Mention the term Kava Kava in most cities in the U.S. and you’ll likely get a blank look, but in Fiji, Hawaii, and South Florida, Kava is a tea that the locals are very familiar with. Its history dates back over 3,000 years for medicinal and ceremonial uses, and today the drink is used in much the same way – to alleviate stress without disrupting mental clarity. The drink is made from the root of a pepper plant that is ground into a power and blended into a chilled, non-alcoholic tea. The result is an earthy flavor (it tastes like dirt water) that calms anxiety, instantly making social connections easy - without the painful side effects of alcohol.Kava Tea — Photo courtesy of Fiji Kava Tribe
In Fort Lauderdale, tucked away in the Sunrise Village off A1A is Fiji Kava, a tiny shop that sells Kava Kava just steps away from the beach. Tiki masks, bohemian décor, and calming reggae music invites beach goers and locals in to try “a shell” (small coconut shell filled with kava). Visitors sit around a bar and chug the tea quickly (like a shot of alcohol) as a group joins in a Fijian cheers, “bula!” The effect people notice first is numbing sensation on the tongue, followed by a relaxing sensation of the body. The shop offers comfy furniture out front for lounging, and in the rear it’s not uncommon for some impromptu yoga, drumming, or guitar playing to crop up. Not to mention, behind the kava bar is the “Bonnet House,” and the monkeys that live within the estate will pop over the fence from time to time when tempted with bananas.
Many first timers also head to Hollywood, where Mystic Water Kava has a psychedelic, Lord of the Rings vibe (think dimly lit by tiny hanging lights with an enormous, artificial “tree of life” that engulfs the main bar. It’s on the same strip as Hollywood’s many restaurants and trendy bars, and they also offer flavored kava for those that aren’t keen on natural taste of the tea.The front bar of Mystic Water Kava Bar — Photo courtesy of Mystic Water Kava Bar
A mile or so north of Fiji Kava in Oakland Park is Awa Na Kava, another kava bar that is known for hosting numerous events. It seems like every night they have something going on, from karaoke, luaus, birthdays, going away parties, and live music every Sunday. The kava elixir here has a bit more “kick” to it, and they also sell the kava by the bag. The owner, Rich, is easy-going and friendly (he’s also the star of several 48-hour film projects that Fiji Kava’s bartender produces).
In South Florida, Kava culture is not just about relaxing with the tea. It’s about making new friends, sharing creativity, and enjoying life. It’s a meeting place for creative minds and is perfect for transplants that just arrived in the area. It’s also an alternative to “Fort Liquordale’s” bar scene – the kava shops are open late (some until 3am). So, try something different and give an ancient tea a whirl – you’ll be experiencing more than tea: kava is a lifestyle. The kava gang at the one year anniversary luau — Photo courtesy of Awa Na Kava