*** THIS KAVA WAS REVIEWED AGAIN ON 3/7/2010, PLEASE REFER TO THAT REVIEW FOR MY REAL FEELINGS ON THIS KAVA ***
One thing is for sure: you don't drink instant Kava for the flavor. The last time I had instant Kava was simultaneously the first time I ever experimented with Kava. That was about 10 years ago, when I was working at a natural food store near San Diego. I bought a tin of Kava King instant powder, put some tablespoons of it into a pint glass and stirred it with some cold water. The experience got me excited about Kava, but I fell quickly into that trap of thinking: "Kava isn't supposed to taste good, so this is acceptable." If you've ever enjoyed a peppery, viscous Kava like Nakamal's Black Sand Kava, imagine all of the good things about that flavor disappearing - leaving you with hollow, light, wood-flavored water.
Shaman Kava is the same way, albeit leagues better than Kava King. If you've been drinking kneaded, thick, pungent Vanuatu Kava for a long time and try Shaman Kava, you'll feel a bit like you're trying diet soda for the first time. It tastes flat and uninspiring. The lightness of it gives way to a menthol undertone. Instead of the pleasant, shimmering numbness that traditionally prepared Kava gives you, instant Kava makes you feel like you just ate some low-grade cough drops. There is nothing to enjoy in the flavor - it is utilitarian.
The effect is adequate for instant Kava to have some appreciable value. This is important to keep in mind. For instance, if you are on the run (hopefully not driving) and are pining for some Kava spirit then Shaman Kava will probably be a good companion. It certainly does the trick, though if you want to feel anything like you would after three or four shells of real Kava, you'll probably have to drink a couple 10g packets. One packet will get you buzzed, but you'll be wishing for two once the glass runs dry. At $6.00 a packet, that's a hefty price for convenience.
It would be interesting to know how long Kava lasts if you bottle it up. Can you make some Kava in the morning and have it with you to drink at night? Does anyone have any experience with kneading some Kava and bottling it up? I'd be curious to know how well it works. If it does, Shaman Kava is a pretty futile endeavor.
Taste - 2/10
Effect - 6/10
Nakamal At Home Shaman Kava - 4 shells out of 10