I kept drinking Vula Waka throughout the evening, getting into my third session around 9 PM. Vula Waka has a building presence in that it seems to accumulate in your muscles and really steer you towards a restful sleep. In other words, over the space of about five hours I went from a limb-numbing sedation to a more heady heaviness that gave some weight to my eyelids and eventually walked me towards my mattress. In this sense, it reminds me a lot of a Borongoru in its relaxing completeness – it’s ability to medicinally relax and provoke a deep and wholesome slumber. Another great thing about this Kava is that a little bit goes a long, long way. I consider a 4-5 tablespoon session that gets you from a body buzz to a heady sedation to be quite potent. On top of that, the “session”-like quality of this Kava is nice in that it takes you through different phases. 1-2 shells works to relax the body and calm the muscles, while 3-5 shells takes you to a headier space. It’s nice to have a Kava where you can control for the kind of effect you want.

Kalm with Kava’s Vula Waka – 9.6/10

Strength – Starts medium strength, builds to very strong within a short period

Also, check out Kalm with Kava’s Borongoru for a more “let’s get to sleep” variety:

Kalm with Kava – Borongoru

For a “Stonier” Kind of Krunk

And an Easy to Prepare Loa Waka

Welcome to the 2016 Kava Awards. I’m your host, the Kavasseur.

What a year for Kava! Not only did we see some of the best Kava ever slide through our doors’ mail slots, but we also never needed it more. During presidential debates, international uncertainties, turbulent tensions, and certainly election nights we were able to soothe our bumblin’ tumblin’ minds with shells of our favorite Pacific elixir. As a community, we have come along way.

In 2016, Noble became the standard in the Kava world. The Kava marketplace in North America has never been cleaner. When you go online to buy Kava now, it is all but certain that you will get a 100% Noble Kava. The community has demanded higher standards from vendors, and we have been rewarded with clean burning Kavas that settle us down to sleep and let us wake up refreshed. Special thanks to those who have advocated for a marketplace where Noble is the norm.

We also saw some vendors retire from the Kava business. It became official in 2016 that Paradise Kava was no longer going to be selling rare delicious Kavas or their wonderful extracts. We also saw a smaller vendor, Luna Kava, hang up their shells for at least a temporary basis. Best of luck to these individuals in their future efforts – Kava related or not.

2016 was also a tough year for many of the Pacific Island nations who are part of our Kava community. Without them, we would not exist. Cyclones, floods, and even droughts ravaged the Pacific last year, causing terrible destruction in the countries where Kava is grown. This extreme weather reminds us that we need to be conscious of the global environment and be better stewards of it, and to extend humanitarian aid to those suffering as a result of the excesses of others. We stand in solidarity with the Kava farmers of the south Pacific, their families, their communities, and their nations.

When putting together this list, I wanted to be as unbiased as possible and keep the categories to a minimum. In a year, what qualities can we identify among vendors and their Kava? I thought it would be important to look for an outstanding individual who embodies good business ethics and sells high quality Kavas – the Vendor of the Year. Who was the best new arrival on the Kava scene over the past 12 months – the Best New Vendor.  Who continued to push Kava forward with new ideas and technologies – the Most Innovative. Which small Kava vendor brought the local flavors of the South Pacific to us so successfully that you could almost taste the soil of their Kava gardens in each shell of Kava – the Best Artisanal Vendor. Which vendor keeps their fans on the edge of their seats waiting for fresh, tasty new Kavas and maintains their fan base – the Sheller’s Choice. And, of course, the Kava of the Year category speaks for itself. There are so many great vendors out there now, but I thought these were really the ones who stood out in 2016.

With no further ado, I’d like to raise some shells and distribute awards to various players in the Kava world.

Vendor of the Year – Kalm with Kava

I want to raise a special shell to 2016’s “Vendor of the Year.” Kalm with Kava exemplifies excellent business ethics and community-based economic development through sustainable agriculture. What truly impresses me about Kalm with Kava is their emphasis on the farmers and communities who grow Kava in the Pacific Islands. Their focus on creating a better life for Kava-producing communities by going to their homes, walking with them through their farms, and sourcing the freshest, most cared-for, and best value Kava on the market is what earns them the title of “Vendor of the Year.” They are doing what I believe every responsible company should do in a market that works with natural resources and agricultural products. Namely, they bypass the middleman distributors and buy directly from farmers. Their approach might be more difficult and expensive, but it means that when you purchase a bag of their Kava your money is going directly to the households who produced it. Essentially, it means that when you drink a shell of Vula Waka you are not only benefitting yourself, but you are benefitting a household in Fiji. What more could you ask for?

Excellent work, Mike Munsell and everyone at Kalm with Kava!

Best New Vendor – Kava Time

When Kava Time first came on to the scene several months ago, they seemed like a small Kava vendor who may or may not be able to get on the radar. Now, at the end of 2016, they are offering around half a dozen Kavas that are all consistently amazing. Their Savusavu Waka is the dreamy answer to many problems. The Lawena is a nerve-calming tonic that will never let you down. Having only been around for a handful of months, Kava Time has impressed as a Fiji-based small Kava vendor that takes Noble Kava seriously. Also, their Kava “bricks” were one of the most commonly talked about novelties in the Kava world. Those things are packed so tightly that you need an ice pick just to get a session going!

Most Innovative Vendor – Kavafied

What can I say? The AluBall continues to take the Kava world by storm (the good kind). I remember the early days of the AluBall, when it seemed a bit gimmicky and out of place. Well, now it is even the Kavasseur norm for Kava-making. It is quick (as in minutes), effective, portable, easy to clean – you name it. I have taken this thing with me to Ghana, Madagascar, Rwanda, and South Africa. It always does the trick. Kavafied continues to innovate with a cutting-edge online presence (have you seen their Instagram?), a great line of hats and t-shirts, amazing design, and even the upcoming AluBall XL. They also surprised us late in the year by dropping “Vanuatu Supreme” on us. It’s one of the better Vanuatu Kavas available right now, and we’re all lovin’ it.

Best Artisanal Vendor – The Kava Roots

The Kava Roots released two main Kavas in 2016 – Tongan Reserve and Vanuatu Select. Both of these were of exceptional quality and had the finest, Noblest, cleanest flavors and effects. The Kava Roots burst on to the scene with the sedating, relaxing, anxiety-busting Tongan Reserve. In October they released Vanuatu Select, which became the reigning heavyweight champion of the Vanuatu Kava world – no small victory for any vendor, let alone a small artisanal vendor. The “localness” of their Kava and the small batch quality is what puts this vendor firmly at the top of the list of smaller, artisanal vendors.

Kava of the Year – The Kava Roots’ “Vanuatu Select”

When I drank my first shell of “Vanuatu Select,” it transported me back to my first brush with Kava as a stressed-out college student in 2000. It reminded me of that initial feeling of first finding something that washed my nerves clean from any anxiety or discomfort. “Vanuatu Select” is hands-down my favorite Kava of 2016 – a strong peppery Vanuatu Kava that has that perfect balance of heady and heavy strength and burns clean in your relaxation engine. The organic flavor and household level care of this Kava can be tasted in every brilliant shell and it puts you firmly where you want to be on any day of the week. Three bulas to the Kava Roots!

Sheller’s Choice – Bula Kava House

Kavafied stands out from many Kava vendors for their vibrant, innovative spirit and image. They are Kava giants on social media, publishing image after colorful image on Instagram several times a day. They have fresh, simple, and modern packaging and design on their Kava bags and products. They even have a line of t-shirts and hats for true Kavasseurs. In my opinion, with the release of the AluBall Kava maker Kavafied also made Kava a much more convenient and expedient option in tight spots. Why settle for extracts when you can just drink actual Kava? Better yet, why settle for extracts when you can make that Kava in less than three minutes.

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I sat down last week and talked to Matt Masifilo, the entrepreneur behind Kavafied:

KAVASSEUR: It’s great to be able to talk to you about Kavafied and all of your great Kava grinds and unique products.

What is your Kava story? How did you get interested in Kava and what were some of your first experiences with it?

MATT: Kava has always been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. As a half cast Tongan American, Kava was present at most cultural gatherings. I would try it often when my father drank it. I always thought it was used more for ritual than effects. I felt this way until sometime in high school, when I finally sat down and really drank Kava with younger guys and I experienced the sedating effects of Kava for the first time.

KAVASSEUR: When did you decide to get in the Kava selling business? What were some of the challenges and what did the market look like when you got involved?

MATT: I kind of got pulled into the Kava industry by chance. While attending Stanford University I was approached by a successful tech entrepreneur who had discovered Kava recently; He wanted to break from the Silicon Valley scene and enter the relaxation beverage one. As a regular Kava drinker by then, I jumped on board and we blindly dove into the Kava industry.

What ensued over the next 6 months were probably some of the most stressful, chaotic, and greatest learning experiences of my life. I like to refer to this period of time as my Kava MBA.

We did everything you could think of with a Kava business, and failed at it. As they say in business, fail fast and often. At the time, the Kava market was showing early signs of growth in the US with Kava bars beginning to pop up outside the state of Florida and Hawaii.

As far as challenges go, I could go on and on about how we failed at this and that. Overall there are two huge challenges when entering the Kava industry, sourcing Noble Kava and then the huge educational process you have to put potential customers through.

I can give you an example: back in 2011 when I was getting my Kava MBA at Stanford University, I was so concerned about quality, that we went down to my fathers home town in ‘Eua, Tonga, purchased an entire Kava farm, then managed the harvest, cleaning, and processing of the roots. I walked away from that venture before ever seeing a dime for my efforts but that was the only way we felt quality could be assured even with it coming from a place where my father grew up.

KAVASSEUR: You have a pretty epic social media presence. When did you decide to become so active on Instagram and other formats and how has it helped your efforts?

MATT: Thanks, we put a lot of effort into our social media presence to visually capture the Kava culture and the diverse communities of people who contribute to it. It is a great way for us to connect with the Global Kava community and encourage others to join.

KAVASSEIR: What are some of the big changes that have occurred recently in the Kava world, and how have you adjusted to them?

MATT: I think the biggest change that is occurring in the Kava industry is globalization. With affordable high-speed Internet access reaching most Kava growing nations now, local island Kava farmers and middlemen can now more than ever sell directly to the Global Kava consumer.

KAVASSEUR: One of your biggest innovations has been the AluBall. I personally use the AluBall every day. Many Kava drinkers still prefer to go through the entire kneading process, but I’ve found that using the same amount of Kava in the AluBall gives me practically the same effects. At first I was very skeptical of the AluBall, and wondered what kind of purpose it would serve or whether it would be effective, but it has become a staple in my Kava routine when I am preparing Kava for myself. I tend to only knead Kava when I am making Kava for bigger parties. Can you explain how this idea came to be, and what the general reception of the AluBall has been like?

MATT: Thank you for the kind words about the AluBall.

The idea for the AluBall transpired during my time playing in the NFL. When I got transplanted to Tampa Bay from the 49ers I would try to drink Kava with teammates around a Kava Bowl but most of them just wanted to fill their Gatorade bottles up with it and leave. This struck me funny because no one drinks Kava like that back home. When I found out one of my teammates was going through the whole traditional prep process to make just one cup a night I knew there was a need for a Kava Maker.

The reception of the AluBall has been awesome. Its initial objective was to make it easier to sell Kava to someone who has never heard of Kava before. Someone like my teammate who I felt represented the general American public. I was delighted to find out that so many existing Kava drinkers have added it to their Kava routine.

KAVASSEUR: How do you source your Kava, and what kind of relationships do you have with Kava farmers and communities?

MATT: Through family connections I have in the South Pacific.

KAVASSEUR: What are Kavafied’s plans for the future? Can you give us any hints on any upcoming projects or releases?

MATT: We have a few projects in the works that we hope will further push Kava onto a bigger stage. We’re always looking to improve upon the user experience of Kava in general.