Nakamal At Home – Tongan “White” Kava

**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

Nakamal At Home – Stone Kava

** 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

Vanuatu Kava Store – Pentecost Pride

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.

Nakamal At Home – Wow! Vanuatu Kava

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.

Nakamal at Home – Black Sand Kava

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.