A Drink Better Than Booze?

Pacific Islanders have been enjoying the relaxing benefits of kava for more than 2,500 years, but only recently has the drink found its legs among the wellness set. Find out from one Brooklyn-based purveyor what exactly kava is—and why everyone should be drinking this magical elixir.

Most Popular

When stress gets the better of you, it's important to have a way to blow off steam. A gym session is a solid choice, but happy hour is usually much easier—and more fun, of course. For Harding Stowe, owner of Brooklyn Kava, it was that search for a middle ground that led him to kava, a finely ground powder made from a root found in the islands of the South Pacific, namely Vanuatu, Tonga, Hawaii, and Fiji, where Stowe sources his supply.

Relaxation on the go? Brooklyn Kava has a window for that.
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

"The root is ground into a powder, and cold-brewed into this concoction of just kava and water," explains Stowe. "It acts as a mood-lifting, anxiety-reducing, and overall relaxing drink. It can be an alternative to alcohol, but it's in its own category," he says. "It does lower your inhibitions, makes you feel more relaxed and social, but it doesn't impair you in any way." Kava's calming properties were exactly what Stowe needed to unwind, in lieu of a medical prescription or excessive drinking. 

Kava in its pure, powder form.
Most Popular

Over the course of the drink's rich history, it's been used to welcome kings and leaders of tribes to the islands, says Stowe. "It was a ceremonial drink before it became more of a recreational activity. Now you'll find kava bars all over the islands."

Choosing between coffee and kava? We say get both.

Stateside, kava bars aren't a new development, but they've existed in more "hippie" or "novelty" contexts, according to Stowe. Florida, somewhat inexplicably, was an early adopter of kava—always served out of a coconut shell, with a tiki totem never too far from sight.

Brooklyn Kava offers juice chasers for beginners taking their kava straight.

But Brooklyn Kava—which also has a full coffee program—is part of the newer wave of bars and cafes introducing kava to a population who want the all-natural chill minus the New Age-y philosophy.

Kava meets mixology at this small Brooklyn cafe.

While almost everyone would love a new way to de-stress, they won't all instantly become kava converts. "Kava has a bitter, earthy flavor that some people will find off-putting," says Stowe. To remedy the taste, Brooklyn Kava offers signature drinks like "Lemon Mint" and "Lavender Chai" to tame the flavor. And these tasty "cocktails" also cater to the after-work and weekend crowds in search of a hangover-free buzz.

"It's exciting to turn people onto it," says Stowe. "Most of our regulars had never had it before. They had either walked by or maybe read about it. Now they've become daily customers."

For more on Brooklyn Kava, see brooklynkava.com.

More from sweet: