Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Effects of Various Kavas

There are different camps of Kava drinkers. Some are into the aesthetics of Kava - the taste, the smell, and the way it tickles the mind and body. Others are into the deep chemistry and medicinal value of the brew - the jargony breakdowns of the chemotypes and their various impacts. These are obviously not mutually exclusive categories, and they definitely intermix - so it seems to come down to those who really like Kava and those who really like Kava and know a ton about it. I drink for smell, texture, and taste and I judge by, well, smell, texture, and taste. But we all feel the same effects of the same Kavas, so what is your favorite Kava when it comes to the effect?

Here, I will group my favorite Kavas into two camps of effectiveness - krunkness and mellowness. Again, these are two categories that I have arbitrarily created. I would like to know what your categories are and how you chose them. One will be the best and five the least (of the best, mind you). So here goes...

Krunkness (heavy, gravity body effect and strong attitude change *excited, sociable, and emotionally liberated*)

1. Nakamal at Home - Chief's Jungle
2. Nakamal at Home - Stone Kava
3. Nakamal at Home - Wow! Kava
4. Nakamal at Home - Shaman Kava
5. Nakamal at Home - Niugini Kava

Mellowness (nice, overall numbing body effect and anxiety-relief, with low pressure in the eyes and increased sociability. In general, you can drink more of these Kavas on a regular basis without going "out of orbit.")

1. Nakamal at Home - Tongan Kava
2. Kona Kava - Mahakea Kava
3. Nakamal at Home - Fiji Kava
4. Nakamal at Home - Black Sand Kava
5. Vanuatu Kava Store - Pentecost Pride

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Nakamal At Home - Fire Island Kava (Reviewed by Kaiden Fox)

Tanna goes by the nickname "the Island of Fire" because of Yasur volcano... the single most accessible live volcano in the world. While Nakamal@home markets Fire Island as a friendly kava for its new kava friends, the serious countenance of the Tam Tam on the cover shows that Fire Island kava is a serious kava and deserves a serious review.

First a quick ethnobotony lesson from Vince Labot, "In countries where kava is prepared from fresh roots, it is rarely prepared from dried roots and vice versa."

Knowing that in North America, it is exceedingly difficult, if not actually impossible to obtain kava from fresh roots. (Hawaii, while being one of the United States of America politically, is not part of North America geographically)perhaps the next best thing actually is Fire Island kava.

Some Kavasseurs may dismiss this kava out of hand, but I think that is premature. The marketing of this product as ‘newbie kava’ may turn off some people. I would advise giving this kava a try, though.

As a newbie kava, it does its job wonderfully. I remember the first time I tried to turn dried kava roots into an infused psychoactive beverage. I wound up with a very muddy kitchen and no drinkable kava. True, it was due to a blender malfunction, but these things happen. Fire Island Kava is wonderful for a first-time drinker because it’s no where near as messy as hand straining and blendering, and it produces a consistent beverage. (One “kaviet” – due to the nature of the different cultivars of kava, one cannot simply speak of a single beverage called “kava,” but rather we are discussing a class of beverages, each with different properties). One can know right away if, and how much, one likes kava.

The taste is unlike the dried kava infusions, although there are some similarities. Kava, as a beverage, ranges from slightly spicy to very bitter. Fire Island Kava is not on the bitter end at all. One of the reasons for this is the bitterness comes primarily from bark material, which is rich in tanins and polyphenols. Fire Island Kava comes from the juice of fresh kava roots.

I find it hard to describe the taste. The underlying medium plays an important role in this. This morning, I sampled Fire Island in Fiji bottled water, electrolyte-enhanced water, Yogi Aztec Sweet Chili tea, Bon-Dai pomegranate- açaí water, and apple juice. Usually, when I mix a shell of it, I also add a scoop of Life Extension Foundation’s “CocoaGold with Beta-Glucan Unsweetened powder.” I purchased some after I noticed eating chocolate improved my fiancée’s health and energy levels. The predominant taste is “numb.” Of all the things I mixed with it, the sweet chili tea was the only one that tasted horrible. Nakamal@Home’s website also recommends against orange juice. If you’re used to mixing a much thicker kava, the fact that this kava is powder one adds water to might turn some people off. I usually mix about an eighth of a cup of water with the powder to form a thick paste, and then fill up the rest of the shell once I see it’s dissolved. The texture of that thick paste is probably what many people are used to. Joseph, who started me on the path of detailed kava reviews, compares it to the textural differences of normal soda and diet soda. If you’ve ever been to a large picnic with a barrel of soda cans, the diet floats because it’s less dense than water, while the “real” soda sinks to the bottom. A more apt comparison might be skim milk to eggnog, if you can forget about the flavor and focus ONLY on the texture.

The effects are what one would expect from fresh kava. The onset is immediate. I felt a relaxed excitement wash over me, and became more talkative. It usually doesn’t produce the euphorias of other kavas I’ve sampled, but it does give some degree of bodily pleasure. I also tried using Fire Island kava instead of prescription painkiller after a surgery a few months ago. I enjoyed the analgesic effect for about three hours before I couldn’t sleep and needed to reach for a Percocet. The effects are relatively short-lived compared to say Chief’s Jungle Kava, but with a duration more-or-less on par with the other Nobel varieties I’ve tried.

Even if one is an experienced kava drinker, I would sill recommend trying Fire Island kava at least once. To quote Vince Labot, ”Drinkers who ingest fresh kava juice, notice a rapid and sudden high that dry kava cannot produce. There are obviously many compounds that are interacting together to induce this subtle physiological effect. For a given cultivar, two very different brews can be prepared with dried or fresh roots of the same plant. The taste is different as is of course, the total kavalactone concentration and chemical composition.” I regret that I do not have the experience to compare Fire Island to fresh kava that has not been dehydrated for export, but I have been shocked at times when I’ve made Fire Island at how immediate the onset is compared to Black Sand or White Sand kava.

Besides the much faster onset, I noticed the effects are also different as compared to the dried root beverages of the same cultivar. The photophobic effects are less, and the talkativeness is much more pronounced. My suspicion is that Fire Island kava either has more kavain, or that something else is boosting the effects of the kavain. Another aspect that supports this is that I often become very excited after a shell or two of this. Despite my physical relaxation, my mind takes on a sense of clarity and eagerness that I would normally associate with caffeine. Unlike caffeine, there is no urgency or stress in this, simply a giddy “can do” feeling when it comes to mental tasks, and feel a mental clarity as if someone has lit a tiki-torch in the dark. Perhaps this is why the kava is "Fire Island."

Before I conclude with the rating, I must let you know that because Fire Island is the first kava I tried, the rating is an artifact of the scaling system. On a “ten scale,” only a 9 or 10 would be “enthusiastic,” while 7 or 8 is passive. It does not follow a bell-curve where most things fall on a 5. On the “ten scale,” 6 is functionally little different than 1. (Would you buy a kava I rated as a 6)? Because Fire Island is my first “real” kava, anything else has to beat it to warrant repurchasing. Even though it is more expensive per shell, the fact that I can simply mix up a shell in a few minutes which will give me a pleasant high was enough to warrant upgrading my initial 55g order to a 500g order the next time I stocked up.

Taste – 8/10 shells
Effect – 8/10 shells

-Review written by Kaiden Fox

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Nakamal At Home - Niugini Kava

Niuguni is Melanesian pidgin for "New Guinea," which refers to the most linguistically and culturally diverse country in the world - Papau New Guinea. Located east of what is widely accepted as the origin of Kava, the Republic of Vanuatu, Papau New Guinea boasts some of the strongest-tasting Kavas available in the United States. By law, the most potent and viscous Kavas from Vanuatu aren't exported, so a lot of the really strong Kava we can buy here (such as Chief's Jungle Kava, another Nakamal At Home variety) comes from Papau New Guinea.

What is great about the Niugini variety is that it is not as overpowering as Chief's Jungle Kava, a Kava that you can really only consider drinking on a Friday or Saturday night. Niugini Kava gives you a chance to enjoy a Papau New Guinean Kava on any weeknight. It maintains the powerful taste of a Kava like Chief's Jungle, but in a much more mild manifestation with much more subdued effects. I can drink three or four shells and just kind of coast through the night with a relaxed body and mind. Niugini Kava also has a slightly different flavor than Chief's Jungle Kava, with milky Tongan-like undertones that create a nice foundation for that "grassy" (to quote Kaiden, a regular contributor this blog) taste that all the Papu New Guinean varieties I have tried have contained, sometimes in overwhelming quantities.

You will notice that my rating for the flavor on this Niuguni Kava totally overshadows that of Chief's Jungle Kava. That is because this Kava is absolutely delicious and contains high and low notes, where Chief's Jungle is just a high grassy flavor with no solid, milky base to fall back on. I absolutely love the balance of the flavors in this Kava. Unlike what the Nakamal At Home website claims, this Kava is actually noticeably non-spicy, and it has several layers of flavor that are sweet, creamy, and nutty. It tapers off with probably the best aftertaste (with noticeable exceptions in Tongan and Fijian varieties) that I have encountered in a Kava, but it has a more unique nutty flavor where others have either a milky or a sour taste. With some hesitation, I would argue that this is tied with Stone Kava as being the tastiest brew available. Also, this Kava must be tried for its sheer uniqueness in flavor. It would be difficult to find a Kava that tastes like Niugini Kava, and even more difficult to find one that tastes better.

In terms of effect, this Kava is much more mild than I expected it to be. I thought it was going to have a Chief's Jungle kind of effect, but it is much more subdued and, indeed, much more pleasant. In addition to Fiji Kava and Tongan Kava, this will probably be my next go-to Kava for a stressful weekday. It has a "mind and body" kind of buzz, with no real dominance in either area. It has a great effect on the muscles that makes me believe it would be good for people who are sore or experiencing arthritis. After a long day of working on a big project outdoors that involved shoveling, lifting, and pretty hard labor, this Kava took away every last ounce of pain in my body. Of course, it also has that profoundly nice de-stressing effect that we all look for in Kava. Great stuff for everyday consumption.

Taste - 8.5/10
Effect - 7.5/10

Nakamal At Home's Niugini Kava - 8 shells out of 10

-Le Kavasseur