According to the Global Drug Survey, one in four Brits buy their drugs on the dark net. Despite this hyper-present method of procurement, the majority of those drugs are still done the traditional way: at 9PM in a pub toilet, or at 5AM off a Die Hard DVD case. However, another way of drug-taking has emerged thanks to these online markets: people who consume their cocaine like Paul Giamatti tastes wine in Sideways, or like wankers drink IPAs in craft pubs.
They're the coke connoisseurs of Britain, an ever-expanding gaggle of (mostly) men who take great pride in knowing more about blow than you.
In fact, having observed them for months, I believe their unique way of talking about – and doing – coke is symptomatic of cocaine "going craft", at least in the eyes of this community. But does their perceived superior knowledge protect them from the exploitation of dealers, or leave them more susceptible to swallowing any old bollocks they're fed?
One place these connoisseurs gather is at a message board created when an article I wrote in January led to Reddit shutting down the community's previous home, r/DNMUK, on which drugs were pretty much being sold.
The replacement has been much better – less concerned with hooking each other up and more with keeping each other safe. So despite them calling me a cunt, a cuck and a retard, I won't be naming this one, to avoid it too being shuttered.
The first thing you notice when browsing the forum is how users describe coke (or flake, as most of them call it) in terms usually reserved for Chet Baker albums. Here, one guy dubs a batch "cool and elegant", before presumably sparking up a Gitanes in a dimly lit room.
The board also has its own vernacular, which seems to have developed over its short lifespan – an array of terms and slang-words to describe the process of getting gakked up.
Despite this guy's bag smelling of masala, the two words the board's users usually describe coke's smell with are "petrol" and "organic". Allegedly, petrol means that it hasn't been cleaned of the chemicals used in the manufacturing process, indicating an inferior product from a sloppy producer, while organic means grade-A rocket fuel.
"Bag appeal" means what the bag looks like – basically, how it photographs for other connoisseurs to ogle, both with flash and without. This merges to talk of texture, with "soft" and "oily" frequently considered good, and "powdery" frequently considered a sign of cut, or "bashed", coke.
If you want to see some proper cocaine-sommelier dickheadery in action, this guy calls the taste of his coke "earthy" and "salty".
One reason why drugs serve as a topic for so many novels is that their effects allow writers to blend dream with reality and create an almost trance-like state in their reader. Some of the writing by these connoisseurs has a similar vibe, even if it's unlikely to win them any awards. Like the guy above, how they describe coke's unpleasant factors can at times have an odd sort of beauty. Mind you, inevitably talk of coke's effects returns to certain buzzwords:
Is it "euphoric" or "stimmy", "mellow" or "punchy", and is it a "sit-at-home" kind of coke? Does it have "legs", meaning: How long do I need to wait before smashing another line? It's disappointing, then, when the conversation devolves to the level of regular Sunday-league cokeheads.
Which happens whenever shitting or sex comes up.
For these guys, where cocaine truly becomes craft is in the preparation process. Hot-plating – putting the gear on a warm surface to remove moisture – is the absolute minimum for a connoisseur, while washing it with acetone – an elaborate but doable-at-home science experiment – is next-level.
The aim of the acetone wash is to remove adulterants, leaving you with – like the guy above – pure cocaine. This became a thing in 1981, when David Lee wrote Cocaine Handbook: An Essential Reference – but it never really took off. Cue the UK dark net, where it's become popular in recent months, and where one vendor is now selling pre-washed flake to save you the hassle of doing it yourself.
Astonishingly, when it comes to hardcore cocaine use, things can get a bit ridiculous. Though ease of chop is naturally a requirement for all connoisseurs, this contraption may be a little much when you can just, you know, run it through a tea strainer like everyone else.
Admittedly, their ingenuity in this hot weather has been pretty entertaining to watch.
The culture even has comedowns to a science, advising each other to wash their noses out with Neti pots and saline solution, and endorsing batches that are particularly beak-friendly. Some also send their coke off to be tested for purity.
With results taking weeks, however, most would rather get on it than wait, as no matter how high-minded they perceive themselves, their illusions of being artisans either hide an addiction – like, I suspect, with this guy – or ultimately the fuck-it attitude of nearly every coke user.
The knock-on effect is that dark net dealers profit from what's essentially a gullible group, branding their latest batches as continuations of previous ones, over which the culture is instantly nostalgic, and so eager to snap up.
For instance, in May a vendor dropped a batch called XXX v1 that was widely reviewed as euphoric, mellow and having legs, then a month later dropped another one called XXX v2 that made some sick, as – they claimed – it was actually speed.
Strangely, many chose not to condemn the vendor, but instead engage in conspiracy theories that seemed to provide just as much entertainment as the drug itself. Two weeks later, XXX v3 got released, selling well, as the white line of dark net cocaine continued on down the information superhighway.