Niuguni is Melanesian pidgin for “New Guinea,” which refers to the most linguistically and culturally diverse country in the world – Papau New Guinea. Located east of what is widely accepted as the origin of Kava, the Republic of Vanuatu, Papau New Guinea boasts some of the strongest-tasting Kavas available in the United States. By law, the most potent and viscous Kavas from Vanuatu aren’t exported, so a lot of the really strong Kava we can buy here (such as Chief’s Jungle Kava, another Nakamal At Home variety) comes from Papau New Guinea.

What is great about the Niugini variety is that it is not as overpowering as Chief’s Jungle Kava, a Kava that you can really only consider drinking on a Friday or Saturday night. Niugini Kava gives you a chance to enjoy a Papau New Guinean Kava on any weeknight. It maintains the powerful taste of a Kava like Chief’s Jungle, but in a much more mild manifestation with much more subdued effects. I can drink three or four shells and just kind of coast through the night with a relaxed body and mind. Niugini Kava also has a slightly different flavor than Chief’s Jungle Kava, with milky Tongan-like undertones that create a nice foundation for that “grassy” (to quote Kaiden, a regular contributor this blog) taste that all the Papu New Guinean varieties I have tried have contained, sometimes in overwhelming quantities.

You will notice that my rating for the flavor on this Niuguni Kava totally overshadows that of Chief’s Jungle Kava. That is because this Kava is absolutely delicious and contains high and low notes, where Chief’s Jungle is just a high grassy flavor with no solid, milky base to fall back on. I absolutely love the balance of the flavors in this Kava. Unlike what the Nakamal At Home website claims, this Kava is actually noticeably non-spicy, and it has several layers of flavor that are sweet, creamy, and nutty. It tapers off with probably the best aftertaste (with noticeable exceptions in Tongan and Fijian varieties) that I have encountered in a Kava, but it has a more unique nutty flavor where others have either a milky or a sour taste. With some hesitation, I would argue that this is tied with Stone Kava as being the tastiest brew available. Also, this Kava must be tried for its sheer uniqueness in flavor. It would be difficult to find a Kava that tastes like Niugini Kava, and even more difficult to find one that tastes better.

In terms of effect, this Kava is much more mild than I expected it to be. I thought it was going to have a Chief’s Jungle kind of effect, but it is much more subdued and, indeed, much more pleasant. In addition to Fiji Kava and Tongan Kava, this will probably be my next go-to Kava for a stressful weekday. It has a “mind and body” kind of buzz, with no real dominance in either area. It has a great effect on the muscles that makes me believe it would be good for people who are sore or experiencing arthritis. After a long day of working on a big project outdoors that involved shoveling, lifting, and pretty hard labor, this Kava took away every last ounce of pain in my body. Of course, it also has that profoundly nice de-stressing effect that we all look for in Kava. Great stuff for everyday consumption.

Taste – 8.5/10
Effect – 7.5/10

Nakamal At Home’s Niugini Kava – 8 shells out of 10

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All Kavasseurs have a few friends who claim that Kava doesn’t effect them and that it lacks the power they look for in a good night of enhanced socializing. They sink back a few shells, comment on the cool numbing effect, and then wander over to the cooler for a cold beer.

Friend who doesn’t believe Kava is powerful, meet Chief’s Jungle Kava.

This is my first time drinking a Papua New Guinean Kava, and it won’t be my last. From the time you cut open the package and unlock the resealable bag, you are in for a real treat. This stuff is just different. The smell of pine cones and sage describe the nose of this root. If you just feel this stuff with your hands, you will be in love with it. It has this great twiggy, non-powdery density to it and just feels nice to play with. The scent of pine cones just emanates from this stuff and makes the whole house smell wonderful. I was enchanted with this Kava before it even touched water. And when it did… wow. Watching the roots absorb water, expand, and exude their spiciness was just ridiculous. I followed the provided recipe pretty closely, sans the blender, and kneaded for about 15 minutes before I had a good thick Kava to drink.

Now, the flavor. Well, what can I say? It is evil. Now I understand Kava anxiety. I took my first gulp and was totally overwhelmed. I feel like I should brew some Fiji or Tongan Kava as a chaser for this stuff. I wanted to spit it out like I would if I took a bite out of a fresh, green pine cone. It is really like no other Kava I have ever tasted, and I feel like I’m being redundant in saying that. I started out drinking Vanuatu Kavas and falling in love with them, and was extremely surprised at the wonderful flavor of Tongan and Fijian Kavas. I even enjoyed crashing through my kilo of Vanuatu Kava Store’s Pentecost Pride for its mild and satisfying flavor. Kona Kava is extremely nice, but isn’t very rewarding. I’ll tell you, Kavasseur to Kavasseur, that this stuff is not  pleasant to drink. It brings on the gag effect, but in the end it kind of makes sense. The only thing I might recommend is watering this down and drinking twice as much, because if you just drink it raw you are going to get pummeled. The ends justify the means. I don’t even know how to rate the flavor on this, so I won’t.

Chief’s Jungle Kava is extremely powerful. You feel it as you are drinking it, almost right out of the gates. It is pretty close to a Vanuatu Kava in that it has that kind “heightening” kick to it. You feel it in your head before you feel it in your muscles. Your eyes kind of glaze over as if you had just smoked some cannabis. You move slower, see deeper, and hear everything loud and clear. Lights are brilliant and somewhat offensive. Chief’s Jungle must have its roots in Vanuatu, because it has a nearly identical effect. From what I understand from looking at the literature, you can’t export super high-grade Kava from Vanuatu by law, so some of the most potent stuff you can drink stateside is from Papua New Guinea. (Can anyone confirm this?) After drinking three shells of this stuff, that seems like a more than likely scenario. In terms of effect, this is the one you want to brew for those friends of yours who have downplayed the power of Kava.

I need to lay down…

Flavor – 6.5/10 (high grassy notes dominate, too overpowering for my tastes.. try Niugini if you want a tasty Papau New Guinean Kava)
Effect – 9.75/10

Nakamal at Home Chief’s Jungle Kava  – 8.125 shells out of 10

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For some odd reason, I picture Kava (or Awa, as it is called in Hawaii) varieties growing weaker and weaker as they radiate away from Vanuatu. A great web of Kava with a muddy, spicy, numbing core on Pentecost Island in Vanuatu. Tongan Kava represents a kind of alternative core in the Kava world, a place from whence a mysterious white Kava emerges that has peculiar qualities and is incredibly medicinal. Vanuatu Kava is thick and ritualistic, Tongan Kava is milky and utilitarian, Fiji Kava is stranded somewhere in between, and now Hawaiian Kava….

KONA KAVA Premium Powdered Kava Root (16oz)

Well, it’s pretty damn good. I should say that, like Tongan Kava, it has a completely different taste, texture, and effect. According to Kona Kava Farm, the Mahakea Kava Root has the “426 kavalactone/chemotype line up,” whatever that means. I used the Kona Kava Farm recipe, which included a small bag that came with the Kava. They recommend two tablespoons of Kava to half a quart of water. I felt like that was pretty low, but went for it anyway. The final product, after ten or so minutes of squeezing, was a Kava that had a more transparent color than others I have had, but had a more “agreeable” taste as well. This Kava would be beyond ideal for a beginner, because it has a very neutralized and mild taste. It has a bit of a spicy edge to it, but is more notable for the relatively big anesthetic effect it has. Compared to most Kavas, this one produces a fairly high amount of the lip and mouth numbing effect. In terms of flavor, it is really good and has a lot of complexity. For someone who has drank a lot of Kava, it would probably be passed off as too mild. But if you really swish it around and focus on the flavor, it actually does have a lot going for it. And again, this one would be good for those friends of yours who have pushed shells away in the past.

The effect is great as well. It is extremely relaxing. It doesn’t give you a great buzz, but it does offer a good route for winding down. I drank three shells and the minor headache I had floated away, the soreness in my legs from running disappeared, and I felt like I could easily fall asleep if I desired to. You’re not going to wobble like you would after draining three shells of Stone Kava, but you’ll definitely notice the effect and feel very happy about it. Like I said, it doesn’t have the ritualistic intensity of a viscous Vanuatu Kava or the intenselyrelaxing glory of Nakamal at Home’s Tongan, but it is a good alternative if you’re not in the mood to lose yourself. I’d probably reach for the Tongan Kava on a weekday night, but I might reach for this on a weekday afternoon. Tastes good, feels good, and will be good to have around.

Taste – 7/10
Effect – 6.5/10

Kona Kava Farm’s Mahakea Kona Kava – 6.75 shells out of 10

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**This Kava is quite thick. The normal 1 cup of Kava to 2 cups of water will give you a sludge that won’t be very satisfying – and far too powerful to stomach. Instead, start out with 1 cup of Tongan Kava to 3 1/2 cups of water. I learned this the hard way, trust me. On the bright side (though there really isn’t a dark side), you’re going to get a lot more out of this than you would another variety.

I was very happy when I heard from the folks at Nakamal at Home that I had just ordered Kava that was fresh from the airport. I had heard things about Tongan Kava that were all but enthusiastic. “It’s kind of weak and it tastes different.” “Most of the Kava from Tonga really blows.” But I was happy that, assuming this Kava was going to be at least decent, it was fresh from Tonga and I could really wrap my mind around it and give my honest opinion. I could picture the journey from a bush garden in rural Tonga to Nuku’alofa, across the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico to the southeast. I pictured the root harvested, sold at an outdoor market, ground, flown, processed, and finally poured into the airtight golden package in Boca Raton, Florida. True to their word, I received the package a few days later and opened it up, noticing that there was still powdery fingerprints on the package. That’s how fresh this stuff was. The freshest Kava I have ever brewed in the United States, hands down.

This Kava is really quite hard for me to explain. There is something so peculiar about it, something that I can’t quite find the words to explicate. I find that the name Nakamal has given it – “White Kava” – is really the best way to explain it. It is thicker and creamier than any other kind of Kava I have ever had. Its color truly is white – it looks like you are about to drink some kind of white chocolate coffee drink when you peer into the shell. I would even venture to say that this Kava looks and tastes like it could be a different plant altogether. It would already have been quite interesting to do an analysis of different varieties of Kava, but with this contestant thrown in the mix we truly see the endless surprises the world of Kavasseuring has to offer. In that sense, this Kava is already a welcome addition to the pantheon of Kava gods we have learned to give offerings to.

On a side note, let me just rephrase that this Kava was fresh. By fresh, I mean that it tasted like it was harvested within the last thirty days. It still had the flavor of a fresh garden root. The ground root was literally exploding with scent and earthy powder. The folks at Nakamal at Home have to be intensely congratulated for their hard work. You guys rock!

The taste of Tongan Kava is considerably different from that of a Vanuatu Kava. As stated above, it is creamier and thicker. But there is also something else that can only be explained as a “chalkiness.” And before you cringe, remember that that is not a bad thing. This is Kava we are talking about, after all. It goes down smoothly but has a kick at the end that makes you feel like you are truly taking a shot of something. But it has a nice, almost menthol-like effect on the mouth that sticks around for at least twenty minutes. As I write this, I am draining my third (and last) shell for the night, dwelling on the flavors. There is an incredible sweetness that you will notice while taking it down, a sweetness that you will probably forget about once you get to the chalkiness. That sweetness, however, seems to be what gives you the aftertaste. Just for the sheer surprise of its difference and thick, chalky goodness, this Kava rocks the charts in terms of its flavor.

The great thing about being a Kavasseur is that Kava isn’t the kind of thing that you grow accustomed to. You can never drink so much Kava that you will need to drink more and more to get krunked. Nope, quite the opposite. It is one of the stranger substances in this world in that when you drink it, over time, you actually become more sensitive to it. Coming into this Tongan Kava I can freely say that I drink Kava probably at least once every three days. Typically, I drink enough of it to “feel good.” By that, I mean I drink either three or four shells, or two cups of the super-potent Shaman Instant Kava. Being an anthropologist who has to write quite a lot, I love Kava because I can drink it and then dive into my prose. I can also journey deep into texts with a fully alert mind – yet a completely relaxed being. Obviously, I am krunked as I write this. Suffice it to say that Tongan Kava is a step in a new direction if you are a Kava drinker. It even provides you with a buzz that I am still unsure of how to explain. Strangely, it might be best to say that this Kava feels like a more powerful muscle relaxer than other Kavas. It is less heady, more relaxing, and brings you to a kind of blissful tiredness that could never be confused with lack of inertia or enthusiasm. This is the perfect end-of-the-workday Kava. I am incredibly pleased, and will probably buy more of this Kava than any other. It will surprise you in its sheer difference from other Kavas. Enjoy it.

Taste – 8.5/10
Effect – 8.5/10

Nakamal at Home – Tongan “White” Kava – 8 1/2 shells out of 10

** First, a note on Kava preparation. I typically use about 1 cup to 1 1/2 cups of ground Kava root to every 2 cups of water. I follow Nakamal At Home’s recommendation of one teaspoon of soy lecitin for each cup, but if I am preparing a higher-grade Kava (like Wow!) I sometimes add an extra half teaspoon and use warmer water. For some reason, it just seems like the intuitive thing to do when you really want to get krunked. And it works. Once I finish kneading (I usually knead for about 30 minutes, repeating the process over and over again) I submerge the used root in an additional two cups of water overnight. The following afternoon I will then knead that Kava and try to squeeze out an additional two cups of weaker Kava. Let me leave no doubts, the second batch isn’t the gravy that you get in the first batch. It is, however, perfect for a mid-afternoon session. Two shells of weaker Kava can take a load off.

After a long, stressful weekend (seems like a contradiction, no?) I decided to brew up some Nakamal At Home Stone Kava and settle into the sofa and catch up on some reading. It was my first time drinking Stone Kava and the first thing I noticed was the beautiful color and texture of the Kava. Stone has a cocoa-tint to it and is thicker than other Kavas, it has a very pleasant consistency and feels very nice going down. This seems like the perfect Kava to serve chilled. The highly palatable scent and texture, combined with a good numbing buzz, made for a very pleasant initial reaction. But the flavor was something else entirely – it raised the bar interminably for me. Until further notice, I will be rocking a quart or two of Stone in my refrigerator for guests who want to jump right in. This Kava has an amazing flavor – a bit more than mild, but a lot less than strong. It comes on earthy, which is par for the course, but slowly progresses through a nutmeg and almond taste until it leaves an extremely pleasant cashew-like aftertaste. I could easily make the mistake of drinking eight shells of this stuff just for the flavor and not be able to wake up the next morning.

The buzz is epic. This is what you are looking for, folks. It doesn’t completely bury you the way Wow! does. Alternatively, it completely relaxes you and gives you a deeply satisfying, totally anxiety-relieving, nerve-calming body and mind buzz. Lately I’ve been running two or three miles a day, and this Kava completely relaxed my leg muscles after thirty or thirty-five minutes. It is downright medicinal. After drinking two shells, I found some Solomon Islands music I collected while doing fieldwork last summer and drifted back to the turquoise south Pacific seas. In terms of effect, this Kava is the real deal.

Taste 10/10
Effect 9.5/10

Nakamal At Home Stone Kava – 9.75 shells out of 10

We all know that Kava kava is a hard taste to acquire, and that many dedicated Kavaheads continue to despise the earthy taste of the sacred root. For some of us, Kava kava tastes wonderful – the peppery, gingery, and nutty subtleties can surprise and satisfy us. But when it comes to Kava initiates, the flavor is often the first and last obstacle that separates them from a long-term relationship with Kava. If your desire is to introduce some friends to Kava kava on a weekend night, and you are a bit concerned that it might overwhelm or disgust them, then Pentecost Pride is the ideal powder for you.

Now don’t get my wrong, I’m kind if pissed that Pentecost Pride fills this niche. For $79.99/kg I was expecting something mind-blowing; I was expecting something that you might find at a Nakamal overlooking the turquoise waters of the Pacific. I was expecting to be transported to Pentecost Pride in my Kava-inspired dreams. But Pentecost Pride is alas not a strong Kava – at best, it is very mild and very clean Kava.

It is delicious. I would even venture to call it a “treat.” You could possibly even leave this out at a party and incite comments such as “what is that peculiar yet pleasant drink over there?” It has a very creamy and nutty taste, and goes down quite nicely. No peppery or gingery tones to this variety, which unfortunately for Pentecost Pride are two of my favorite flavors. With much disappointment, I must add that the numbing effect is abnormally subtle. Isn’t one of the best things about drinking Kava kava the satisfying tingle it puts on our lips?

The effects of Pentecost Pride are shockingly mild. One cup of Kava kava to two cups of water will leave you with a Kava that is almost incredibly weak. I kneaded and soaked for over an hour, and this is the result? I drank it with a couple friends who were Kava-newcomers. Though they felt relaxed after drinking it, it failed to launch them into the Kava bliss that Kavasseurs have come to expect from their hard-won bags of imported powder. I drank about four shells over a couple hours and felt nothing but a low, mild buzz.

Flavor – 8.5/10
Effect – 4/10

Vanuatu Kava Store’s Pentecost Pride – 6.25 shells out of 10.

In J. Maarten Troost’s “Getting Stoned With Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu,” he describes his first experience with Kava kava as something like an opening up to the world, a new liberation into a social universe he had never before known. Meeting an acquaintance at a Nakamal in Vanuatu for the first time, he calls him his “brother” and remembering his wife is around exclaims “that’s my wife…. I love my wife!” The importance and poignancy of everything close to him in his life is revealed to him at once. Well, at least after two shells. He senses serenity, contentment, and an emotion as far from dissatisfaction as one can possibly feel. This is how good Kava is supposed to make you feel.

“Wow”doesn’t even begin to describe Wow! Vanuatu Kava. At $30.00 for 250 grams, one feels like they have cheated Nakamal At Home. “Really, this was only thirty bucks?” It is a very fine, Kavasseur grade Kava kava that can only be described as perfect. It is far easier to prepare than coarser Kava kavas like Black Sand Kava. One cup of Wow! is good for about two and a half cups of cold water, but after kneading I transferred the remaining root into another cold cup of water and got a few more shells of weaker Kava kava out of it. With something as high quality as this, you want to lick the dish when you’re done.

First, the flavor. Very good. After brewing, note the gorgeous color of this Kava – it looks like Chai Latte or White Chocolate Milk. This is about as mild as Kava kava can taste. My advice is similar to what Thelonious Monk’s would be: Straight, No Chaser. Put the tropical fruits away, you’ll want to navigate through the whole bouquet of flavors Wow! has to offer. Although not as tasty as Black Sand Kava, this brew is very satisfying.You will feel numbness in your nose just sniffing the shell. The flavor lacks spiciness and has a creamier, almost taro-like taste. There is even some minor natural sweetness to be found in the aftertaste. It is mild, but serene. If you don’t like the taste of a typical shell of Kava, you will love this. But chances are that this Kava is far too powerful for you (in terms of the effects) if you haven’t grown to appreciate the flavor of a good Kava kava. With that in mind, be careful who you brew Wow! for. This is absolutely NOT for newcomers.

I wasn’t prepared, or worthy enough, for the powerful effect this Kava kava had on me. As Kavasseurs in the Pacific say, this “kava speaks to you.” Rating the effects/potency of this Kava is impossible, because it simply sails off the charts. Nakamal At Home is quite honest when they tell you to avoid machinery after drinking Kava kava, but after drinking Wow! don’t even get into a car. Three shells will get you krunked enough to want to find the nearest bean bag and just dream away. About an hour after I drank three shells I got into someone’s car to get some dinner and felt very dizzy – I asked to go back home and once I was on solid ground I felt fine. This is real Vanuatu high grade Kava kava – respect it.

That being said, holy shit. This is the real deal. Believe me when I say that this stuff will floor you. If you drink Kava on a regular basis, don’t even think twice – buy Wow! right now. I wish it had more to offer in the way of flavor, but Nakamal At Home aren’t lying when they tell you this stuff is rare, potent, and connoisseur grade. What is even more impressive is that Nakamal At Home claims that Chief’s Jungle Kava (a Papua New Guinean variety available at their website) is even stronger than this. I’ll believe it when I feel it.

Flavor – 9/10
Effect – 9/10

Nakamal At Home – Wow! Vanuatu Kava – 9 shells out of 10.

IMG_0370Before I begin, let me say a few things about Nakamal at home. I have never been to their Kava Bar, and I have never corresponded with them at all. I came across their website while surfing for new sources of Kava kava. I ordered a half kilo of Black Sand Kava, a quarter kilo of Wow! Kava, and a quarter kilo of Stone Kava. I also ordered some straining bags from them, and two half coconut bowls. I ordered everything on Friday, and it was delivered by Monday. Free shipping, three days – unbelievable. Great costumer service, check.

After processing Nakamal at Home’s “Black Sand Kava,” I sat down to drink it and immediately indulged in the scent. I made the Kava so that it retained a nice froth, and put some ice cubes in it to give it a nice chill – I like to drink my Kava a little cold. The head is nice, earthy, and has a fresh rain smell to it. Some people don’t like the taste of Kava but enjoy the feeling it gives them. I like the taste of Kava and the feeling it gives me. This Kava seems to retain the rich, deep, flavor of the black volcanic soils it is grown in. It is very spicy, and the spice seems to almost naturally dance with the numbing qualities of the kavalactones. It has an almost peppery taste, but the ginger tones of stronger Kavas aren’t present. It has more of a nutty flavor than other Kavas – the clay, earthy taste is minimized by the peppery pistachio flavor. But still, you get a taste for the fertile volcanic soils it is grown in. Very pleasant, the best flavor I’ve tasted in a Kava. Kava is a root of the earth, so it seems obvious that it would embody the flavor of the soils it is grown in. The flavor of this Kava kava is unparalleled, unique, and on flavor alone is very high on this Kavasseur’s list of Kava kava varieties.

This Kava has quite mild effects. Even though the effects are quite mild, Black Sand hits you instantaneously. I was literally already feeling the impact during my first cup – tingle, numbness, slight giggles, and then euphoria. The dizzying numbness that Black Sand Kava produces on your lips doesn’t seem to quite match the relatively mild satisfying buzz it gives your body. I’m not saying it doesn’t feel good – it does. It is light and has a mellow lift to it that you can feel in your head. It gives your skin a nice tingle. Perfect for the Kava newcomer. If I wanted to really shake off some stress I’d go for something stronger – but this is more than adequate for a Monday night. If you are expecting guests and want them to have a taste of the Pacific, this is perfect.

I look forward to reviewing Stone Kava and Wow! Kava here within the next week.

Flavor 10/10
Effect 7/10

Nakamal At Home’s “Black Sand Kava” – 8.5 out of 10.