Leroy Buliro sets out to find out what the fuss about Miraa shots at the Kilifi New Year’s is all about.
It is 6 AM when we disembark at the Kilifi bus stage and are welcomed by a quenching morning sun. Unlike Nairobi, where the weather had been fresh and breezy, here the air is heavy and humid. We hail a tuk tuk and make our way to Distant Relatives Eco-Lodge where we arrive in good time to catch a morning espresso with a BLT sandwich breakfast.
I had been invited to Kilifi alongside my fellow DJ Coco Em, both of us members of the Bad Mambo DJ collective, to play at a silent disco (you know, those ones where everyone wears headphones). When my editor found out where I was headed, she insisted that I get one of the staff at Distant Relatives to divulge the recipe for the legendary Miraa Juice that the lodge knocks-up every year for their New Year’s Eve festival.
The debate about the legal status of Miraa (also known as Khat, a flowering plant native to the Horn of Africa which acts like a mild stimulant and has been part of the social fabric of certain local communities for many centuries) in Kenya has ebbed and flowed over the years. Currently, it is legal in here but not in Tanzania or Uganda and in over 15 countries around Europe. While in Kenya there is a certain amount of stigma attached to the chewing of miraa, there is an increasing movement geared towards creating juices out of it that give people an energy boost when out dancing.
Just as I am preparing to retire to bed and rest a couple of hours after the long overnight trip, one of the Distant Relatives guys turns up accompanied by a short stocky man in a black t-shirt. Between them, I see they are carrying a blender and all the essentials needed for the upcoming miraa juice presentation. I resign myself to the fact that I probably won’t get any sleep that day, don my reporter’s cap and get my notepad out.
Maximus Kitisao, known by everyone simply as “Max”, is the man behind the legendary miraa shot sensation. He tells me he has been the guy behind the counter, churning out miraa juice since the team first came up with the idea at the first Distant Relatives NYE in 2015.
“Miraa shots were not originally birthed in Kenya,” as Max talks, he begins to empty bags of leafy green and reddish stalks onto the counter and chops the leaves into small bits “It is ironic since miraa is a native plant originating from the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula”. Max launches into a complicated story about how he heard about the idea of juicing miraa from a visiting Yemeni who had learned it from an Arab Israeli who had moved to Yemen from Tel Aviv. By this time everything is finely cut so he pours it into the blender and adds the lime juice. As the blender springs into action, a bittersweet aroma hits my nostrils.
Max transfers the mixture from the blender to a bowl covered with a cloth. “The reason of doing this is to sieve out the small bits of the unblended Khat so we can get the fine juice’” Turns out the small chunks of unblended khat can later be dried and packed into sachets which can be used to make miraa tea. He finishes everything off by adding berry juice to the mixture. Word gets out that the juice is ready and guests from the lodge begin to crowd around us, eager to have a taste.
Max pours the green drink into a line of shot glasses “Here is to miraa” he raises his glass and, as tradition prescribes, he takes the first sip. Once he has certified it, the rest of the group follows suit. After the initial shock at the dryness of the lemon and chlorophyll, I am left with a surprisingly soothing and distinct taste in the mouth.
That night I get on the decks and play to a silent dancefloor. I am happy and elated but can’t tell if this is down to the shots or the sea breeze. Let’s see what it does to the DJ set I will be playing at the festival for this coming New Year.
Miraa Shots Recipe
- Large bowl
- Piece of cloth
- Glass jar
- Shot glasses
- 1 kg of khat
- 500 ml of lime juice
- 250 ml of berry juice
Slice the miraa leaves into small bits. Pour into the blender then add the lime juice. Blend till fine. Place the piece of cloth over the bowl, pour the blended mixture onto the piece of cloth, roll it up and squeeze it till all the juice is extracted into the bowl leaving only the miraa sediments on the cloth. Transfer the contents on the bowl into the jar and add the berry juice then fill halfway with ice. Pour into shot glasses.