2017 was a transitional year for Kava, and it was also a year that saw the Kava market open up to more fair and honest business practices. The market saw vendors like Root of Happiness and Nakamal at Home finally bring consumer choice and quality science back to the forefront with Hawaiian and Papua New Guinea Tudeis (and Hawaiian Isa) on the market. Disenchanted with market manipulation, many vendors walked away from the anti-Tudei discourse which has dominated and confused much of the community over the past few years. Many of us decided to side with science, which unequivocally shows that Kava of all varieties is safe for human consumption and that the liver scare that led to the European ban was not caused by Kava. In fact, the response to the liver scare by “Kava scientists” was more damaging to Kava than the ban itself. Early in the year, a prominent Hawaiian Kava vendor even disclosed that these scientists admitted to him at a conference that they had to scapegoat Tudei/Isa in order to satisfy European authorities. This raised many red flags, but most importantly – why should European governments be allowed to dictate how indigenous Kava farmers categorize their crops and plant them? Should we side with neocolonial technocrats or the farmers who have been cultivating Kava for thousands of years? By scapegoating Kava’s reputation on one variety of Kava, and then proclaiming a witch hunt against vendors who were accused of “spiking” their Kava with Tudei, these Kava scientists perpetuated a falsehood which has caused harm to both farmers and consumers alike. In 2017, the Kava community began to correct the course. Even though some corners of the dark web still look for reasons to attack vendors, most Kava drinkers have learned how to discern the grain from the chaff. Even though we are forced to reckon with the fall-out of this blatant collusion, we are happy to live during a time when an unprecedented variety and quality of Kava are readily available. As long as we focus on actual Kava farmers and the actual science which speaks to the safety of all Kava, we will survive the ramblings of basement chemists and the “Noble Youth.”
Vendor of the Year – Kavafied
Kavafied has put the sustainability of Kava farming at the center of their mission. Their commitment to investing in farmers, and reinvesting a large portion of their profits back into farming communities, is impressive and admirable.They are incredibly innovative with products including the AluBall, AluBottle, beautiful traditional Tanoas, and different sizes and grades of Kava strainers. On top of that, they offer some of the best Kavas on the market. My personal favorite is their Kava Tonga, which has an artisanal quality that speaks brilliantly. Their Kava supreme from Vanuatu is still one of the strongest Kavas available. Also, kudos to Kavafied for being a “bridge” across the Kava community. Their commitment to Kava has been complete, and they have never “taken sides” in the arguments between various parties on controversial issues.
Best New Vendor – Kava Vinaka
I met the owner of Kava Vinaka in Baltimore over the summer, and after a session with some Waka he brought with him, got on his case to get his awesome Fijian Kava to market. In November, Kava Vinaka released a trio of Fijian Kavas including a beautiful premium Kava (“Chief’s Choice”), a hard-hitting Waka, and a medicinal grade and ultra-relaxing Lawena. These are all 9+ grade Kavas, and are bursting with Kavalactones. Kava Vinaka hands-down stands out as 2017’s best new vendor.
Most Innovative Vendor – Root of Happiness
From bringing Papua New Guinea Kava back to the market, to offering Samoan Kava, to breaking the news that Micronesian Kava was on the way, and finally to making great efforts to bring back offerings of fresh Kava – Root of Happiness has been pushing the envelope for a long time. I never tried Root of Happiness until earlier this year, but have become very impressed with their owner’s ambitions to bring exotic, quality Kavas to the Kava market.
Best Artisanal Vendor – Bula Kava House
Bula Kava House brought the goods this year with artisanal Kavas. Bula Kava House’s “Private Reserve” Leka Hina was a grand slam addition to the Kava market, albeit a short-lived one (since it sold out within a week). A hand picked, single variety cultivar from Tonga, Leka Hina brought supreme relaxation and a subtle yet complex flavor. It also came in a top-shelf tubular box that added a beautiful dimension to a complex and bold Kava.
Kava(s) of the Year
- Kavafied – Kava Tonga (9.8/10)
- Kava Vinaka – Chief’s Choice (9.75/10)
- Squanch Kava – Waka (9.75/10)
- Nakamal at Home – Hawaiian Awa (Isa) (9.7/10)
- Bula Kava House – Private Reserve Leka Hina (9.7/10)
- Root of Happiness – Vanuatu Premium (9.7/10)
- The Kava Roots – Paulie’s Blend (9.5/10)
Sheller’s Choice – Nakamal at Home
Nakamal at Home continued to serve the goods despite incessant and unwarranted attacks from the “Noble Youth.” Stone remains the dominant Vanuatu Kava and is served in Kava bars throughout southern Florida. Nakamal at Home is now one of the prime veteran Kava vendors online, and have stayed in the game for over a decade. This year, they released a Hawaiian Isa that will absolutely knock your socks off. Unfortunately, it sold out within days due to popular demand. Rumor has it that another Tudei is coming out any day now 🙂