In recent years, Kava bars in the US have been sprouting in different cities across the country with Florida leading the pack. Based on recent trends, Kava is becoming a great social drink. People who drink it loosen up, relax and plunge into a happy and relaxed mood. And the best part is it gives one a good night’s sleep without the inconvenience of nursing a nasty hangover the following morning. (Sounds great, right?) Its popularity is currently on the rise. And it looks to be gaining momentum as a better, healthier alternative to alcoholic drinks and some say it offers the potential for weight loss. We can’t help but ask: What is kava and is kava perhaps the next big innovation in coffee bars coast to coast. Also, is Kratom following suit?
What is Kava Exactly?
Kava or ‘kava kava’ is a crop native to the Pacific Islands. This evergreen shrub usually grows on hillsides or low-lying mountains. And it’s cultivated in Hawaii, Micronesia, Fiji, Vanuatu, the Samoas, and Tonga. Its Latin name, Piper methysticum, literally means “intoxicating pepper”.
The plant has been used in the regions where it’s grown for medicinal and ceremonial purposes. Locals have utilized kava uses and benefits for hundreds or, perhaps, thousands of years. There are two known strains of Kava—the Noble and Tudei. The Noble Kava is the strain that is mostly being cultivated and available in the market. This strain can be consumed daily without ill effects on the body. The Tudei strain, on the other hand, has more potent properties and is, therefore, not recommended for daily intake.
Kava kava’s rhizomes or underground roots are grounded or pounded and steeped like tea. The drink has been used by locals to calm anxiety, reduce restlessness and cure sleeping problems. The plant’s calming properties have earned it the moniker “Nature’s Xanax” and can be attributed to its psychoactive compound—the Kavalactones.
The Natural Calm from Kava
It’s no wonder that Kava uses and benefits are being explored. The key benefit from drinking Kava is its ability to calm muscles and relax the mind while still maintaining or keeping your mental clarity. The reason for this is because Kava has sedating, analgesic and anesthetic properties. These properties are found to help in easing anxiety and nervous tension, and in improving sleeping problems. They also allow Kava to act as a natural alternative to treating generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). In addition to that, Kavalactones can boost and increase dopamine levels in the brain, giving Kava drinkers a mild euphoric feeling.
Certainly, the growing popularity of Kava as a mood-booster, social drink, anti-anxiety remedy, health supplement or alternative to alcohol is a positive development.
People Are Going Gaga Over Kava
The demands and stress of life can be overwhelming. Thanks to Kava, there is now a way to raise your glass without having to worry about the after-effects of alcohol-based drinks that people usually like to down during happy hour. In fact, the increasing appreciation for Kava uses and benefits has paved the way for Kava bars in the US to grow exponentially in number. And, there is also speculation that it helps with weight loss.
To date, there are about a hundred Kava Bars in the US. There is at least one Kava Bar in the states of Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington. But the concentration of Kava Bars in the US can be found in New York, California, and Florida.
With good vibes and all-natural high, Kava may be well worth the craze.
Kava Uses and Benefits
Although some have likened its smell to lilacs, Kava in itself doesn’t really taste that great—it is actually an acquired taste. Many say it tastes earthy. Some say it’s bitter, almost like how mud would taste like—if mud had a taste. Its color, resembling dirt, doesn’t help its case either. The drink literally looks like mud. This is the reason why most Kava bars in the US offer mixed concoctions to mask the taste and give the customers a better drinking experience. Clearly, Kava Bars rarely serve alcohol-based drinks, since Kava and alcohol should not be combined.
To help customers get a feel of the Kava Culture from the Pacific Islands, business owners designed most bars with a relaxed island feel to it. Most Kava bars use coconut shells to serve the drinks. Shells are raised while saying “Bula!” —meaning, “life”—the Fijian equivalent to our American expression, “Cheers!”
Although the history of Kava in the US didn’t start in Florida, the state takes the No. 1 spot when it comes to the number of Kava bars in the US—about 56 out of 100. It was in the state of Florida where the first Kava Bar in the continental United States was opened in 2002. From St. Petersburg to Boca Raton, Kava bars open their doors to visitors from everywhere.
Kava bars in the US today
Here are some Kava bars in the US that you can visit and taste the unique South Pacific drink:
- Bula Kafe (St. Petersburg, Florida) — This bar was founded in 2009 and is actually considered as “St. Petersburg’s Original Kava Bar and Coffee House.” It offers not only the finest Kava from Vanuatu but also Ethnobotanical Teas and Kahwa Coffee. Since its founding, it has been educating people and spreading their love of Kava throughout Florida’s West Coast.
- Nakava Bar (Boca Raton, Florida) — This bar has been in the kava business for the last 14 years in Boca Raton. It’s actually the very first kava bar in the continental US. Its serving hours until 2 a.m., so their place is the perfect place to hang out when you’re out late at night—that is, if you’re 18 years old or older. It invites customers to bring their friends any time they’re in Boca Raton.
- House of Kava (Bushwick, Brooklyn) — This bar is Brooklyn’s first kava bar. It encourages its patrons to make it a sanctuary or a second home for anyone who enters its doors. Employees serve freshly brewed kava to its customers as they unwind in a stress-free work or study environment. It offers patrons to come and co-create a new social community, of which creativity of the arts is a part of.
- Kavasutra Kava Bar (Denver, Colorado) — Kavasutra, among all the other kava bars in the US, claims that their kava and herbals are the best of the best. It serves kava that’s imported directly from Vanuatu, the place where its kava is well-known to be the highest quality root available in the whole world. Kavasutra’s different branches in Florida, New York, and Colorado offer a relaxing, serene environment perfect for kicking back and relaxing within a welcoming and non-judgemental environment—all the while as you sip your kava shell.
- Root of Happiness Kava Bar (Davis, California) — If you want to go to the premier kava bar in North America, come to the Davis location of the Root of Happiness Kava Bar. It serves kavas squeezed fresh on a daily basis. And its employees invite their customers to “Stop in and have a shell with us!” This bar is dedicated to giving its clients a superior kava experience from its ambiance and decor. It provides an alcohol-free environment for adults 18 years old and older to come together and celebrate Kava Kava’s 3,000-year-old tradition and culture—complete with pineapple chunks placed in each bowl of premium kava.
- The Grass Roots Kava House (St. Petersburg, Florida) – Although not the first Kava bar in St. Pete, this is definitely becoming one of the most popular with its central location in the iconic “Edge District,” with its locally-owned, independent businesses. The bar features handmade syrups and uses local ingredients to create their own style of Kava drinks.
Kava Bars in the US —and beyond
Kava sales yielded about $200 million yearly for the South Pacific region more than 15 years ago. However, the industry suffered when Germany banned the import of the product in 2002 over liver toxicity worries. Then in 2015, the World Health Organization ruled that Kava is safe and not toxic to the liver.
From then on, businesses from pharmaceutical companies to beverage companies are again moving to include Kava in their portfolio of products. This case may be the reason for the explosion of Kava bars in the US these couple of years. While the direction for Kava uses and benefits is heading towards medical and therapeutic purposes, a growing number of people appreciate Kava for its recreational benefits.
Indeed, from its introduction to the US until today, kava has grown in popularity and has been the subject of growing curiosity. Plus, more and more Kava uses and benefits are being introduced to the public. The current number of kava bars in the US attest to this. And by looking at the direction kava bars in the US seem to be heading years from now, people have no sure way of saying that kava is not the next coffee in the US. What is definitely sure is that kava bars in the US are making a bold impact in today’s society.