If you’re wondering “What is a kava bar,” or “What should I order at a kava bar,” well, you’ve come to the right place!
Many kava bars actually serve both kava and kratom. Sometimes they even offer coffee, other herbal teas, or botanical-infused drinks. You can find a brief explanation of what kava is below, or skip ahead to find some of our favorite order recommendations for your next kava and kratom bar experience!
What is Kava?
To begin our journey into the realm of the increasingly popular kava bar scene, we’ll start at the source. What even is kava?
Kava (also known as kava-kava) is a plant native to South Pacific islands. This includes Fiji, New Guinea, Vanuatu, Hawaii, and Samoa. The plant’s scientific name is Piper methysticum, which roughly translates to “intoxicating pepper.” However, the word kava owes its nomenclature to the Tongan and Marquesan term for “bitter root.”
Traditional Kava Preparation
Polynesian and Melanesian communities historically used kava in ceremonial and social gatherings for centuries. Traditionally, people prepared kava by hand. They used a unique grinding and straining method.
In fact, they would grind the roots of the kava plant against a block of dead coral. People used their hands like mortar, and the coral as a pestle. Then, they strained the ground root and combined it with a bit of cold water in a bowl called a tanoa. Finally, they would distribute the kava drink into cups or shells and consume it immediately.
What Does Kava Do?
Kava is popular in ceremonies because it has uplifting and calming properties. Compounds called kavalactones, which are presumably the main active ingredients in kava, likely cause these effects.
Many people compare the experience of drinking of kava to that of alcohol, but without strong motor impairment or hangovers.
The liquid itself, in its unadulterated form, can range from a grey/brownish hue to an almost green color.
What does kava tea taste like? On its own, kava tastes a bit bitter and earthy. This is why many consumers combine kava with sweeter liquids like coconut milk or pineapple juice. Strong kava will leave a numbing, tingling sensation on your tongue.
What is a Kava Bar?
So, now that you know what kava is, you’re probably wondering, “What are kava bars?“
Is it a regular bar? Is it a bar that serves kava? Well, yes, a kava bar is a place that sells kava drinks. In general, you can think of a kava bar as an upbeat, low-key alternative to a coffeehouse or a bar that serves alcohol.
Many kratom and kava bars will opt for a South Pacific or Polynesian ambiance, but the vibe can vary pretty greatly between kava bars.
Where are Kava Bars Located?
Visiting a kava bar for the first time can be an exciting experience. These kava and kratom bars are becoming increasingly popular gathering places in cities around the world. Here in the United States, kratom and kava bars tend to open their doors in warmer areas like Florida and California. However, kava bars have proliferated in places like Colorado as well.
During your visit, you can usually expect to be welcomed into an extremely open and social atmosphere. Generally, people congregate in a not just to drink kava but to relax and connect with others. Kava communities are stereotypically very warm, open, and friendly.
One of the first kava bars the Top Tree team visited is Pacific Kava in Pensacola, Florida. The atmosphere there is bright and cheerful, and the options for what to do while you’re there are endless.
The cafe is great for socializing or studying. Behind the bar/cafe area is a cozy lounge with games and musical instruments, where the bar often hosts themed events for the Pensacola kava community.
What’s on a Kava Bar Menu?
Kava bars like Pacific Kava offer a wide variety of herbal teas, kava-related drinks, and kratom beverages. Yes, many places that offer kava are kava and kratom bars. Some also serve food and coffee. You’ll typically have the option of ordering white, green, or red vein kratom.
As both kava and kratom can be bitter on their own, you’ll often have the option of choosing a plain kava or kratom drink, or a drink mixed with something sweet to help balance it out. For both the kratom and kava drinks, you can often find a wide variety of flavors, strengths, and preparation styles.
Some kava bars serve kratom slurries made of nothing but water and micronized kratom powder. Most great kava bars will strain the kratom leaf powder from their drinks before serving.
Here in the US, it’s unlikely that you’ll find kava bartenders – often called kavatenders – grinding their kava roots against dead coral. However, more traditional kava bars may strain their freshly-crushed kava root through a cheesecloth to get a brew that resembles the traditional version. Other kava bars will simply use micronized or powdered kava root for a quicker brew. For the best kava bar experience, you might want to look for bars that serve kava and kratom tea.
Do Kava Bars Serve Alcohol?
While kava does not contain alcohol, you may be wondering, do kava bars serve alcohol? The answer is no, not typically, but some kava bars do serve alcohol. However, as traditional kava culture is typically not alcohol-focused, in many places, there are “social sober” kava bars, where customers can go to socialize and enjoy kava and kratom tea without being around alcohol.
However, keep in mind that while many kava bars serve natural, botanically-based drinks like kava, kratom tea, and sometimes other herbal teas, some kava bars do sell alcohol. If that’s something you want to avoid altogether, make sure you call the business to ask beforehand or search for alcohol-free kava bars near you.
What Should I Order at a Kava Bar?
Now that we’ve covered kava history, let’s get to the main question!
Of course, what you should order at a kava bar is a matter of personal preference. However, we’ve written up our list of favorites so you can get an idea of what you might enjoy drinking.
Important note: many kava bars that serve kava and kratom teas and extracts don’t advertise kratom anywhere on their menu. Instead, they’ll identify their kratom-based drinks with terms like “red vein tea,” “white vein tea,” or “tea extract.” If you aren’t sure whether a particular drink contains kratom or another herbal tea, just ask your kavatender! Or, if you can find the kava bar’s website or contact info on Google or online, you can reach out to them there. Lastly, you can always find your local kava bar’s phone number and reach out that way.
Most Common Kava Bar Drink Bases
- Kava powder: This is a classic base for a kava drink. Often, bars will have a jar of pre-ground and dried powder that they use for shells or mix in with drinks.
- Instant kava: There are a few different varieties of instant kava. One of the newest is an extract that’s bottle just like a flavoring syrup, which is free of powder and mixes smoothly into drinks.
- Kratom tea: kava bars often serve red, green, and white vein kratom teas alone or as mixed drinks. Some are brewed with fresh leaves, while others are brewed with powder. The best kratom teas are strained so that there’s no leaf material or powder left in the final product.
- Kratom extract: Some kava bars use a full-spectrum or mitragynine-only extract in their kratom mixed drinks. In bars that don’t write the word kratom anywhere on their menu, these are sometimes called a “tea extract.” Make sure to check in with your kavatender to find out the strength of the extracts they use.
- Kombucha: Kombucha is a fermented tea made by combining yeast, bacteria, black or green tea, and sugar. Kombucha has a slight effervescence and tart-and-tangy taste. Many bars will have bottled or canned kombuchas, and some will even have homemade brews.
Best Drinks to Order at a Kava Bar
Whether traditional single-ingredient kava and kratom teas to kratom mocktails bursting with a variety of tropical flavors, there’s a drink on this list you’ll love.
1. Traditional Kava Grog (Fijian-style)
If you’re going to a kava and kratom bar with the sole intention of trying kava, we suggest asking for a traditional Fijian kava grog. If the kava bar you’re attending sticks to tradition, your kavatender will ask if you would like your drink “high tide” or “low tide.” This means a half cup or a full cup of kava. Often the brew will come in a coconut shell, referred to in Fiji as a “bilo.” When you receive your cup, it’s customary to clap once, yell “Bula!” and then clap 3 times when you finish your drink. A traditional grog is often served with fruit, and used like a chaser to wash down your kava.
2. Kava Mixed Drinks
- Kava lemonade: Citrus is a perfect pair with kava. A kava lemonade is a great starter drink if you want to adjust yourself to the flavor of kava by drinking something more familiar.
- Kava & coconut milk: Many kava bars will have a drink option with coconut milk or another creamy addition like oat milk. Coconut milk adds creaminess and sweetness to balance out the astringency of kava. Some bars take this combination up a notch with bold and delicate flavors like passion fruit or rose.
- Cocoa & kava combo: This rich pairing is less typical in kava bars than drinks with fruity flavors. Though it probably won’t taste like a typical American hot chocolate, a cocoa & kava drink is still sure to satisfy your chocolate cravings. Some kava bars use cacao or cocoa powder, while others use sweetened syrups like those you’d find in a coffee shop.
3. Kratom Tea
If you try kava and it isn’t your thing, a hot mug full of kratom tea or a refreshing iced kratom tea is an excellent alternative. Kratom, or Mitragyna speciosa, is a staple at many kava bars. Kratom tea can provide many of the same benefits that kava consumers are looking for, like mental and physical relaxation. Much like kava, there are different types of kratom tea.
Ask your kavatender for recommendations, as the strength and type of kratom can vary from kava bar to kava bar. (Check out our previous post The Myth of the Kratom Strain for more info on why kratom drinks will vary even if they’re labeled as the same vein or strain.)
4. Kratom Mixed Drinks
- Kratom peach iced tea: Peach iced tea is a classic summer drink, smooth and delicious. If your local bar doesn’t offer a peach tea, they might have a variation like an iced tea lemonade (also known as an Arnold Palmer) or another fruit-flavored tea. You can make an easy peach iced tea at home with our peach mango green vein kratom tea bags!
- Kratom soda: Tea has always been considered a great substitute for alcohol in cocktails, and kratom tea is no exception; look for bubbly kratom drinks like a mojito (kratom, lime, mint, and sparkling water) or a low-sugar kratom cola
- Kratom chai latte: kratom is a perfect base for a spiced chai – choose a white vein tea in the morning for an energizing boost or a red vein tea in the evening to unwind and relax.
5. Kombucha Tea
Another great option for those looking to branch out with a unique herbal tea option is kombucha. It has some potential health benefits: due to its probiotics and B vitamins, kombucha may have some positive effects on gut-health, de-bloating, and lowering cholesterol. Despite some promising studies, further proof of its efficacy in humans is necessary to confirm these health benefits. Consumers should also be aware that kombucha contains trace amounts of alcohol due to the fermenting process. Kombucha is not considered an alcoholic beverage in the United States, however, consumers should be aware of its presence due to possible health risks.
Pro Tip: What Not to Order at a Kava Bar
Whether you’re new to kava or kratom in general, or just haven’t been to a kava bar before, you may be wondering if there are any drinks you should avoid ordering at the kava bar. Here’s what we recommend you don’t order at a kava bar:
- Beer and other alcoholic beverages
- Dairy-based drinks or foods
- Sugary drinks and juices
- Caffeine-and-kratom or caffeine-and-kava combos
If you order a kava or kratom drink, we recommend you don’t follow it up with any alcoholic drinks, dairy, coffee, or sugary drinks like juices and sodas. Why should these be avoided? Alcohol, dairy, and sugar may cause stomach irritation if combined in large amounts with either kava or kratom.
If you mix alcohol with kratom and kava, you might not be able to determine which drink is responsible for which mental and physical effects you experience. Some people may also experience more severe side effects from combining these drinks or drinking any one of them in excess.
Many kava bars have coffee and caxffeinated teas, which they may offer with an additional shot of kratom or kava. Especially if you’re new to drinking kratom and kava, it’s not ideal to mix them with caffeinated beverages. Caffeine is stimulating and can counteract the relaxing properties of a kava or kratom drink
Can You Mix Kava and Kratom?
Since many places that serve kava are kava and kratom bars, you may be wondering, “Can you order both drinks? Can you mix kratom and kava?” Well, if you’re new to a kava and kratom bar, it’s definitely best to try each one separately to get a good sense of the kavalactones found in kava and the alkaloids found in kratom.
As far as mixing goes, we wouldn’t mix high amounts of kava and kratom together. There just isn’t enough research on kavalactones or alkaloids to know exactly how the two plants interact. Be wary of companies who throw ingredients together, like mixing high amounts of caffeine with kava or kratom or a hodgepodge of botanicals without being completely transparent with customers.
Neglecting to properly inform consumers causes problems; there’s actually a class-action lawsuit against Botanic Tonic’s Feel Free tonic for this reason. When marketing their Feel Free tonic, Botanic Tonics didn’t divulge that they had mixed kava and kratom extract all in one tincture. Buyers didn’t know how much kratom and kava they were consuming at once, and to be honest, it’s still pretty unclear even now.
So, when it comes to mixing kratom and kava, we recommend enjoying each on their own when you make an order at a kava and kratom bar.
Kava Bar Benefits
So what makes a kava bar so special? Is it just a glorified coffeehouse?
In our opinion, a kava (and kratom) bar can be much more than that. There are a number of things that make kava bars special. What we’re most drawn to, though, is the social aspect. Kava has a storied history as a ceremonial and social drink, and kava bars tend to inherently exude a very social vibe the moment you walk through the doors.
Take the Fijian tradition of shouting “Bula!” when you receive your kava drink, and clapping three times once you’ve guzzled down the brew. Where else are you able to shout and clap at a place that serves food without getting some stares? (Maybe at a hibachi restaurant, but we digress.)
Even if you go alone, you’ll usually make friends fast. It’s not uncommon for patrons of a kava bar to initiate a conversation with complete strangers. In fact, you’re often encouraged to! Generally, you won’t find that type of hospitality at your local Starbucks or average bar.
Another aspect of the kava bar that makes it so intriguing is the number of unique drinks they offer, as well as the manner in which you receive them. The typical highball glass or mule mug is often replaced with a half-coconut or seashell or a reusable alternative with a similar shape. With teas like kratom and kombucha and dozens of different variations of kava-oriented beverages, you’re sure to find some unconventional drinks that satisfy your taste buds.
We love finding a local kava and kratom bar when we visit a new city, and it’s always worth the trip. The only way to know is to check it out for yourself!
Recreating Kratom and Kava Bar Favorites at Home
If there aren’t any kava/kratom bars in your area, you don’t have to miss out on the experience entirely. Invite some friends over and brew up a big batch of kratom tea or kava!
Download the Fall Kratom Tea Recipe Book
We have a number of specialty kratom tea recipes to choose from on the Better Brewing Blog, and will be posting some kava recipes soon! You can use kava or choose from numerous types of kratom tea bags to use in each recipe. While you can make tea from various types of kratom, not all are of equal caliber, so be sure to start with high-quality kratom teas and ingredients.
The easiest and best way to make kratom tea at home is by using kratom tea bags. Kratom tea bags make brewing up a tasty, kava bar-caliber, cup of kratom tea mess-free, affordable, and delicious. If you use kratom powder, you may have to use a repeat straining process to remove the grit and help reduce the bitter taste.
Before You Depart on Your Next Kava Adventure…
Let’s do a quick recap of kava and how to choose what drink to order at a kava bar.
- Kava is an earthy beverage made from the roots of the Piper methysticum plant, which is native to the South Pacific
- Kava bars often provide a social space in which to relax and enjoy kava, kratom, or other drinks
- Patrons are encouraged to lean into kava’s social traditions
- Be wary of consuming alcohol or caffeine with kava and kratom teas, as the combination could result in unwanted side effects
- A simple Google search can tell you if there are any kratom & kava bars in your area
Want to dig deeper into the details on kava kava and kratom tea before picking your next kava bar drink? Read more about the differences between kava and kratom on the Better Brewing Blog. We hope you have a great time visiting your local kava bar, checking one out when you travel, or trying to make copycat kava and kratom tea recipes at home!
Cheers to better brewing, tea drinkers!
Featured Image Credit: Pacific Kava Bar, 6301 N 9th Ave Suite 2, Pensacola, Florida 32504.