Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pacific Kava - Waka Kava

I have to admit, this Kava caught me off guard. It is an excellent Kava. In fact, it is one of the best Kavas I have ever had the pleasure to drink.

I contacted Pacific Kava about one month ago asking them which of their Kavas I should sample. They only currently sell two varieties of Kava that come from one strain: Waka Kava which is the root of kasaleka Fijian Piper Methysticum , and Lewena Kava which is the stem part of the same variety. They advised me to try the Waka Kava first. I didn't realize that they were shipping from New Zealand until it arrived at my door in a small, plastic package that read "New Zealand Post". The first thing I noticed when I took it out of the mailbox was how heavy it was. This stuff is dense, powdery, and delicious. The bag (pictured below) is pretty basic - a ziplock bag with the Pacific Kava label on the front.

When I first opened the bag, I was greeted by probably the greatest scent you can experience from a Kava powder. This stuff smells fantastic, and its taste takes Kava to a whole new level. If you have ever tasted Nakamal at Home's Tongan Kava, or even their Fiji Kava, this Kava is pretty similar in taste - but better. It has that creamy base but still carries some peppery notes. It also has this unique, nay baffling, freshness to it that is almost like a sweet eucalyptus. It has a numbing effect that is pleasantly wedged between intermediate and high. I sampled it with some first-time Kava drinkers and they even commented that "actually, this tastes much better than we thought it would." I had prepared them for Kava anxiety, but probably won a few converts. Really, I am at a loss for words in describing the flavor of this Kava. It would probably be advantageous to take a video of just how beautiful the texture of this stuff is. Really, you have to try it.

Typically, Fijian Kavas are known for their subtlety and their good flavor. I don't think I have ever tasted a bad Fijian Kava. Waka Kava tastes amazing, but actually is a bit stronger than you would expect. It has an immediate effect. This Kava probably gave me more photophobia than I have experienced with other Kavas, but it makes the world seem like a soft, easier place. It doesn't give you photophobia in the sense that lights are offensive, but it gives you photophobia in the sense that you just want to be in a soft, low-lit place. A moonlit night by a pond would be ideal, or perhaps a half-moon bay with waves foaming up the beach shore, In short, this stuff gets you "high." It is like the Fijian equivalent of Nakamal at Home's Vanuatuan Wow! Kava. I can't say enough about this stuff - it is brilliant.

I will never underestimate a Fijian Kava again. Also, I will never again underestimate vendors who I haven't heard much about. Give Pacific Kava a try, you will be very pleased.

This one deserves its high rating:

Flavor 10/10
Mind Effect 9/10
Body Effect 9/10

Pacific Kava's Waka Kava (Kasaleka Fijian) - 9.3 shells out of 10

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Vanuatu Kava Store - Quick Kava

Kava drinkers tend to be loyal. In Port Vila, Vanuatu, kavaheads can typically be found krunked at the same nakamals from night to night. Kavasseurs get into a certain Kava, learn to appreciate its consistency, become friendly with the person serving it up, and form our Kava bond. At a nakamal, this might mean strolling up to the same bar day after day and ordering up three shells of Kava; in the world outside, this means typing in our credit card information and waiting (im)patiently for our Kava to arrive at the door. When I first started getting serious about drinking Kava, I ordered up varieties from different vendors and started this blog as a way to collect my experiences and thoughts for myself, and to help others find the Kava they were looking for. The three vendors I ordered from were Nakamal at Home, Kona Kava, and Vanuatu Kava Store.

I would like to get something off my chest here: Kava sources seem to be inconsistent. I've had tins of Shaman instant Kava from Nakamal at Home that were underwhelming, and then I've had tins of Shaman that were extraordinary. I realize that there is probably very little that vendors can do about this, except perhaps forge good relationships with farmers and attempt to get honest judgments about the quality and consistency of their bulk purchases. To put it simply, I had a very poor experience with Vanuatu Kava Store's Pentecost Pride and didn't think I would ever order from them again. But it's good to give a store a second chance, especially when so many variables may possibly be at play.

One thing I don't typically discuss on Kavasseur is price. But it should be mentioned that VKS' Quick Kava is a great value. Take this into consideration: 100 grams of VKS' Quick Kava is $42.95, while 125 grams (N@H doesn't sell a 100 gram tin of Instant Kava) of N@H's Shaman Kava is $71.00. One could even go all out and by a full kilogram of VKS' Quick Kava for $189.95. That's a great deal.

Earlier in the month, I was asked to pit VKS' Quick Kava against N@H' Shaman Instant Kava. In a comment on Kavasseur, someone commented that while Shaman was "plastery," VKS' Quick Kava was pleasant in flavor and mild in effect. To be honest, it's a tough match. VKS' Quick Kava has a lot to offer in terms of taste, effect and value. I was pleasantly surprised by its flavor when I made my first shell. As with my review of Pentecost Pride, I have to admit again that VKS seems to know how to source out really good-tasting Kava.

VKS' Quick Kava doesn't taste like an instant Kava - it tastes like a freshly brewed bowl of decent, mid-strength Kava with an added "smoky" flavor. Shaman tastes like an instant Kava, and if you look back at my earlier reviews, that was one of my major complaints about it. In fact, the commenter called Shaman "plaster" tasting, and I actually think that is quite appropriate. But don't misunderstand me as stating that I think Shaman tastes "bad," because I'm not. VKS' Quick Kava has a very pleasant taste for any Kava, and must be commended for its very good flavor. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't have that gritty, thick flavor that a good shell of hand-squeezed Kava root would have, but it does offer something of a unique, somewhat smoky flavor that makes it quite enjoyable to drink.

It isn't as potent as Shaman. Not even close. But it's still good. Where Shaman feels like Vanuatuan dehydrated Kava juice, this makes me feel like VKS took some Tongan dried roots, brewed up a cistern of Kava, and dehydrated it into Quick Kava. Don't let this confuse you - VKS' Quick Kava IS a Vanuatuan Kava. The effects are very mild, but very pleasant. Some of you may know that I prefer Nakamal at Home's Tongan Kava for everyday drinking, so don't misinterpret this as a "bad thing." The effects of VKS' Quick Kava are very satisfying.

In this sense, VKS' Quick Kava succeeds as a good instant Kava. If you want to get krunked, you normally don't drink an instant Kava anyhow. VKS' Quick Kava is ideal for an on-the-go Kava drinker, who needs to mellow out a little bit without turning in for the night. Where Shaman is too strong to drink during the day (or before a presentation), VKS' Quick Kava would do the trick as a quick, nice-tasting relaxing beverage.

In the end, VKS' Quick Kava isn't quite capable of dethroning Shaman for the coveted title of "Best Instant Kava," but it does put up a very good fight. I almost want to say "it's too close to call," but I am quite fond of Shaman's potent abilities. In some respects, such as flavor, it beats out Shaman. In terms of its portability and its convenient calming qualities, it also outdoes Shaman. But it doesn't reproduce the strong, krunking effects that a fresh bowl of Kava would - something that Shaman mimics quite well. So if that's what you are looking for, stick with Shaman. It certainly beats out Fire Island in almost every respect.

With a great instant Kava flavor and mild-yet-satisfying effects, it stands alone as a good instant Kava. I'd reach for this before I'd reach for Fire Island, and quicker than I'd reach for Shaman on a weekday afternoon.

I highly recommend it.

Taste - 9/10
Mind Effect - 6.5/10
Body Effect - 7/10

Vanuatu Kava Store's Quick Kava - 7.5 shells out of 10

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The War on Kava

At the beginning of this month, Kava resurfaced in the news as part of a concerted campaign spearheaded by Consumer Reports. It was listed as part of the "dirty dozen" supplements that can be purchased online and in health food stores - aconite, bitter orange, chaparral, colloidal silver, coltsfoot, country mallow, germanium, greater celandine, kava, lobelia, yohimbe. According to Consumer Reports, these "dirty dozen" supplements have been proven beyond a doubt to be detrimental to your health. Kava kava (Piper methysticum) was included in that list, based on research that led to the banning of Kava in Europe in 2002 (see Escher et al 2001; Kraft et al 2001). The story quickly spread throughout American news networks, newspapers, and internet sites. Once again, our beloved beverage is in the cross hairs of regulators. Unfortunately, the same data that was used to ban Kava in Europe eight years ago was cited by Consumer Reports to support increased regulation of dietary supplements - including Kava.

The European Union's ban on Kava was lifted in 2008. In 2006, Germany led the way by lifting the Kava ban in its own country. Why? Because Kava is safe. Early reports of the relationship between Kava consumption and liver problems were based on samples that involved parts of the Kava plant not recommended for consumption by, well, anyone. The only part of Kava that is traditionally consumed in its home islands are the roots. Many tinctures and supplements sold in Europe prior to the Kava ban were amalgamations of leaves, stems, and roots. The leaves and stems (and pretty much any above-surface part of the plant) contain chemicals that may be toxic and lead to liver damage. The studies that led to the banning of Kava were biased towards doses of Kava that were incorrectly prepared and would never be imaginable in Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga, Hawaii, Papau New Guinea, or any other island in the south Pacific.

Kava liver damage is a myth. Even those cases of liver damage cited on the CDC's website are purely circumstantial - there is no way to know that Kava was the variable for liver disease in the cases mentioned. Furthermore, these studies were sponsored by pharmaceutical companies that have a vested interest in giving Kava a bad name. After all, how could they possibly compete with a natural, safer alternative to their anti-anxiety medications? They can't. Now, with the help of Consumer Reports, pharmaceutical companies, and possibly even big alcohol, the war on Kava is resurfacing. What is so amazing about this second attack is that it is based on the same biased, completely bogus data that was used ten years ago.

A great resource for reading more about this issue is Erowid Kava Vault, which supplies links to many of the original statements and arguments made against Kava, and finally evidence that supports the position that Kava is safe.

For more on this issue, visit Kona Kava's "Kava Safety" link on their website. They have done a very good job defending Kava.


Escher M, Desmeules J, Giostra E, et al. Hepatitis associated with kava, a herbal remedy for anxiety. BMJ 2001;322:139.

Kraft M, Spahn TW, Menzel J, et al. Fulminant liver failure after administration of the herbal antidepressant kava-kava. Dtsch Med Wochenschr 2001;126:970--2.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Nakamal at Home's Chief's Jungle Kava - Review by Kaiden Fox


It's going to be a busy month here at Kavasseur. I'll be reviewing several varieties of Kava from Vanuatu Kava Store and Pacific Kava. I'll also be doing another review of Chief's Jungle Kava (the new batch). But before I do, here is Kaiden Fox's own review of Chief's Jungle Kava. I also put a link to a really great book I just finished reading at the end of this post - Kava: The Pacific Elixir by Lebot et al.

Krunk on, Douglas

Nakamal at Home's Chief's Jungle Kava - Review by Kaiden Fox

For Saint Patrick’s Day, I wanted to do something a little more Irish with my kava. Looking at my South Pacific map, I noticed the Madang Province, where Chief’s Jungle PNG kava originates from, is pretty much a straight shot from the island of New Ireland.

First, the taste… not bad. I noticed, when mixing up the bowl, it was very ginger smelling, with an undersmell of something I would say was anise or licorice. It actually smelled, and tasted, quite good. I drank it at room temperature. No stomach upset.

Being a perseverant researcher, I had noted the chemotype of this kava was quite different than the Borogo kava blends I normally drink. It was low in kavain by high in desmethoxyyangonin. Over the centuries, kava has been cultivated to be higher in kavain and lower in desmethoxyyangonin. Madang Short is a less cultivated variety, and in fact was originally classified not as piper methysticum but as piper wichmannii before Vince Labot demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that there were not enough morphological, chemical, cytological and genetic distinctions between the two “species.” Still, “Waeld Koniak” is a waeld variety of kava.

At first I thought, “tasty, it’s kava, but it’s nothing to write home about out.” I had experienced “powerful” effects mixing Shaman into White Sand kava, where the eyes see but do not care, and where the ears are content to “harem singsing blong kava.” I should note that I was sitting through most of this. When I did recline my body in bed, I suddenly felt much better. Posture plays a big role in helping this kava kick. I’d recommend a hammock chair, ideally. I didn’t really experience the music euphoria I normally do with kava. Eventually I did put on an audiobook, and that was better. This kava also had less of an appetite suppressant effect, but that could be just me becoming used to it.

The next morning I discovered it was, indeed, weekend-grade kava. I woke up very pleasant and peaceful. No grogginess, maybe a little clumsiness, but a definite feeling of well-being. I was keenly aware of the samsaric suffering of all sentient beings. At the same time, I felt ready to go. My fiancée called me near the point of tears. She had just wasted over 20 minutes on hold to find out the item that she ordered a fortnight ago, which the company she ordered from still shows as being in stock, is now out of stock. Being a high-quality but discontinued item, she doubted the two left at were still there. Normally, panic is contagious, but I was in my own bubble of happiness and was able to calmly hop on, find the item by visual description, confirm it was correct, and place an order.

After breakfast and a shower, the kava is starting to kick in again. I can feel a pleasant tingle and Led Zeppelin is bringing a mild music euphoria. It feels like I’ve just drunk a single shell of a good-but-not-krunking kava, like Fire Island.

As an experiment, I would like to see how long I would stay in bed if no one called and if I had no pressing concerns.

My overall bottom-line review here is that this is not the kava to be totally krunked-out on – that kava is Black Sand or White Sand made into super-kava with Shaman. While Nakamal@home markets Jungle Chief’s as nasty-tasting super-kava, it’s really a pleasant-tasting kava that has a comparatively mild but disproportionately long-lasting effect.

Taste: 8/10 shells
Effect: 7.5/10 shells
Aftereffect: 10/10 shells

Overall: 8.5 shells of ginger-licorice sleepytime goodness

Search for kava

Thursday, August 19, 2010

In a League of Its Own - Nakamal At Home's Solomon Kava

*A NOTE ON PREPARATION: I brewed Solomon Kava using 1 cup of Kava to 2 1/2 cups of water and kneaded it twice before adding ice. I prefer not to use a blender in Kava preparation. I also did not add lecithin this time around. Still, the Kava was quite thick and oily by the time I poured it into a serving bowl. The dried, squeezed, Kava roots produced another 4 cups of relatively strong Kava. In other words, 1 cup of Solomon Kava should produce an impressive amount of Kava. If you buy a 1/2 kg or a 1/4 kg you will be getting enough Kava to last you a long time, depending on how much Kava you drink.

The Solomon Islands are comprised of a chain of islands that essentially spill out from the eastern part of Papau New Guinea. During the colonial era, the British called the Solomon Islands "the Happy Isles"because of the graceful countenance of the archipelago's inhabitants (excepting the headhunters, of course) and today one can visit the Solomons and continue to find some of the world's most gentle and friendly people. Kava is not widely consumed in the Solomon Islands and, indeed, when I visited the Solomons to do anthropological research in the summer of 2009, I didn't encounter one single Kava bar. It would be very interesting to know where exactly in the Solomons this Kava comes from.

That being said, I have never seen a more beautiful looking Kava than this Solomon Island's Kava, nor have I ever felt a Kava like this Solomon Islands Kava. As I will describe below, this Kava has a very strong mental impact and a totally different physiological impact. I titled this entry "In a League of Its Own" for a good reason: Solomon Kava feels and tastes like a completely different plant than Piper methysticum. I would invite Kaiden Fox and Anthony LaRusso (regular contributors to this blog) to comment on what the breakdown feels like for this Kava, since they have also drank most of Nakamal at Home's Kavas and commented on their variable chemotypes and their respective effects. I for one am still trying to get into Kava jargon, but as a social scientist most of the complicated terminology flies right over my head.

Before I talk too much about the flavor, I want to say something about how this Kava looks. To me, it looks a lot like hot chocolate that someone has decided to add a lot of creamer to. It has the most calming, appetizing look of just about any Kava I have ever seen. Too bad I never created a category for the aesthetics of Kava. And no, I won't start today. So, let's take a break and take a look at a shell of Solomon Kava.

I, for one, did not find much of the peppery flavor that is described on the Nakamal at Home website and in Kaiden's review from last month. I found the Kava to have more of a general bitterness slowed down by a milkier undertone. Brewed the way I describe above, this Kava definitely didn't give me "Kava anxiety" the way that some stronger-flavored ones like Chief's Jungle do. It tastes like Tongan with perhaps a chunk of ginger and, yes, pepper added to it. But really, the peppery flavor doesn't dominate the way it does in Vanuatu varieties. To me, it is surprisingly mild compared to the euphoric chaos that ensues.

Alas, I can understand why Kaiden commented that this Kava could bring upon an unexpected emotional outcome. It is very cerebral. It has the highest "mind" effect of any Kava I have ever consumed. Most Kavas I have consumed seem to permeate my body but leave my mind relatively untouched. Well, not this Kava. In fact, it is quite close to a medium-strength cannabis buzz, or perhaps even a mild psychoactive hallucinogen. Not entirely relaxing, but more of a "lift" that is combined with a sort of introspective gaze. You could drink this Kava and go watch a jazz quartet play until dawn. It has a stimulating intellectual effect that makes you want to talk a lot, but also makes you want to be conscious of your speech. In some ways, I feel like it is the ideal Kava for me - I like to be inspired and stimulated, but also to have something prepared to hold me back. If I was forced to compare it to any other Kava that Nakamal at Home sells, I would place it somewhere between Niugini and Chief's Jungle, only with a more satisfying flavor than either of those could ever boast. On top of that, it has a longer lasting buzz that throws any notion of sleep in the near future out the door. If you are looking for a Kava that deals with insomnia and restlessness, this won't be the Kava for you.

Another feature of this Kava I want to comment on is its relationship to food. Kaiden claimed that when he drank Solomon Kava he finally discovered the true complexity of the bouquet that is a common banana. Yes, indeed. Drink a few shells of this and take a spoonful of Ben and Jerry's... dear God that tastes complicated, and about ten times better than it normally would. Another quite unusual effect of this Kava is a mild form of dry-mouth. You will feel hungry, parched, and high.

Physiologically, this stuff is a dream. You will melt into your furniture. Every muscle in your body will turn into jelly and you will lose whatever soreness has been bothering you. I can see this stuff being peddled as sports medicine, or for people who are suffering from arthritis or joint pains. It is really quite therapeutic, and one thing I noticed after taking three shells of this was that the numbness on my lips, in my throat, and around my jaw didn't slip away. After three hours, it is still there. Extremities will become numbed - fingers, toes, and ears all tingling in bliss. Really, really satisfying.

I would picture the ideal evening to drink Solomon Kava as such: you have been working hard all day and you are very sore, but you want to go out with some friends anyhow. You are a bit tired and need a bit of a pick-me-up, but nothing that will make you irritable or anxious. You don't feel like sleeping anytime soon, but want to take the edge off. Drink three shells of Solomon Kava and you will be set.

For Solomon Kava I want to start a new trend - Taste, Psychoactive (Mind) Effect, and Physiological (Body) Effect.

Taste 8/10
Mind Effect 10/10
Body Effect 9.5/10
Strength - Very strong

Nakamal at Home's Solomon Kava - 9.2/10

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Kavasseur Is Back Online!

Fellow Kavasseurs,

I have completed my fieldwork in Ghana and will be getting some new Kava reviews out within the week. I will also be updating the website to make it more interactive and helpful. Let me know if you have any comments or suggestions.

Here is what you can look forward to:

Reviews of several Fijian varieties from Pacific Kava, reviews of several Vanuatu Kava Store Kavas, and new reviews of Nakamal at Home's Solomon Kava and fresh shipments of their other varieties.