Kava is a root that has long been used thanks to its natural relaxant and mood-boosting properties. The plant is ground into a fine powder that is then infused in hot water to create kava tea. The beverage has an earthy flavor with strong astringent properties. Local offerings pair kava drinks with sweet and tart fruits like pineapples to help mellow out the flavor. In other places around the world, the beverage is served in what is known as a kava bar.
As kava has skyrocketed in popularity, it’s also generated a significant amount of concern. Some studies showed long term use of the beverage may cause liver damage or kidney disease. As a result, many European countries banned the root, though the United States FDA simply released a warning on the effects of prolonged or continued use.
Like most controversial things, kava has enjoyed a strong surge as people become increasingly interested in the side effects and benefits of the plant. As a result, many kava bars have emerged in recent years, especially in the United States. Find out more about kava and the emergence of popular kava bars right here.
What Is Kava?
Kava is a popular traditional drink in the South Pacific Islands spanning from Fiji and Vanuatu to Hawaii. The beverage is often an important part of social and spiritual ceremonies and is noted for its bitter flavor and mind-altering effects thanks to the presence of compounds known as kavalactones. It is similar in characteristic and social stature to the South American view of yerba mate.
The drink is made from the root of the kava plant, which is also known as kava kava or its botanical name Piper methysticum. Like kombucha a few years ago, kava has taken the United States by storm. Supporters of the kava root state that kava is a good alternative for coffee and alcohol as the plant contains compounds that naturally help to boost relaxation and feelings of euphoria. In traditional medicine, kava root has also been used to treat stress and anxiety disorders.
The Rise of Kava Bars
A Kava bar is an establishment that serves kava drinks and tries to promote the spiritual, island vibes that the plant derives its roots from. These bars focus heavily on creating a social atmosphere and ambiance that pairs perfectly with the mental clarity provided by kava drinks. Most are adorned with soft lighting, cozy seating areas, and tribal or tropical decorations such as coconut shells. There are often happy hour specials and you can hear traditional Fijian chants of “bula” throughout the festivities.
One of the first kava bars in New York was called House of Kava, located in the Brooklyn area of the Big Apple. The kava lounge served up cocktails infused with kava root before shutting down after labor and union disputes. While in business, patrons called the bar a refuge and soothing haven where they could enjoy traditional beverages that are nearly impossible to find anywhere else.
Other kava bars have popped up in Florida, San Francisco, Denver, and San Bruno. Among these, Squarerut Kava Bar in Austin, Texas is one of the most popular. They serve up a relaxing ambiance and focus on camaraderie with employees and customers alike. They also host traditional-inspired events that draw on the Pacific Islander roots of the drink.
What To Know About Kava
While kava use and lava bars are on the rise, there is significant concern regarding long-term use of the root. Studies show the root may cause significant problems for kidneys and the liver when consumed regularly. Experts recommend limiting intake to prevent these potential side effects. More research is needed to establish whether the plant offers therapeutic effects for people with anxiety. Until then, it’s best to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before drinking kava to avoid side effects and medication interactions.