Pacific Kava kratom & kava bar in Pensacola, Florida

What to Order at a Kava Bar

If you’re wondering what to order on your next trip to a kava bar, you’ve come to the right place!

Many kava bars actually serve both kava and kratom – and sometimes even coffee and other herbal teas. 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 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 including Fiji, New Guinea, Vanuatu, Hawaii, and Samoa. The plant’s scientific name is Piper methysticum which roughly translates to “intoxicating pepper,” though the word kava owes its nomenclature to the Tongan and Marquesan term for “bitter root.”

Kava has had a history of use in Polynesian and Melanesian ceremonial and social gatherings for centuries. Traditionally, people prepared kava by hand via a unique grinding and straining method. They ground the roots of the kava plant against a block of dead coral. People used their hands like a mortar, and the coral as a pestle. They strained the ground root and combined it with a bit of cold water in a bowl called a tanoa. Then, they would distribute the kava drink into cups or shells and consume it immediately.

Kava is popular in ceremonies due to its uplifting and calming properties. This may be a result of, at least in part, the plant’s active ingredients known as kavalactones. 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 almost green. In terms of taste, kava can be 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.

Kava Bars

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, though this can vary pretty greatly between kava bars.

Visiting a kava bar for the first time can be an exciting experience. These bars are becoming an increasingly popular gathering place in cities around the world. Here in the United States, kratom and kava bars have tended to open their doors in warmer areas like Florida and California. During your visit, you can usually expect to be welcomed into an extremely open and social atmosphere. Generally, people congregate not just to drink kava but to relax and connect with others.

One of the first kava bars our 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. The featured image of this post shows their bar (and a glimpse of the lounge off to the right).

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. 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.

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 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!

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 drinks 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 the kava 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!” then clap 3 times when you finish your drink. A traditional grog is often served with fruit, 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.
  • 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

  • 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 caffeinated 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.

Kava Bar Benefits

So what makes a kava bar so special? Is it just a glorified coffeehouse?

In our opinion, a kava 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 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 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 & 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!

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 to use in each recipe.

Final Word: What to Order at a Kava Bar

Before we go, let’s do a quick summary on 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 tea, 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

That’s all for now! We have a few other posts about the differences between kava and kratom on the Better Brewing Blog if you want to know more before you decide on which drinks to try. We hope you have a great time visiting your local kava bar, or checking one out when you travel!

Cheers to better brewing, tea drinkers!

Featured Image Credit: Pacific Kava Bar, 6301 N 9th Ave Suite 2, Pensacola, Florida 32504

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