Kava bars meet demand for social outings without the alcohol

Kava artwork. Photo courtesy of Matthew Clark.

Kava bars are popping up across the U.S. to meet the demand of people looking for alternative, healthy avenues to the traditional bar setting. A healthy lifestyle naturally lends itself to less alcohol consumption, and kava bars have found a niche among those interested in gathering socially in a “bar type” atmosphere, but that don’t want the side effects that can come from boozy drinks.

But, what exactly is kava, what does it do, who should drink it, and why would anyone want to visit a bar strictly dedicated to the plant?

Matthew Clark, owner of Ohana Kava Bar in Colorado Springs, Colo., spoke with The almost Natural Mama about all of this and more.

Clark, who left a successful career as a registered nurse to pursue his dream of opening a kava bar, said his decision was based on his love of kava and herbs, and the fact that he was tired of pushing pharmaceuticals on people.

He has been consuming kava for 20 years and believes in the benefits it brings to his life.

“Kava is not an addictive substance in a physical sense,” he said. “You can drink it every day for 30 days, stop, and you aren’t going to go through withdrawals.”

Whereas alcohol may make people angry, it is said “that one cannot experience hate with kava in them,” said Clark. Kava brings about lowered anxiety, a calm and relaxed state, and feelings of sociability.

What is kava?

Kava is a plant from the South Pacific, he said. It grows in places, such as: Hawaii, Vanuatu, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea. It is a member of the pepper family.

Who drinks it?

Mostly, it has been consumed in the South Pacific for ceremonial purposes, said Clark. It has been used to bring tribes together, and as a way to prevent war. Traditionally, people would gather in a large group to drink kava, and then begin discussing the issue at hand.

But, kava isn’t just being consumed for ceremonial purposes anymore; even Fiji has kava bars (called nakamals) where residents and tourists consume kava recreationally, he said.

How is it consumed?

Traditionally, the dried root is ground and mixed with water; though, it can also be mixed with flavors and juices.

Ohana Kava Bar offers patrons specialty drinks, such as: the Kava Kolada, which features piña colada mix, coconut milk, and kava. All whipped together to create a frozen drink.

For those looking for a less whimsical drink experience, the bar offers traditional pours of kava, chai teas and hot chocolates where kava can be added in, and even a concentrated kava paste.

And, if kava is not your forte, Ohana also offers tea, kombucha, and snacks, said Clark.

Traditionally prepared kava and bowl. Photo courtesy of Ohana Kava Bar.

What is a kava bar?

Today’s kava bars resemble a coffee shop or even a traditional liquor bar, he said. The atmosphere is usually a low-lit and relaxing environment. But, think more community center vs. library setting.

Kava bars provide a place for people to socialize, said Clark. Ohana Kava Bar offers patrons a family friendly environment complete with board games, books, art supplies, and live music. It’s a community center more than anything; it’s a gathering place, he said.

Who shouldn’t drink kava?

Legally, there is no age limit on who can consume kava, but Clark said that they implemented an 18-years-old and up requirement. Kava is a mild intoxicant, not in the sense that you lose control of your faculties, but he feels as though minors drinking kava should have parental consent and guidance before consuming.

People taking medicines should consult their doctor before consuming kava, and kava should not be mixed with alcohol. There is mixed research on whether pregnant or lactating mothers should consume it, so Clark suggests erring on the side of caution and consulting your physician before consuming kava.

Are there any side effects of consuming kava?

Clark said that the biggest side effect of overconsuming kava and not hydrating properly is dry skin.

There have been past concerns over kava consumption causing liver damage, but new evidence is emerging to change minds, he said.

For example, kava was banned in Germany for about 15 years, but that ban was lifted in 2015 after the courts decided that there was not enough information available to prove a direct link between kava consumption and liver disease.

In 2002, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an advisory to consumers of the potential risk of severe liver injury from the use of dietary supplements containing kava; though, stated liver damage appears to be rare.

“Since the mechanism of toxicity is not clear, the Food and Drug Administration has taken the position that individuals with liver disease or taking drugs that can affect the liver should avoid taking kava kava without consulting a physician,” Pela Soto, certified specialist in Poison Information, states in the article “Kava Kava Calming but Potentially Toxic” on the National Capital Poison Control Center site.

But, Soto also noted that natives who have been drinking kava for years had seen no increase in liver damage due to consumption. “These reports of liver injury are perplexing because Pacific islanders have traditionally used kava kava and, while it has never been thoroughly studied, there does not seem to be a higher occurrence of liver injuries there,” said Soto.

The FDA has made no recent updates to its stance on the topic of kava consumption.

Matthew Clark, owner, Ohana Kava Bar. Photo courtesy of Matthew Clark.

Is kava sustainably sourced?

Clark said that his kava supplier sources his product directly from the farmers, but to ensure that his product is grown and sourced sustainably, he said a kava farm is on the horizon for him.

Ohana Kava Bar is located at 112 East Boulder St., Colorado Springs, Colo. A second location is in the works and will be open soon.

For more details, visit www.ohanakavabar.com

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