WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - Albert Yee said the coffee was everywhere you looked in the densely packed vendor stalls along avenues in Malaysian cities: an instant mix with Tongkat Ali, a natural ingredient similar to what's found in Viagra that helps men with erectile dysfunction. And he wanted a piece of the action.
"There are whole streets of it, like tequila in Mexico," Yee told The Washington Post by phone Thursday (July 19), describing how his one-man import business outside of Dallas is now at the centre of a nationwide voluntary recall coordinated by the US Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA announced last week that Yee's company, Texas-based Bestherbs Coffee, is voluntarily recalling all lots of the uniquely spelled "New of Kopi Jantan Tradisional Natural Herbs Coffee" due to undeclared ingredients, including the chemical called desmethyl carbodenafil and milk, sold between July 2014 and June 2016.
"Desmethyl carbodenafil is structurally similar to sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, an FDA-approved prescription drug for erectile dysfunction," the FDA said in a statement.
The FDA is concerned over its potential to lower blood pressure to "dangerous levels" and interaction with the substance and nitrates found in some prescription drugs like nitroglycerin.
"Men with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or heart disease often take nitrates," the FDA said. It also warned the coffee's unlisted milk ingredient could be dangerous for people with allergies or sensitivities to the product.
Both the FDA and Yee said there have been no consumer health issues related to the coffee. Yee said he was not sure how much coffee was involved in the recall, but estimates he'll receive a few hundred to a thousand bags from customers that he will hand over to the FDA for destruction.
It will be the FDA's latest recall involving coffee laced with desmethyl carbodenafil. Stiff Bull Herbal Coffee faced a similar recall last year, as did the sellers of Caverlo Natural Herbal Coffee in May.
In both instances, the sellers advertised the inclusion of Tongkat Ali, the root of a tree found in Malaysian rain forests and distilled to pill form, or concentrated and mixed with coffee or tea.
In 2014, ABC News sent a reporter into the bush to scout for the root, which can only be extracted with tools to partially topple the tree, making the root particularly difficult to harvest for mass production.
The producers of Stiff Bull Herbal Coffee claimed the coffee sellers mixed in desmethyl carbodenafil to cut down on high costs of the root, raising the possibility the same thing happened with Yee's coffee.
Ong Boon Kean, a senior researcher at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia, told ABC that Tongkat Ali can boost low testosterone and sperm count.
Yee said the recall has made his next business decision easy.
"I'm 67," he said. "I'm going to retire."