How Does Tongkat Ali Coffee Compare to Powders and Extracts?
The herbal supplement tongkat ali was recently shown on the Dr. Oz show, which the guest used to make tongkat ali coffee. It’s exciting to see such a remarkable, yet obscure herb get mainstream coverage like this.
As mentioned on the show, the properties of tongkat ali in boosting your sex drive have been clinically proven, as well as its ability to increase erectile function, increase testosterone levels, and a variety of other wonderful effects. These things are all well documented facts about tongkat ali root extract.
The show’s guest proceeded to make cups of his company’s tongkat ali coffee mix, described as “delicious.” This raised some alarm bells for me, and I’d like to explain some things about tongkat ali so that readers might understand why. Here’s the problem…
Tongkat Ali Coffee Doesn’t Work!
Tongkat ali extract is extremely bitter and unpalatable. Even a small useful quantity of the substance would make for an entirely undrinkable beverage. You could season and spice it all you like, but the overwhelming rancid/bitter flavor will show through.
You could never use this to fashion a “delicious” drink, in any way. The Gano Excel coffee probably contains tongkat ali, but the high potency extract, needed to achieve the herb’s wonderful effects, is likely not present, certainly not in any useful amount.
There have been traditional teas made from tongkat ali, for medicinal use. However, the varieties with any potency all share the common problem that the flavor is horrible. This would usually be overlooked as one expects a medicinal elixir to taste foul. Luckily, modern extraction methods let us bypass the flavor problem. But before we get to the extract, let’s also take a look at the powder.
Tongkat Ali Powder Doesn’t Work!
Tongkat ali extract does work amazingly well. It’s important to distinguish it from the root powder, occasionally offered by disreputable companies. As you might imagine, the root powder (which hasn’t undergone extraction) contains only trace quantities of the desired compounds, and as such has no significant effect. MIT has been conducting continuous studies into the plant , and among their findings have stated that the bioactive compounds make up less than 0.005% – a very miniscule amount, indeed.
Powders from the plant just aren’t potent enough to be of use for promoting health, you’d have to consume huge quantities to get even the slightest effect. That hasn’t stopped some companies from trying to cash in, and sell plain powder to unsuspecting customers.
Tongkat Ali Extract Really Works!
Luckily for us, we can use extraction techniques to solve the potency problem, and be left with high powered extract in the end. We know that root of the tongkat ali plant is where all the active ingredients are present, though they exist only in very miniscule quantities. As a result, it’s necessary to fashion an extract from the roots. Traditionally, this is done by boiling down 50 grams of the root until you’re left with a small, concentrated, acrid tea.
In modern distribution, the extract is powdered and placed in pills so that it can easily be administered without the horrible taste being a problem. A similar reduction of 50 grams of root to 1 gram of extract powder is considered a 1:50 strength extract. Higher extraction ratios produce more potent results, some products offering ratios of up to 1:200.
I want to point out that some companies sell “Tongkat ali extract” without specifying the extraction ratio. Whatever you do, avoid these! Many times they will use weak extraction ratios such as 4:1 or even 2:1 in order to make more profit off a product so weak that it’s useless. Only choose brands which specify their extraction ratio, and aim for higher extraction ratios to be assured of potency.
All Extract is not Created Equal – What You Need to Know
So now we know that the extract is what we’re interested in… but not so fast! There’s another problem. Tongkat ali is a tree, and like any plant, the health of the plant and it’s environment have a huge influence over its development.
Tongkat ali is native to only a few parts of Southeast Asia. The rainforests of Malaysia and Indonesia are its primary environment. In Malaysia, the supply of the plant has dwindled so low that it’s now an endangered plant, protected and illegal to harvest. To make matters worse, Malaysian tongkat ali has been shown to contain a high quantity of lead – from 10.64 in some tests all the way up to 20.72 ppm. That’s over 200x the 0.08ppm (almost non-existent) lead content of Indonesian tongkat ali.
Indonesia allows the harvest of tongkat ali, where the plant still thrives in the wild. There are even special plantations set up to grow the trees. The roots only really develop potency with age, so the best of these plantations allow the trees to mature and age 10 years or more, before harvesting begins.
As a result, Indonesian tongkat ali is a safer, more carefully grown product. Malaysian tongkat ali is not only illegal to harvest, but it’s lead content makes it largely unfit to consume. When seeking tongkat ali, it’s important for your results, as well as your health, to choose Indonesian tongkat ali which has been allowed to age before harvesting.
How to Find High Quality Extract
With more and more studies showing the effectiveness of tongkat ali, many companies are trying to cash in. Some sell the root powder (instead of the root extract) to trick unsuspecting customers. Others add small doses of the powder to all sorts of products, to promote them as fortified with tongkat ali, similar to the multitude “with added ginseng” products that only contain small amounts of ginseng. The doses are so small as to have no effect, but it looks great for marketing. Others still try to sell inferior (and often illegal) Malaysian tongkat ali.
Of course, there are also some reputable companies offering actual high quality tongkat ali supplements. The brand I choose to use is SD-200, with a high potency of 1:200, using very pure and potent sources of tongkat ali root, grown and aged in Indonesia. Currently, they are the world’s premium tongkat ali company.
Another company I’ve had good dealings with in the past is Indonesia Tongkat Ali, offering various potencies extracted from pure sources.
There’s quite a bit to keep in mind when first selecting a tongkat ali supplement, but if you keep in mind these key points, you should be fine:
- Tongkat ali isn’t potent until it’s active ingredients have been distilled into a high potency extraction.
- Avoid tongkat ali powder, it’s too weak to have any effect.
- Extracts which don’t specify their extraction ratio (such as 200:1, or 50:1) should be avoided, as you don’t know what potency you’ll be receiving.
- Tongkat ali extract tastes awful, which is why it’s neatly packaged in pills, so you don’t have to taste it.
- Because of the awful flavor, be wary of any products such as tongkat ali coffees, teas, or snacks claiming to contain the herb. If they had sufficient doses, they wouldn’t be palatable.
- Avoid tongkat ali from Malaysia, where harvesting it is illegal and the plants contain high lead content.
- Seek tongkat ali extract from Indonesia, from sources which allow their plants to age 10 years or more.
With a quality source and high potency, tongkat ali extract can have wonderful effects. After considering the extraction process, as well as the bitter and acrid flavor of the extract, it’s obvious that tongkat ali coffee simply can’t contain enough active compounds to compare.
 Ang HH, Lee EL, Matsumoto K. “Analysis of lead content in herbal preparations in Malaysia.” Hum Exp Toxicol . 2003;22:445-451 http://het.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/22/8/445