yemen, where it is chewed by the leaf as casually as gum in the US--will likely prevent Israel from stopping its sale.

As it happened, almost 20 minutes later at the party, I was chatting with a young American guy living in Tel Aviv, who invited me, out of the blue, to drink khat tea at a nearby cafe with a few of his Israeli friends. Um, yes? I'm not the most adventurous person when it comes to substances, due, in most part, to a strong internal sense of hypochondria. But he assured me that it was natural and smooth, somewhat like Adderall. I also wanted to be able to recommend it, or caution it, to you, readers, just in case you find yourself in a similar nightlife situation here in Tel Aviv. So below, a guide for how to handle this particular situation if you should ever find yourself in it. (People with high blood pressure are immediately discouraged. And this should not be taken as an endorsement of any drug, but as a social guide, if you're curious like I was.)

What does it look like?

The cafe itself was really cute, super low key, powered by this vivacious, lovely woman whom everyone knew and who allowed us to blast Azaelia Banks from her laptop's speakers. The tea, rusted rose in color, was displayed in a plain, oversized container not out of place for any cafe iced tea in the States.

What does it cost?

For something like a 10 oz. cup, it cost 28 shekels, or $7.

Are you ready to try it?

Well, let me ask you this: Did you eat before going out? Because drinking khat on an empty stomach, while curbing your appetite, is somewhat unhealthy. I would recommend ordering food with it (or, if you're disgustingly cheap like me, aggressively picking at everyone's fries and falafels). Also, have some water nearby; khat dries out your throat a bit.

What does it taste like?

Hibiscus tea. Actually, pretty damn close to hibiscus tea. It's tart, too, but relatively unassuming as far as teas go.

You've drank half the cup. Are you freaking out yet?

No. But it does start affecting you as soon as you drink it. The initial stimulation is that of an espresso shot, but with a little more kick. You will start to feel awake and chatty, which helps if you feel somewhat awkward communicating in a foreign country to begin with. You may also approach or ask stupid questions of complete strangers, which is, aside from being a tiny bit annoying, totally normal and fine.

You've finished the cup. Are you bouncing off the walls yet?

While "euphoria" might be somewhat of an exaggeration, there is a noticeable perk and pleasantness to the effects, especially if you've been drinking alcohol earlier in the night. In fact, khat counteracts drinking, which is why it's so popular for the late partier. The high was not super intense, but I did find myself intensely interested in everything, from serious conversations about Israel's relationship to Sudanese refugees to small storefront we passed afterward with a bunch of mannequins wearing cheap leotards. Fortunately, the tea I drank did not make me feel uncomfortable or sweaty or nervous or anxious, but I did feel a little parched. The experience, truthfully, is what I would imagine Adderall to be like (I say "imagine" because I legitimately have never tried).

How long does it last?

This is tricky. Expect it to work for at least three hours, if not more. I drank khat at midnight and stayed up until about six in the morning. I also am affected by any sort of stimulant a bit more than other people. But allowing yourself fours hours before you can soundly sleep makes sense.

What should I not do on khat?

Drink. Or any other drugs. It's not advisable to mix khat with anything else, except water. Don't worry, though: You will still feel extremely social afterward. Go to the club and dance. Pick strangers' brains. Walk around and look at dilapidated Bauhaus architecture. Approach the endless number of stray cats you'll meet in the streets of Tel Aviv. Just hold off on getting a cocktail, at least until the next night.

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