First Timers Guide to Kava

First Timers Guide to Kava

March 08, 2024

By Kyle Shigekuni | estimated read time - 17 min | December 6th, 2022

First off, I am not a medically trained physician so none of what I state should be substitued for medical advice.

Anyway, when I drank my first cup of kava ten years ago, I had no idea it would be the beginning of a decade-long journey of curiosity and discovery with this amazing root. There weren’t youtube videos and websites I could reference for help back then. So I had to learn the tricks of the trade by reading science journals, books by experts, talking to the farmers, and of course, running hundreds of failed experiments myself.


Knowing Kava Is Important

Man Preparing to Run

Kyle Holding Lebot's Pacific Elixer Book

Let's start with the fact that the quality and origin of your kava are crucial. If you're content with a standard kava experience—moderate sedation without exploring its full range of effects—you might want to pause here and watch a TikTok video about kava. Because what follows won't be superficial; we're delving deep. However, if you're not interested in the ordinary, and you're seeking the genuine, authentic kava experience, we hopefully will be able to show you how

Great kava is not cheap. And this is because for great kava to grow it takes around 4-5 full years of caretaking for excellent kava to flourish. It’s kind of like fine wine in that sense or fine aged teas. There’s always cheaper ones that shortcut the process, but you end up with a weaker less desirable end product. For example, I remember being able to drink an entire bottle of 2 buck chuck, a $2 wine from trader joes, in a single night. But if I tried that with another wine I'd be drunker than drunk. Similarly, great kava is a stark difference from generic kava. Great kava often hits harder, is cleaner, and can open up a multitude of different experiences not often felt in the generics.

I empathize with newcomers facing the overwhelming amount of information. It can induce anxiety—a stark contrast to what kava's intended effects are supposed to be. Learning about kava without the overload of online resources back in the day was more manageable, albeit time-consuming. For those feeling inundated, especially beginners, this will be a simplified guide.

We'll also aim to give you an idea on how to get the best bang for the buck. We have a different approach to kava as I not only like to get a good value for our money, I also deeply value the effort invested by the farmers and dislike wasting such meticulously grown roots.

Science and Spirituality of Kava

Brewed with care and attentiveness, kava can reveal inner truths, foster connections, and evoke a sense of profound meditative spirituality. As a previous research physicist holding a fascination of deep psychological and spiritual, I often find myself stuck in the trenches of the scientific research ideology. However, the deeper I go with kava, the more I'm beginning to see the emergence of something science cannot explain. This is an understanding echoing a great hero of mine, Albert Einstein, which is an existence of a symbiotic relationship between science and spirituality. In our modern world with all the technology and advances, we think we know everything, but we don't. And our ancesters were not stupid, they knew what they were doing.

To fully embrace kava, one must approach the ancient beverage and rituals with a deep sense of humility and respect.

Kava ceremonies were used for honoring deities, fostering political relationships, marking major milestones, as well as many other things. They served as bridges between mortal and spiritual realms. One shouldn't see kava ceremonies as mere tradition, but moreso a reflection of the spirituality of Polynesian cultural. Much like the significance of a glass of wine and a loaf of bread as the body and blood of Christ, partaking in a kava ceremony is tapping into a direct line of communication that transcends time and space. Connecting us in the mortal realm with our ancient ancestors and gods of the heavens. Therefore, it goes without saying but these ceremonies are not actions which are to be taken lightly.


Secrets To Kava Extraction

Extracting Kava Traditionally

Extracting Kava

Delving into the realm of kava will reveal that pursuing the initial sedative rush showcased on TikTok isn't the true essence of its potency. This is akin to the difference between cheap, harsh liquor and smoother, pricier fine alcohols. Opting for budget kava may provide a strong sedative effect initially, but it lacks the clean, enjoyable experience and often results in unpleasant aftereffects. Moreover, fixating solely on the immediate sedation may obscure the calming effects you truly seek, which means you'll end up using more to get to the same place. When brewed correctly and attentively, kava offers clarity, stress relief, and a smoother exploration of thoughts. When brewed incorrectly, it can cause nausea and taste worse than your asian auntie’s ginseng tea.

There are various secrets to kava extraction you will learn over time, and we hope to present you with a number of them before the end of this. You can shortcut to it here

But here's a few points to remember.

  • Your bag matters more than you think.
  • The temperature of the water is also a major factor (don't use cold and explore with slightly over room temp!)
  • Fat's are good for increasing extraction
  • Ambiance plays a big role in depth of experience
  • The type of ratios of kava lateral roots to basal, as well as chemotype should be taken into account when making kava for a specific occasion

And while we're on chemotypes, let's talk about the different experiences of kava.


Quick Intro To Different Types Of Kava

Kava Roots

Kava Roots

Selecting the right kava for your situation isn't a hidden art, but it IS something to keep top of mind. Determining the ideal kava for you involves navigating through a myriad of categories, which can be daunting for beginners. These categories encompass a range of effects, from cerebral stimulation to euphoria-like sensations, heavy sedation to balanced relaxation, and even mood-lifting varieties. Additionally, there are considerations like onset speed and duration. For the sake of simplicity, we'll focus on three broad categories that encapsulate what most people seek in kava.

These categories are. heady, balanced, and sedative/heavy.

What Are Heavy Kavas

Heavy kava’s make you feel… well… heavy. You get a big heft of feeling with these and it’s less in the head. I tend to steer clear of sedative kavas because I prefer the more nuanced calming experience. Fijian waka kavas, for instance, typically lean towards sedation. "Waka roots" refer specifically to the lateral roots of the kava plant, which often contain high levels of dihydrokavain. This compound induces muscle relaxation and slows down bodily movements and sensations, akin to the effects of alcohol in my opinion.

Examples of kavas fitting this profile include Fijian Wakas (Like our Bula Vinaka), Papua New Guinea's Isa, Tongan ceremonial kavas, some robust Vanuatu varieties like Borogoru, or any kava predominantly sourced from lateral roots. There's nothing inherently wrong with seeking a more intense kava experience, and if that's your preference, more power to you. However, it's important to recognize that pursuing a heavier body effect often means sacrificing some of the clarity and calmness. Plus, it's typically not advisable to drive after consuming such kavas.

This is where balanced kavas come into play, offering a middle ground between sedation and clarity.

What Are Balanced Kavas

Balanced kava's are the middle line between heady and sedating. It's not too heavy that it will knock you out, you can still be social, and they tend to have higher amounts of anti-anxiety goodies. Here, you'll find Vanuatu classics such as Palarasul, Bir Kar, Melo melo, as well as certain Solomon Island varieties, blends like Statera, and occasionally our Connoisseur can classify as a balanced depending on the batch..

These kavas are suitable for a wide range of occasions, whether it's a social night out, deep meditative sessions, casual hangouts with friends, or practically anything else you can think of. They're versatile and flexible.

What are Heady Kavas

The final category comprises heady or cerebral styles of kava, which are rather unique and often difficult to find genuine versions of. They typically boast a lighter taste profile, with less spiciness and more woody notes. Examples include our Raw Epicure blend, Kelai, and our Wakea and Kahuna styles.

Cerebral kavas are best suited for artistic or open-minded endeavors, such as quieting the ego to complete the last chapter of a memoir or finally finding the inspiration to apply brush to canvas after months of hesitation.

Now let’s delve into root ratios.


What Is A Kava Root Ratio

Connoisseur vs. Barava Root Ratio

Photo of kava stumps

There are two main types of root categories in kava: Basal and Lateral roots. If you were to uproot a kava plant, you'd notice thick bulk and roots stemming directly from the plant's body; these are the basal roots. Additionally, there are smaller roots that spread out like fingers across the soil; these are called "lateral roots." Typically, a kava plant has a ratio of around 30/70 lateral roots to basal roots, give or take a few percent. This natural ratio is how God designed it, and provides a well-balanced effect across various chemotype profiles.

At times, individuals may wish to alter the natural chemotype of a kava plant. This can be achieved by adjusting the concentrations of either the lateral or basal roots, thereby influencing the resulting effects. Lateral roots, due to their higher kavalactone percentages, tend to produce heavier sedative effects. Common modifications include mixtures such as a 50/50 or 60/40 blend of lateral to basal roots, or occasionally pure lateral root preparations for increased potency. However, it's important to note that opting for a full lateral root blend can sometimes lead to hangover-like symptoms.


What Are Kavalactones And Kava Chemotypes

Six Major Kavalactones

Six Major Kavalactones

Kavalactones are key players in kava, with a lineup of over 19, but the top 6 are the real stars. These lipid-like molecules interact with the brain's GABA receptors, influencing different aspects of the central nervous system. For instance, kavain is known to aide in easing anxiety, while dihydrokavain and methysticin offer anesthetic effects. Chemotypes, represented by a six-digit code, determine the concentration order of these actives in kava, akin to its DNA. Each chemotype creates a distinct kava personality almost like characters in a play.

For example, our recent Connoisseur blend, with chemotype 243516, features more dihydrokavain and balanced sedation, whereas Barava's chemotype, though similar, leans towards higher sedation due to its differing ratios. Take the ratio of dihydrokavain to kavain in our Connoisseur (around 2.3) versus Barava (a snazzier 2.9).

Understanding these nuances helps select kavas suited to specific moods or preferences, despite similar chemotypes suggesting shared traits but nuanced differences in effect.


The First Documented Kava Ceremony

Old Photo of Women Making Kava

Old Photo of Women Making Kava

Allow me to share an excerpt recounting one of the earliest encounters with a kava ceremony by a Westerner. This passage is from Lebot's "Kava: The Pacific Elixir," a book we highly recommend for those delving deep into kava. The account was recorded by Georg Forster, a naturalist aboard James Cook's Pacific Voyage. Forster's observation paints a vivid picture:

"Kava is in made in the most disgusting manner that can be imagined. From the juice contained in the roots of the species of pepper tree this root is cut small and the piece is chewed by several people who spit the macerated mass into a bowl where some water, milk of coconuts is poured upon it. They then strain it through a quantitiy of the fibers of coconut squeezing the chips till all of their juice is mixed with the coconut milk and the whole liquor is decanted into another bowl. They swallow this nauseous stuff as fast as possible and some old toppers value themselves on being able to empty a great number of bowls. "


Making Kava Properly

Extracting Kava From 75-Micron Nut Bag 

Extracting Kava From 75-Micron Nut Bag

The most important thing is obviously the kava you pick. But besides that, it is the bag, then the water.

Bag - Blending Tradition with Science. While I once advocated for traditional cloth bags, my recommendation now leans towards 75-micron nut bags. Consistency in kava quality is paramount to me (as well as getting a bang for the buck). Using cloth bags often results in significant retention of kavalactones, lipid molecules crucial for kava's effects, that never make it to your drink. To illustrate this, picture filtering a thick, oily solution like coffee or oil through a t-shirt; while most will pass through, a considerable amount will be trapped in the fabric. Contrast this with a nylon bag, which exhibits far less retention of the oil. In other words, "quit losin the good stuff in your bag and get a nut bag!"

Water - It's best to use room temperature or slightly warmer water. The active ingredients in kava aren't readily soluble in water, hence the need to mesh the bag. For a standard experience, aim for about 2 tablespoons of traditional kava with 8 ounces of water. While you can adjust the ratio for stronger or milder effects, it's advisable not to decrease the amount significantly, as it can be challenging (annoying) to manage smaller batches. Much like how you wouldn’t cut and cook all the ingredients together for a single bowl of chili, you shouldn’t be spending 15 minutes for a single cup of kava. I mean… you CAN. But WHY.

How To Save Your Kava (Stretching for Second Batches)

Extracting Kava From 75-Micron Nut Bag 

Frozen kava ready for second batch

This is where we will differ from most. I believe you should always save for second batches to get the best bang for your buck.

Here's what you'll need: a water boiler, a blender, and bottles for storing additional kava. Freeze any leftovers in bags; flatten them out to make them easier to break or chunk up. Use a sharpie to label the bags with dates. When you have enough, sometimes it makes sense to transfer the frozen kava to the fridge the day before to defrost.

When you're ready to prepare, bring out your blender and pour in 140F or less hot water. Let it sit for 20 minutes, then blend for 2-5 minutes (refer to the video for guidance). Because this kava has been pre-extracted, a lower water-to-kava ratio is necessary—aim for about the amount you'd typically use for a single batch, with 2-3 times the pre-batched kava.

The heat helps loosen up the actives, and the blender aids in extracting them more efficiently. While meshing the bag remains an option, using a blender tends to yield a slightly richer grog, especially since it works the lateral roots more vigorously.

Once blended, pour the mixture through your mesh bag, squeeze, and enjoy. If you prefer a cooler drink, throw it over ice or refrigerate until chilled.


The Right Kava Atmosphere

Meditating While Drinking Kava

Meditating While Drinking Kava

When embracing the traditional kava-drinking experience, creating the right atmosphere is key. Choose a suitable space and time. Avoid mornings if you have a busy day ahead, as kava can induce relaxation, a little too much at times, and is not conducive to most mental work. Traditionally we sit on the ground cross-legged in a circle, using a small pillow if the floor is hardwood. Dim the lights or use warm-toned lighting like candles or lamps to foster a relaxed ambiance without making the room too dark. These little lights set the perfect mood and are budget-friendly. Remove shoes to connect with the ground, and if warm enough, consider going sockless for further grounding.

Obviously eliminate distractions like TV and gadgets. Take your first cup of kava, perhaps experiment with meditation. Within 10-15 minutes, you'll begin to feel its effects, which improve over time due to kava's "reverse tolerance." If silence feels uncomfortable initially, give it a chance to enhance the experience. Try out a second cup and enjoy.


Kyle's First Experience with Kava

The more you dance with kava, the more it reveals its magic. Before we get into that, let me tell you a story.

It was a hot sticky New York afternoon in 2015, I woke up feeling the aftermath of $5 beer n shots and the highly addictive picklebacks we had been slugging til 4am in Brooklyn. I opened the window for fresh air half noticing a bar that seemed to be opening up sometime this week. I notice a guy lugging boxes into the almost-finished bar. I would normally be excited to explore the new neighbors but I had a mission for $2 peanut butter noodles and was intent on getting them. As I popped around the corner on return I see a sign stating, "Alcohol is so 2014." Curiosity piqued.

I don’t remember what the person said but he invited me in to give it a shot. TBH I wasn't entirely sober yet and could barely understand what the guy was talking about, something about a root drink. I’m no stranger to ginseng drinks and all sorts of green juice gut cleansing stuff so i wasn't put off when he offered me a wide mouthed cup filled with something like mud. I drank it and my tongue felt like i got a light shot of novicaine from the dentist. After a couple more I parted ways but felt nothing else.

A couple days later I was working late and noticed out my window there were people hanging around the medicine bar. I drop down to visit again and went through the whole introductory shpeel as the guy clearly didn't remember our first encounter. I went through another 3-4 cups of the stuff. After 20 minutes chatting with a friendly man two chairs down, I began to get extremely nauseated and decided to head home to my apartment across the street rather than use the tiny toilet at the bar. I barely made it across the street when I vomited my paycheck all over the planter, just ten steps from the apartment entrance. Not my proudest moment.

Stubborn as ever, I return for round three. This time, the magic kicks in – subtle, calming waves of relaxation wash over me. I'm deep in conversation with a friendly lady next to me, but the TV, playing Planet Earth with an octopus gliding across the ocean floor, begins to deeply encompass all of my attention. I imagined swimming alongside this friendly cephalopod, no cares in the world, just me and my octopus homey cruising across the ocean floor. That was until the nausea creeped back. Not being my first rodeo I immediately apologized to my new friend and stepped out into the fresh city air.

Luckily the discomfort eases, and I find myself strolling towards the park. The rest of that night is a bit of a blur, but I do remember with each step I was overcome with an overwhelming feeling of calm and relaxation. It stuck with me and changed the trajectory of my life. Maybe it was exhaustion, maybe it was something more, but it became one of the most blissful experiences of my life up to that point.

I remember thinking two things. Everybody needs to learn about this, and, Sometimes it’s good to be stubborn.


What is Kava Reverse Tolerance

Reverse tolerance is akin to scaling a mystical mountain for newcomers. Initially, first-timers might overlook kava's effects, but with each session, its mysteries unfold. I personally believe this phenomenon is linked to your past methods of relaxation before discovering kava. Many people frequently consume alcohol which can harm the central nervous system, hindering kava's efficacy. As your body heals, kava's potency seems to increase.

You might assume this only applies to alcoholics, but even moderate alcohol consumption can damage your nervous system, leading to anxiety and creating a cycle of dependency. This widespread issue affects more people than they realize.

The strength of kava also depends on factors such as health, medications, body weight, and previous alcohol tolerance. However, the real journey lies in uncovering how your unique experiences intertwine with these spirited concoctions.


Is Kava Bad For You

Kava And Chill Sign

Kava And Chill Sign

I want to clarify that I'm not a medically trained physician or affiliated with any research institution or pharmaceutical company. This means I lack the backing of large insurance companies and cannot make claims. I can only relay information from research-backed articles and offer my opinions based on them. From what I've gathered, I haven't come across any legitimate studies demonstrating clinical trials or adverse cases regarding kava.

Is Kava Addictive

Based on my experiences with kava and individuals who were struggling with various substances like benzodiazepines, opiates, and alcohol, I personally don't believe kava is addictive. While it may be situationally addictive, I've never experienced or heard of withdrawal symptoms or cravings with kava, unlike with other substances I've dealt with. We'll delve deeper into the mechanism of action for kava in the future for better understanding.

What To Be Careful About With Kava

Kava's diuretic properties are often overlooked, but it's crucial to address. Similar to tea, coffee, and alcohol, kava can lead to dehydration. Thus, hydration isn't just about drinking water; it's also about maintaining electrolyte balance. Electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium, play a vital role in helping your body retain water. Without them, it's like trying to fill a leaky bucket. These electrically charged ions ensure hydration harmony, ensuring water stays where it's needed.

Especially the morning after indulging in kava, it's essential to focus on electrolyte balance. One effective solution is to add a teaspoon of Himalayan salt to a glass of water and drink it upon waking up. This simple remedy helps replenish crucial electrolytes, supporting hydration and overall well-being.


Conclusion

That wraps it up for most of the questions I regularly see about kava. Again these are all suggestions and recommendations, so don’t feel like you have to have everything perfect. Work with what you have, play with these examples, and enjoy the process. We hope you have a wonderful week and if you’re enjoying these videos please take the time to like and subscribe so we know we’re on the right track. From our ohana to yours, mahalo nui



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