Despite Vanuatu Kava Store’s claim that Tanna Kaolik is the strongest Kava from Tanna Island in Vanuatu, Tanna Kaolik is overall a relatively mild Kava that is appropriate for weekday consumption. I thought I was going to be getting myself into something overwhelming when I squeezed out a batch of Tanna, but in the end I was able to drink about 5 cups and only get a mild buzz with a little bit of pleasant tiredness.

Vanuatu Kava Store’s two Tanna Kavas – Tanna Kaolik and Tanna Marang – both come from Tanna Island in Vanuatu. The video featured on Vanuatu Kava Store’s website which is used to aid Kava drinkers in how to brew Kava features scenes from Tanna Island.
Tanna Kava is definitely not a “strong” Kava, as advertised on the VKS website. Again, it is difficult to know whether this is a problem with consistency or just because it is simply not a strong Kava. It is, at best, a slightly relaxing Kava that provides a good way to wind down after a long day. Unfortunately for Tanna Kaolik, there is already a perfect Kava for that – Malekula Magic. If I’m putting down money at the Vanuatu Kava Store, it’s going to be on Malekula Magic.
In terms of taste, it is a pretty run-of-the-mill Kava with no really impressive differences. It has a pretty mild numbing effect and can be described as a slightly peppery, somewhat bitter Kava that is comparable to other Vanuatu Kavas, such as Nakamal at Home’s Black Sand. Again, I am not a huge fan of the bouquet of flavors provided by Vanuatu Kavas – I prefer the milky, nutty taste of a Tongan Kava or the fresh, delicious flavor of a Fijian Kava. That being said, VKS’ Malekula Magic is a Vanuatuan Kava that is prepared by peeling the roots before drying and grounding them. Reviewed earlier, Malekula Magic is one of my favorites. Tanna Kaolik is not.
Taste – 7.5/10
Effect (Mind) – 7/10
Effect (Body) – 7/10
Strength – Mild
Vanuatu Kava Store’s Tanna Kaolik – 7.2 out of 10 shells

*A NOTE FROM KAVASSEUR* This Kava reviewing business is much more difficult than many people would imagine, especially when it has grown to be something significant in the online Kava drinking world. I’ll be the first to admit that my ranking scales are slightly difficult to interpret, and have evolved over time as I’ve tried new Kavas. I’ve even had to go back and tinker with old reviews because some of them were too low – or too high. Additionally, Piper methysticum tends to be a fickle plant – some perk you up, some wind you down, some “stone” you, some are better for sore muscles, some are better for colorful dreams, and some can even bring a spark to a relationship. To even further complicate things, Kava builds up in your system and can increase in effect as you drink it. In the end, you are the judge of what Kava is best for you. What I try to do with this blog is explain how Kava hits me and what some of the stand-out Kavas are. I realize that people who enjoy the taste of Kava are NOT a dime a dozen, so when I digress on what I consider to be a “delicious” Kava, just bear with me…

First of all, three “Bulas!” to Vanuatu Kava Store for making some of the best tasting Kava available online. On all three reviews of VKS’ Kavas I have praised them for making fine-tasting Kava. This review will be make no exception to that trend. I can still remember making a gallon of Pentecost Pride for some first-timers who commented “this stuff is not as bad as you told us it would be.”

Malekula Magic is a beautiful Kava – in color, taste, feeling, texture, and effect. I know that it seems like every Kava that is passing through my sieves these days is getting rave reviews, but I feel like I’ve just hit a good stretch of road. It is like test driving a lot of different cars that you are really happy with – which one do you choose? With Kava, it is a good idea to have a lot of different varieties around. To the real Kavasseur, Kava is an almost daily ritual. You want something that is perfect for almost every state of mind. An alcohol-replacement for a Saturday night (Nakamal at Home’s Solomon Kava, Chief’s Jungle, or Stone), a relaxing Kava after a stressful day (definitely this Malekula Magic, Nakamal at Home’s Tongan Kava, Pacific Kava’s Waka Kava), a middle-of-the-road Kava for a weekday where you don’t have to wake up too early the next day (Nakamal at Home’s Niugini or Black Sand), and a good middle-of-the-day Kava for stressful days (VKS’ Quick Kava). I’ve added a new aspect to my reviews – strength. This will reflect how much a particular Kava, well, gets you “high.”

According to the Vanuatu Kava Store’s website “when you buy Vanuatu kava of this [Malekula Magic] type expect a milder taste and a mellow ride and buzz.” Indeed. This is almost the perfect description of this Kava, but I will elaborate on it a little bit. Malekula Magic is prepared by harvesting the roots of the plant and then peeling the skin off of the root. The “bitter” taste that often comes with Kava mostly comes from the skin of the roots. Malekula Magic, in other words, doesn’t have the “bite” that most Kavas do. Even if you like – nay, love – the bitter peppery taste associated with a hearty Vanuatuan Kava, you will still absolutely love the taste of Malekula Magic. It doesn’t really have that “milky” taste typical of a Tongan or Fijian variety, but more of just a level, slightly sweet flavor that seems to be all low notes with almost an almond-like aftertaste. Ideal for newbies in flavor, but still delicious for someone who drinks a lot of Kava and can appreciate a more sophisticated taste.

Malekula Magic is definitely, as described by Vanuatu Kava Store, “mellow.” It gives you a very nice, earthy buzz that works the same in the head as it does on the body. In this sense, Malekula Magic provides a more “balanced” buzz than most Kavas. Some Kavas have quite an “off-kilter” effect. Solomon Kava and Chief’s Jungle, for example, give you a very powerful head buzz (Solomon being the most disorienting of them all), but Malekula Magic is like a full body massage with a bonus headbuzz. Music sounds absolutely wonderful – for some reason I automatically reached for some Van Morrison. It makes you want to stretch your body out and just put all the stuff that has been bothering you for the day – or the week – aside. If I had to pick an everyday-consumption Kava right now, I’d pick Malekula. Why spend money for a Spa when you could just drink four shells of Malekula? This Kava would be worth keeping a kilo around. If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself!

Again, this Kava deserves the rating it gets.

Taste – 9/10
Buzz – 9.5/10
Body – 9.5/10
Strength – Medium (Weekday Grade)

Vanuatu Kava Store’s Malekula Magic – 9.3 shells out of 10

I have to admit, this Kava caught me off guard. It is an excellent Kava. In fact, it is one of the best Kavas I have ever had the pleasure to drink.

I contacted Pacific Kava about one month ago asking them which of their Kavas I should sample. They only currently sell two varieties of Kava that come from one strain: Waka Kava which is the root of kasaleka Fijian Piper Methysticum , and Lewena Kava which is the stem part of the same variety. They advised me to try the Waka Kava first. I didn’t realize that they were shipping from New Zealand until it arrived at my door in a small, plastic package that read “New Zealand Post”. The first thing I noticed when I took it out of the mailbox was how heavy it was. This stuff is dense, powdery, and delicious. The bag (pictured below) is pretty basic – a ziplock bag with the Pacific Kava label on the front.

When I first opened the bag, I was greeted by probably the greatest scent you can experience from a Kava powder. This stuff smells fantastic, and its taste takes Kava to a whole new level. If you have ever tasted Nakamal at Home’s Tongan Kava, or even their Fiji Kava, this Kava is pretty similar in taste – but better. It has that creamy base but still carries some peppery notes. It also has this unique, nay baffling, freshness to it that is almost like a sweet eucalyptus. It has a numbing effect that is pleasantly wedged between intermediate and high. I sampled it with some first-time Kava drinkers and they even commented that “actually, this tastes much better than we thought it would.” I had prepared them for Kava anxiety, but probably won a few converts. Really, I am at a loss for words in describing the flavor of this Kava. It would probably be advantageous to take a video of just how beautiful the texture of this stuff is. Really, you have to try it.

Typically, Fijian Kavas are known for their subtlety and their good flavor. I don’t think I have ever tasted a bad Fijian Kava. Waka Kava tastes amazing, but actually is a bit stronger than you would expect. It has an immediate effect. This Kava probably gave me more photophobia than I have experienced with other Kavas, but it makes the world seem like a soft, easier place. It doesn’t give you photophobia in the sense that lights are offensive, but it gives you photophobia in the sense that you just want to be in a soft, low-lit place. A moonlit night by a pond would be ideal, or perhaps a half-moon bay with waves foaming up the beach shore, In short, this stuff gets you “high.” It is like the Fijian equivalent of Nakamal at Home’s Vanuatuan Wow! Kava. I can’t say enough about this stuff – it is brilliant.

I will never underestimate a Fijian Kava again. Also, I will never again underestimate vendors who I haven’t heard much about. Give Pacific Kava a try, you will be very pleased.

This one deserves its high rating:

Flavor 10/10
Mind Effect 9/10
Body Effect 9/10

Pacific Kava’s Waka Kava (Kasaleka Fijian) – 9.3 shells out of 10

*A NOTE ON PREPARATION: I brewed Solomon Kava using 1 cup of Kava to 2 1/2 cups of water and kneaded it twice before adding ice. I prefer not to use a blender in Kava preparation. I also did not add lecithin this time around. Still, the Kava was quite thick and oily by the time I poured it into a serving bowl. The dried, squeezed, Kava roots produced another 4 cups of relatively strong Kava. In other words, 1 cup of Solomon Kava should produce an impressive amount of Kava. If you buy a 1/2 kg or a 1/4 kg you will be getting enough Kava to last you a long time, depending on how much Kava you drink.

The Solomon Islands are comprised of a chain of islands that essentially spill out from the eastern part of Papau New Guinea. During the colonial era, the British called the Solomon Islands “the Happy Isles”because of the graceful countenance of the archipelago’s inhabitants (excepting the headhunters, of course) and today one can visit the Solomons and continue to find some of the world’s most gentle and friendly people. Kava is not widely consumed in the Solomon Islands and, indeed, when I visited the Solomons to do anthropological research in the summer of 2009, I didn’t encounter one single Kava bar. It would be very interesting to know where exactly in the Solomons this Kava comes from.

That being said, I have never seen a more beautiful looking Kava than this Solomon Island’s Kava, nor have I ever felt a Kava like this Solomon Islands Kava. As I will describe below, this Kava has a very strong mental impact and a totally different physiological impact. I titled this entry “In a League of Its Own” for a good reason: Solomon Kava feels and tastes like a completely different plant than Piper methysticum. I would invite Kaiden Fox and Anthony LaRusso (regular contributors to this blog) to comment on what the breakdown feels like for this Kava, since they have also drank most of Nakamal at Home’s Kavas and commented on their variable chemotypes and their respective effects. I for one am still trying to get into Kava jargon, but as a social scientist most of the complicated terminology flies right over my head.

Before I talk too much about the flavor, I want to say something about how this Kava looks. To me, it looks a lot like hot chocolate that someone has decided to add a lot of creamer to. It has the most calming, appetizing look of just about any Kava I have ever seen. Too bad I never created a category for the aesthetics of Kava. And no, I won’t start today. So, let’s take a break and take a look at a shell of Solomon Kava.

I, for one, did not find much of the peppery flavor that is described on the Nakamal at Home website and in Kaiden’s review from last month. I found the Kava to have more of a general bitterness slowed down by a milkier undertone. Brewed the way I describe above, this Kava definitely didn’t give me “Kava anxiety” the way that some stronger-flavored ones like Chief’s Jungle do. It tastes like Tongan with perhaps a chunk of ginger and, yes, pepper added to it. But really, the peppery flavor doesn’t dominate the way it does in Vanuatu varieties. To me, it is surprisingly mild compared to the euphoric chaos that ensues.

Alas, I can understand why Kaiden commented that this Kava could bring upon an unexpected emotional outcome. It is very cerebral. It has the highest “mind” effect of any Kava I have ever consumed. Most Kavas I have consumed seem to permeate my body but leave my mind relatively untouched. Well, not this Kava. In fact, it is quite close to a medium-strength cannabis buzz, or perhaps even a mild psychoactive hallucinogen. Not entirely relaxing, but more of a “lift” that is combined with a sort of introspective gaze. You could drink this Kava and go watch a jazz quartet play until dawn. It has a stimulating intellectual effect that makes you want to talk a lot, but also makes you want to be conscious of your speech. In some ways, I feel like it is the ideal Kava for me – I like to be inspired and stimulated, but also to have something prepared to hold me back. If I was forced to compare it to any other Kava that Nakamal at Home sells, I would place it somewhere between Niugini and Chief’s Jungle, only with a more satisfying flavor than either of those could ever boast. On top of that, it has a longer lasting buzz that throws any notion of sleep in the near future out the door. If you are looking for a Kava that deals with insomnia and restlessness, this won’t be the Kava for you.

Another feature of this Kava I want to comment on is its relationship to food. Kaiden claimed that when he drank Solomon Kava he finally discovered the true complexity of the bouquet that is a common banana. Yes, indeed. Drink a few shells of this and take a spoonful of Ben and Jerry’s… dear God that tastes complicated, and about ten times better than it normally would. Another quite unusual effect of this Kava is a mild form of dry-mouth. You will feel hungry, parched, and high.

Physiologically, this stuff is a dream. You will melt into your furniture. Every muscle in your body will turn into jelly and you will lose whatever soreness has been bothering you. I can see this stuff being peddled as sports medicine, or for people who are suffering from arthritis or joint pains. It is really quite therapeutic, and one thing I noticed after taking three shells of this was that the numbness on my lips, in my throat, and around my jaw didn’t slip away. After three hours, it is still there. Extremities will become numbed – fingers, toes, and ears all tingling in bliss. Really, really satisfying.

I would picture the ideal evening to drink Solomon Kava as such: you have been working hard all day and you are very sore, but you want to go out with some friends anyhow. You are a bit tired and need a bit of a pick-me-up, but nothing that will make you irritable or anxious. You don’t feel like sleeping anytime soon, but want to take the edge off. Drink three shells of Solomon Kava and you will be set.

For Solomon Kava I want to start a new trend – Taste, Psychoactive (Mind) Effect, and Physiological (Body) Effect.

Taste 8/10
Mind Effect 10/10
Body Effect 9.5/10
Strength – Very strong

Nakamal at Home’s Solomon Kava – 9.2/10

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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