What is Kava?
Kava is a beverage or extract that is made from Piper methysticum, a plant native to the western Pacific islands. The name “kava” comes from the Polynesian word “awa,” which means bitter. Some people take kava by mouth to calm anxiety, stress, and restlessness, and to treat sleeping problems. Traditionally, there are 6 Primary Sources (Islands) of Kava, including:

  • Fiji
  • Hawaiian
  • Samoa
  • Solomon
  • Tonga
  • Vanuatu

Which, by the way, don’t forget to vote for your favorite in our Kava Poll!

What is the “Happy” Kava Challenge?
Since stress relief, anxiety reduction and an overall “chill” attitude are the primary benefits of drinking Kava, we decided that the best way to test these samples was to see which one (or ones) did most (or all) of those things and made us happy. Our overall experience of Kava has been very limited, with the only real encounters being with Vitamin-Shop-Sourced Kava Capsules such as NOW Kava Kava Extract Capsules. So, true Kava aficionados will tell you that we’ve been essentially drinking water when we thought we were drinking wine.

So with that said, we decided to expose ourselves to true Kava with these samples which included:

How is the Kava Being Judged?
Since many Kava users are also new to the experience of drinking Kava, we also wanted to include items like preparation instructions and ease of preparation into the comparison criteria. If you have never tried Kava before here are some tips based on what we quickly learned:

  • Get a GOOD strainer that can capture small root particles while your straining your Kava. We wish that they had been included in the packages but they were not. In fact, we might suggest to Kava vendors to send a post-order-follow-up email to first-time clients encouraging them to buy one if they don’t already have one. That way, by the time the product arrives, they’ll already have the supplies (and instructions) they need.
  • Invest in a blender. It makes the pre-mixing either.
  • Have a strainer bowl ready. It makes the steeping of the Kava after you’ve mixed it with liquid much easier.
  • Don’t drink alcohol within 24 hours (before or after) of sampling your Kava. It could lead to less than desirable results and potentially sully the “pureness” of the experience.
  • Prepare yourself for the taste! It’s definitely different. It’s not altogether horrible, but it’s not sugary-sweet either.

For this comparison, each sample was judged by the following:

  • Packaging
  • Ease of Preparation (including whether or not instructions are included that explain how to prepare the Kava for novices)
  • Aroma
  • Taste
  • Onset of effects (Time for effects to be noticeable and duration of effects)

Day 1: Kalm with Kava Pouni Ono Premium Tonga Kava Root

Description from the Vendor: Pouni Ono is an impressive fresh Tonga Kava. The unique volcanic soil of the island has created a smooth and relatively easy tasting kava. A drink of Pouni Ono makes you feel relaxed, happy, and more alert with some people even reporting an almost energetic level of happiness. Pouni Ono is more uplifting and less tiring than other kavas making it great for daytime use, and our best social kava.
Ease of Preparation: Packaging came with very clear and concise preparation instructions.
Packaging: Very professional and colorful. It’s similar to Gourmet Coffee or Tea packaging you’d find at a high-end Specialty Food store.
Aroma: Very nice “woodsy” scent with a hint of cedar.
Taste: For the unsuspecting, the first taste can be eye-opening. Much like beer, it is an “acquired” taste. Once you get used to it though, it becomes a wholly unique flavor. There are numerous recipes on the Internet for augmenting the flavor, but for this comparison, we are taking them all at their pure taste.
Onset of Effects: If you put a tiny bit of powder on your finger and touch it to your tongue, you’ll get an immediate numbing of your tongue. It’s a neat feeling and a sign of good things to come. Before we could finish our first cup, the results began to nestle their way in. After 10-15 minutes, that “chill” feeling began to manifest itself. It was first thought of as “floaty”, but then we realized it was much more focused than that. There was a sensation of being “bigger than one’s self” (and not in a bad way). Soon afterwards, there came a sense of everything around you being good and the onset of a much more positive outlook which was very pronounced. This is a Kava to drink if you want to be social. Not only we did have a very positive outlook, we also felt like we wanted to share that feeling with everyone around us. Negativity was the furthest thing from our minds. It’s easy to see why many Kava drinkers report that they’ve replaced alcohol with Kava. The feeling is positive and close to euphoric without having that heavy, bloated sense that drinking beer can produce. These effects remained strong and consistent for the course of 2-3 hours. If this is going to be your first introduction to Kava, we suspect you’ll be very, VERY pleased with the results.

Buy Kalm with Kava Pouni Ono Premium Tonga Kava Root Now!

Day 2: Kalm with Kava Loa Waka Premium Fiji Kava Root

Description from the Vendor: Fiji Loa Waka is the strongest Fiji kava we carry and one of the strongest kavas on the market. The all round, powerful mind and body relaxation effects of Fiji Loa Waka make it one of our most popular kavas. Great for drinking at anytime of the day, smaller servings of Fiji Loa Waka will calm you and lift your mood, while larger servings relax you physically too. Exceptionally high quality, Fiji Loa Waka is shipped to us fresh from the farm on the island of Taveuni.
Ease of Preparation: Packaging came with very clear and concise preparation instructions.
Packaging: Very professional and colorful. It’s similar to Gourmet Coffee or Tea packaging you’d find at a high-end Specialty Food store.
Aroma: Slightly lighter than the Pouni Ono but still appealing “woodsy” scent with a hint of cedar.
Taste: After sampling the Pouni Ono, the taste of Loa Waka was less potent. One of the the samplers who had a hard time drinking Pouni Ono, was easily able to drink Loa Waka.
Onset of Effects: Like Pouni Ono, if you put a tiny bit of powder on your finger and touch it to your tongue, you’ll get an immediate numbing of your tongue – although not as pronounced. Our immediate thought was the potency of this one was going to be somewhat less than Pouni Ono. After a few easy sips, the experience of Loa Waka began to make itself known. Whereas Pouni Ono had a larger than life feeling to it, Loa Waka seems to ratchet up the “Sociability” of one’s self. Instead of wanting to spend more time on the inner experience, there was a feeling of wanting to talk and laugh and share in good stories with everyone around us. Thoughts of past good times and memories began to manifest themselves as well. This is a Kava you’d want to drink if you were going to hang out with friends and family. It seems to enhance the desire to want to socialize and mingle. Like Pouni Ono, there is a light sense of euphoria, but it’s less to the deep thought of it and more to the, “Oh…yes, it’s there.” Loa Waka isn’t as potent in that sense as Pouni Ono is, but it has its own unique appeal. Loa Waka also seemed to percolate a feeling of romance so if you’re spending an evening with someone special, this would also be a good choice to share. These effects remained apparent and in the thought process for about 2.5 hours. If you’re looking for a Kava that will enhance your visits with friends, family and loved ones, this is a great choice.

Buy Kalm with Kava Loa Waka Premium Fiji Kava Root Now!

Day 3: Root of Happiness Fijian Premium Ground Kava Root Powder

Description from the Vendor: This is our go-to Fijian Kava Powder. It is a premium variety grown in Kadavu, an island that is renown for producing the most potent Kava in all of Fiji. It has a unique 432 chemotype and a minimum 8.0% total lactone content. This 50% Lateral root 50% basal stump Kava is perfectly pounded to the perfect particle size for an enjoyable and smooth taste and potency.
Ease of Preparation: Once again, like almost all of the samples we tried, the Packaging came with very clear and concise preparation instructions. Although, as you can see, the instructions were very different than the Kalm with Kava samples.
Packaging: Ditto on the Packaging. Very professional and colorful. It’s similar to Gourmet Coffee or Tea packaging you’d find at a high-end Specialty Food store.
Aroma: A very strong and supple cedar scent. Very appealing if you enjoy that scent.
Taste: This one was lighter than Pouni Ono but stronger than Loa Waka. It’s a nice in-between taste that we feel as though virtually anyone could drink.
Onset of Effects: Immediacy on the “tongue numbness” standard was just as quick, but not as strong. However, there was more of an overall mouth numbness that was unique and different. It made us think that dentists should consider Kava instead of Novocaine. It would certainly make us more likely to visit the dentist! It took about 5 minutes longer for the effects of the Fijian to make itself known, but once it did it was very pleasant. Slotting somewhere in between the Pouni Ono and the Loa Waka, there wasn’t as heavy a feeling. It felt like you could drink more of this without “filling up”. Once the onset of the experience began to fully materialize, it was a very nice feeling. This one makes you feel like you could just “veg” on the couch and really enjoy the evening. If you’re stressed or have anxiety, this might be just the mix you’re looking for. There’s a sensation of just wanting to slow down, relax and take in your surroundings. It’s a great “slow-down-life-for-awhile” powder. In fact, while we were sampling it, our business email box dinged with a new message and unlike the usual rush to answer it feeling, we just felt like it would be perfectly okay to get to it at a later time. That’s the kind of feeling you could really get used to! These effects remained apparent and in the thought process for about 3 hours. If you’re looking for a Kava that will make you feel good about forgetting about the rat race for awhile, this is a great choice.

Root of Happiness Fijian Premium Ground Kava Root Powder

Day 4: Cactus Kava Ono Kava Powder

Description from the Vendor: In Hawaiian, the word “‘Ono” means tasty. This is an unique Kava powder you won’t find anywhere else that results in a smooth, easy flowing beverage. The key to this kava’s taste is because it’s so fresh. Freshly harvested kava tastes better, and has a different experience than many other dried powders you can find. When brewed, this product yields a oily grog that’ll impress any kavasseur. You have to taste this to really understand it.
Ease of Preparation: This product also included a very concise and easy-to-read set of instructions for preparing, although they were different than the others. It seems as though each company has a preferred method of how best to prepare your Kava. We also thought it was interesting how Cactus Kava also included some guidance on how much to consume. This would be especially useful for first-time drinkers.
Packaging: Our favorite packaging in terms of ‘flash’. If you were reaching for a bag of Kava on a retail shelf, this one would probably jump out at you first. The “golden” hue gave it a high-end appearance.
Aroma: A woodsy scent, although lighter and less noticeable than the others we’d tried so far.
Taste: Ono had the mildest taste of all. For Kava drinkers who couldn’t take the bolder taste of other brands and islands, this would be the one to try. While ‘Ono’ may mean tasty in Hawaiian, this one had the least amount of taste to us. That’s not to say it tasted bad, it just didn’t have a bold flavor.
Onset of Effects: Cactus Ono had almost zero “tongue numbness” to it. At first, we thought we just weren’t noticing it, but after a minute or so, we realized there just wasn’t much to be had. However, it did give some mouth numbness like others had. For the oneset of effects, they began to materialize in about 10 minutes. If you’re the cautious type when it comes to experiencing something like Kava, this would be the one to try. The effects of Cactus Ono were neither quick nor potent. Rather than make you stand up (or sit down in “chill mode”) and take notice, Cactus Ono just seems to slowly surround you with a feeling of quiet calm. We can see where the mild-mannered who are having a stressful day would appreciate the fact that it doesn’t come at you all at once. We did notice a slightly “chattier” frame of mind than some of the other samples, but it wasn’t a fill the air full of words kind of feeling, it was more of a let’s have more quiet conversations. There’s a definite market for Cactus Ono. It would be a great fit for those new to Kava or those Kava drinkers who are looking for a product that is effective in stress-relief, but not overwhelming their senses with other things. These effects remained consistent for around 2 hours. It was definitely our lightest experience so far. If you’re looking for a Kava that will deliver quite, subdued calm and stress relief, Cactus Ono would be a good fit for you.

Cactus Kava Ono Kava Powder

Day 5: Kraken Kratom Vanuatu Borogu Kava Kava Root 100% Laterals Powder

Description from the Vendor: This is Kava at its most basic. High quality material that can be used in many ways. Whether you choose to brew a tea or even to bake with it (yes, it is often used in baking traditional dishes), you can count on this product to deliver only the ‘wheat’ with none of the ‘chaff’. Perfect for the Kava connoisseur who wants to create their own grinds or to use the root product before it is powdered. This is a whole kava root product. Only the lateral roots are used and have the highest content of kavalactones.
Ease of Preparation: Without question, this was the easiest Kava to prepare. No steeping. No filtering. No worrying about too much root powder in your drink. Just add 1/2 tablespoon right out of the package to water and it’s ready to drink. Easy-peezy.
Packaging: The smallest and most basic packaging. Professional and colorful and about the size of bag of candy. We definitely liked its double-sealed interior. Not only is the bag itself resealable, but the Kava powder inside it is too.
Aroma: Only a very slight scent to it. Just a light trace of that now-familiar “woodsy” scent.
Taste: Kraken’s Kava had the mildest flavor of all 5. Anyone could drink this. It’s very easy to drink faster and without noticing the taste. Only a dark accumulation of minuscule root at the bottom marred the taste but that could have been from lack of pre-preperation on our part.
Onset of Effects: It seems evident that with Kava, easier comes compromises. In the case of capsules, it usually means that you’re going to get very little effect. In this case, it seemed like it had less effect than the other samples we tried. Kraken Kava was still effective, it just wasn’t as pronounced as the other ones. Still well above Kava Capsules, the effects were lighter and more “airy”. Within 10 minutes, there was a nice relaxing effect that put us in a happy frame of mind, but there wasn’t as much of the deep, strong, potent feelings of sociability and stress relief. With that said, this would be a fantastic Kava to drink at work or in the middle of the day. We suspect that this is more of the potency you’d find at a mainstream Kava bar. The effects are definitely there and you’ll benefit from a happier you with less stress. It’ll just be an easier one to brush off if you didn’t want to focus so much on it. It is a nice background happiness to enjoy.

Buy Kraken Kratom Vanuatu Borogu Kava Kava Root 100% Laterals Powder

The Results!
First and foremost, if you’ve never tried Kava before, you should! In this crazy, stressful, fast-paced world we live in, Kava is a great choice to escape the pressure for awhile to focus on you, the good and the happy. It would also be a great drink to share with friends. You might be pleasantly surprised at how much it would open up the conversations and connections around you. Secondly, if you’ve only tried one or two types of Kava, you should try more of them. We went in to this comparison thinking they would be very similar, but they weren’t. Each type and brand had its own personality and attributes. What you’re looking for in Kava, might not match the next person’s. Each one of the samples we tried was a very nice experience.

With all of that said, there has to be a favorite and for us it was Kalm with Kava Pouni Ono Premium Tonga Kava Root. Potent, well-rounded and the ultimate harbinger of “Happy”, Pouni Ono Premium delivered the exact type of experience we’d heard Kava delivered. This is a Kava to spend some time with alone or with friends. You might find yourself friendlier, happier, more sociable and stress-free. We truly, truly enjoyed the experience and will make Kalm with Kava a regular staple in our pantry.

We are happy to pronounce Kalm with Kava Pouni Ono Premium Tonga Kava Root as our top choice in the “Happy” Kava Challenge 2019.