El Manaro Kava Guide | Sharing traditional kava knowledge

With the recent uptake in kava drinking all around the world there have been an abundance of novel methods of kava preparation, consumption and a wide array of new environments where kava is currently being consumed. As a voice from Vanuatu, where the kava plant was originally domesticated we feel that it is our duty to inform you correctly on how to consume kava the traditional way.

Vanuatu has numerous varieties of kava all with varying effects, we take pride in our kava and want to ensure that others acknowledge the level of quality that is Vanuatu kava.


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Picking the right variety

Different varieties of kava can have varying effects, kava is classed into 2 groups: noble and "tudei" or two day kava. It is called 2 day kava in Vanuatu because the effects are said to linger into the next day. Although a small amount of two day kava is acceptable in a mix, it is not encouraged for consumption. Most vendors will sell strictly noble kava and there is not much to worry about when ordering online since Vanuatu ensures strict tests are performed for any kava leaving the country.

kava bags at wharf vanuatu kava

Not all varieties are the same

Terms like "heady" or "heavy" are used to describe kava. Heady varieties can be felt cerebrally and offer a nice feeling of relaxation emanating from the heart. Heavy kavas on the other hand can put you in a state of couch lock and lethargy. They are most enjoyed by those seeking help with sleep as getting krunk on a heady variety will send you straight to bed.

Heady strains include Melo Melo, Kelai, Borogu/Borogo/Borongoru and heavy ones would be Silese, Palarasul and Pia. Whether you enjoy a heady or a heavy kava is a matter of personal choice.

The effects of tudei varieties are extremely sedating and can last for quite a long time, although some people may enjoy tudei varieties it is not common among locals to drink tudei unless it is mixed in a small amount.

Respect the kava

The effects of kava can become quite unpleasant if not consumed in the right setting. Bright lights and loud noises will leave you feeling nauseous, moving around too quickly can also make the experience uncomfortable. Kava is best enjoyed in a dark or dimly lit area with little to no loud noises. You may find the sound of a large truck driving by your window to be quite infuriating after a few shells of kava. This is why in Vanuatu, kava is regularly drunk in the evenings after work.

Drink it on an empty stomach

The effects of kava can be dampened if you have had too much to eat before consuming it. You may want to wait an hour or 2 before drinking kava if you had a big lunch. Most people will have a small amount of food during the kava session to get rid of the taste. A bag of chips or finger food is perfect. Eating too much may cause nausea. Some people don't mind the taste and prefer to go without the chaser.

Drinking kava the RIGHT way (Vanuatu Style)

Ask any of your friends who have been to Vanuatu and other pacific countries and they will tell you that we like to mix our kava STRONG. Like, REALLY STRONG. The reason for this is that in the olden days kava would usually be harvested and ground by hand using stone tools. Only a small amount of water would be added and the remaining kava juice filtered through fiber harvested from the top of coconut trees. Only 1 or 2 shells would be consumed before bed time.

Nakamals (or kava bars) in Port Vila today still carry on the tradition by only using fresh roots to produce our kava juice and taking pride in serving a strong mix. 

Kava is best consumed in a group with friends, the nakamal is a place to discuss ideas, share stories and build friendships. The effects are even more pleasant in this setting!

kava leaves from kava plant piper methysticum

Your first shell should be the biggest

They say that the first shell is always the sweetest, it is common for people to drink a large shell (150mL to 200mL) first and then subsequently drink smaller shells throughout the session. For those who are uninitiated, kava is traditionally drank in coconut shells. These days miso soup bowls are accepted, we recommend drinking it from a shell or bowl for the most authentic experience.

Know when you've had enough
(or too much)

It may become very hard to open both of your eyes. Bright lights and loud noises become very irritating and you may feel that you have to lie down. The effects will slowly dissipate and it is best to just lay in the dark on your bed and enjoy the ride. Consuming more after this point can cause you to lose stability in your legs and you may fall off your chair if you're not careful.  Drinking too much kava can result in getting what we call "the shakes". Where your body rocks back and forth slowly, it can be very disorientating. Kava is quite safe and you will feel fine in the morning (unless it was tudei, then you may feel a bit tired for the rest of the day) You may feel that your muscles are extremely relaxed when you wake up and it is hard to clench your fist.