Back in my college days, I took Hawaiian Studies to fulfill a history prerequisite. I thought I’d manage to get by with out studying much but realized mid semester that I was on the brink of failing. I mean I wasn’t failing - did alright but I needed to take any extra credit possible to get a better grade. One extra credit assignment was to document my experience with plant known to Hawaiians as 'awa, otherwise called kava by others.
I was pretty stoked to try it out, hearing about the numbing effects. I wasn’t 21 at the time so of course I’m going to take advantage of an opportunity to get some sort of high! The only place I could think of to buy such a product was Down to Earth so I walked down University Ave and bought a package of vanilla flavored kava hoping it’d be sweet.
Truth be told, I wasn’t the kind of person at the time to follow instructions, so I missed the portion where I had to strain the kava so that the drink would be a bit enjoyable, so I invited my friends to partake. It took me a few sips to realize that the vanilla didn’t do much for the flavor. Next was Jaki, then Amanda, then Amy, and Will......lastly poor Bryson. I think Bryson’s gag reflex was triggered by the kava sediments, because he ended up vomiting back into his cup. I’m so sorry Bryson but that was freaking hilarious.
Since then I didn’t have kava - not because I was turned off by that experience; I never really understood it, yet I earned the points to pass Hawaiian Studies.
But last month, my curiosity peaked when my friend Dana invited me to a kava cafe in Honolulu to try some of her kava concoctions.
If you don’t remember Dana or are new to this blog, she’s the owner of her skin line Ny'ala Skin Care. Dana along with Barry who manages Kavachino opened shop this past summer in hopes to be an alternative for Pua Hana rather than going to a bar to drink alcohol. Pau Hana is a local term for “time after work”, for those of you who are reading and aren’t from Hawaii. Before I go further into the Kavachino and my experience, here are some fun facts about this crop from Dana and Barry:
“Kava Kava, or awa as it’s called in Hawai’i (Piper methysticum) is a member of the pepper family and is traditionally used in the South Pacific for cultural or political meetings to ease tensions – but also to chill out, relax – it’s a great alternative to alcohol. Kava is a social drink, it eases you, makes you happier and more attune to your environment and those around you. It is euphoric and psychotropic in nature – which makes it excellent for anxiety, stress, insomnia, migraines and pain (can be used topically as well!)”
“It’s Fiji’s national drink – and the consumption is similar in how we go to bars, after a long day, with your friends, drinking into the morning hours.” In other words - Pau Hana!
“Kava is prepared through agitation, and it’s served as a tea (or cocktail!) typically room temperatures and with a pineapple or fruit garnish for taste. It’s slightly bitter, earthy and results a numbing sensation on your mouth. The feeling you get is almost slightly euphoric – it’s natures Xanax.“
As I mentioned before, Barry manages the shop. One of co-owners of Kavachino is his cousin Mike who is a doctor living in Fiji. Mike has developed connections with local kava suppliers, and one of the suppliers is a husband and wife duo, Jacqueline and Anil Behari Prasad, who also co-own Kavachino. The two of them have been in the business of exporting kava for the past 13 years all around the world including the Big Island of Hawaii.
Kava is a common luxury especially around the southern east coast of Florida, which is where Barry used to reside. Kava bars are the social norm, and power couple Jacqueline and Anil decided to pursue a physical location of their own to serve premium kava on Oahu. When they brought the idea to Mike, they asked Barry if he’d be willing to move to Hawaii to manage the business. He was all for it and not too long ago, Kavachino opened up for business in Chinatown.
The kava you see in the cafe are all grown in Vanua Levu, Fiji on small farms. Everything is directly sent in sundried and powdered form to Kavachino so there’s no middle man! The quality of the kava that Landen and I tried was excellent in taste, especially because Dana manually strained it (with love.) :) She’s got bartending skills so we got some yummy kava cocktails that were so satisfying, I wanted to drink more! When you taste the difference between kava alone vs a mixture, you’d be surprised by how they were able to mask the bitterness. But be warned - drink in moderation because you could get light-headed.
My first drink was the Kava Cooler, which is shaked with lemonade for a sweet zestiness. To enhance the flavor, I tried it with chunks of pineapple on the side. This drink overall is refreshing, and surprisingly not bitter! What I enjoyed the most was the sugar rim that also added another kind of sweetness to the flavor of the drink.
The second drink is also a cocktail, the Coco Kava, which is mixed with chocolate and coconut milk - basically tastes like chocolate milk with numbing side effects. This is the kind of drink I’d like to have with a side of cake or pudding.
If you work in Chinatown or want a chill place to hang out after work with out the bar scene, Kavacino has space for whether you want to drink solo, or bring a bunch of friends. If you go with a group, I suggest that you all get the Tanoa bowl of kava (shown in previous photos), where a staff member will strain the kava in front of you. Once the drink is ready at a cloudy milky color, it’s ready to be served in coconut cups. The traditional way to drink kava in Fiji is to say “Bula” (hello in Fijian) before your handed your cup, clap your hands, then chug it down (ever so gracefully). After you and your friends tried the kava by itself, treat yourself to a smoothie or cocktail to see the difference!
Thank you so much Dana and Barry for having me and Landen at your cafe. I’m excited to come back this week for First Friday on October 5th! If you live in Honolulu, and especially work near Chinatown, come on down to 16 Merchant Street for live music, an art show from local talent, and kava specials! If you can’t make it this Friday, no worries! You can follow Kavachino on Instagram as @kavachino for new things to come on their menu and upcoming events.
And thanks a bunch to Landen for accompanying me to this experience! Check him out as @genki_media on Instagram if you’re interested in working with him for family, couples, business photoshoots, etc.