Kava, the national drink of Fiji, is a nonalcoholic beverage that’s steeped in tradition. It’s served to welcome an unknown to the village, as well as at weddings, funerals, graduations and milestone birthdays.
As the sun sets over the island, community members prepare the drink in an enormous wooden bowl. Fijian tradition dictates to clap once before you accept a cup of kava from the chief. After you finish the drink, clap three more times.
Getting to those triple claps can pose a challenge to the uninitiated: Kava’s a bit of an acquired taste, with earthy, chalky and woody pine flavors that can lend a slight numbing of the tongue. That tingling of the taste buds soon gives way to a mellow serenity caused by anxiety-reducing kavalactone compounds.
This is the root, so to speak, of why the drink is so beloved. The beverage consists of nothing more than cold water and the ground-up root of the kava plant, piper methstyicum.
After two cups, participants in the ceremony start to crave thirds, now far more inclined to share stories. The plucking of ukuleles sounds much sweeter, and everyone’s smiles stretch a little wider.
Try it Here
Nanuku Auberge Resort may be one of the most stunning spots in Fiji to experience a traditional kava ceremony. The bar here also offers a playful infusion of kava blended with local vodka, anisette and clove, meant to be enjoyed neat.
Kavasutra has four locations in Florida, as well as cafés in Denver and New York City. It offers Vanatu kava straight up, in a seasonal shot or a nonalcoholic mixed drink.
MeloMelo Kava Bar, a minimalist-designed kavahouse in Berkeley, California, serves orange-infused kava with coconut milk and cinnamon, or a sweet-and-dirty concoction of ginger and kava known as the Root Squared.
Bula Kava House, in Portland, Oregon, blends green kava with fresh-pressed juices, while a shot of straight kava upholds the original Fijian tradition.