Authentic or canned, I’ll take a Polynesian paradise experience any way I can get it! Along with blissful chillouts on a gorgeous beach with ukelele music nearby, the chickens are wild and the natives are sometimes restless.
During a recent trip to Maui, we drove to the North Shore area and wandered through Paia – a hippie/hipster/beach bum/surfer town beloved by tourists. If there’s a kava bar to be found, it would definitely be here!
A yoga instructor, on her way home, helped me find the parking lot ticketing booth. She was a recent transplant from the mainland, and was “really stressed” about going back to attend a meditation retreat. Had to think about that one.
Aumakua Kava Lounge’s entrance was in a corner of a strip mall near the edge of town, across from a church. Soon as you walk inside, the vibe is 1930’s tiki hut with thatched roof, bar stools and charming island theme touches, including mermaid light fixtures. And, of course, the tiki gods! A huge fan of tiki lounges, I was diggin’ this pretty hard.
It was just before sunset, and the kava bar wasn’t crowded yet. Later on, we got a taste of the local flavor – chatted with a couple of sweet guys with salty stories. Just going to say that Paia is a laid-back town with a whole lot of character(s).
We wanted to first try straight-up kava in coconut shells – like the traditional ceremonies in Fiji and ancient Hawaii. From what I’ve read, kava is the drink of choice when good things happen, or when you want them to.
In Fiji, kava is traditionally served on special occasions and as part of a ceremony welcoming guests to a village. In ancient Hawaiian culture, kava was offered as a ceremonial gift to ancestral spirits to ensure the prosperity and well-being of the village. Farmers offered kava to the gods to ensure the success of their crops; canoe makers would offer kava to the forest gods while choosing a Koa log for an unsinkable canoe (one hopes); plus, kava was fed to the ocean spirits to bring lots of fish to nearby shores.
The Kava Experience
During Fiji’s welcoming ceremonies with the village chief, guests are seated around a kava tanoa communal bowl, where the dried kava root is pounded. The pulp is then placed in a cloth sack, and mixed with water. The result is a brown liquid – the “Kava gold”. After it’s strained, it’s ready for drinking.
The lounge sources their dried kava roots from Vanuatu, which is ground into a powder. Our hostess mixed and strained the kava in a large bottle of purified water, then served our kava in coconut shells.
The hostess offered us our kava cups at “high tide” (full cup). The kava looked like a brownish tea. We all clapped once, yelled “Bula!”, then drank the entire cup. After that, we clapped 3 times and she shouted something that meant the ceremony was done. Might have been ‘Maca!’ ?
After drinking it, I felt a little loopy. Not drunk or high, just calm and floaty. Makes sense that kava’s been a go-to to relieve anxiety and stress, or even just to get that feeling of calm happiness. Also, there was a little numbness around my lips and tongue. Probably due to it being a nightshade plant.
Kinda gives new meaning to bartenders asking customers “What’s your poison?”
The kava was a teensy bit bitter, but not unpleasant. If you want to bypass the kava ritual and bar (why??), you can get it at organic and natural food stores as a liquid in small bottles. Use the dropper to place drops into your mouth, or into other liquids (like juice) that cover up the taste. You can also opt for kava capsules.
Even better, you can have it in a cocktail!
This kava lounge makes classic cocktails and uses kava in place of rum. And they’re tasty! We had a round of Blue Hawaiians and Hurricanes.
I would love to partake in a traditional kava ceremony with a village chief in Fiji, someday. Until then, I’m down for the faux ritual prep, followed by clapping, shouting and drinking at the nearest kava bar with friends!
Even more fun than a recipe, here’s a video on how kava is made, Hawaiian-style: