Dear Kava Guru,
Are kava tea bags any good?
I know of several ways to answer this question, depending on what exactly you mean by “good”; if it comes down to asking are kava tea bags effective, or do kava tea bags work, I can say without hesitation that they certainly can be quite relaxing! Like any kava beverage, getting the most out of kava tea bags lies in how you prepare them as well as making sure you have quality raw material to start with. Kava tea bags may not be as strong as fresh-brewed kava—of course, few things are!—but many people still enjoy kava tea immensely. One advantage of going the kava tea route is that these products often blend kava extract with yummy flavorings to help ease the kava newcomer into a more welcoming taste experience. After all, drinking kava shouldn’t just be about the physical effects; sensual elements such as taste, smell, and mouth feel are important too!
The most popular kava tea I know of is Yogi Tea’s “Kava Stress Relief”, which the folks over at Kava Dot Com are now offering on their marketplace! Kava Stress Relief combines kava extract (this is crucial!) with flavoring ingredients like carob pod, Indian sarsparilla, cinnamon bark, cardamom, and ginger root. Sounds tasty, right? While the Kava Guru has not yet tried Yogi’s kava tea—I prefer my kava kava “straight” if you know what I mean—apparently many people like the way the spice ingredients mellow out the earthy, peppery taste of kava. One review described it this way: “There is just a burst of amazing flavors and spices that come out of this tea. Downing something is not healthy. If you’re consuming something for everything but taste, then you’re doing it wrong. I enjoy this tea because it goes down nice and smooth and has a pleasant aftertaste.”
I absolutely agree with this philosophy when it comes to kava—or any substance with a physiological effect, such as coffee, tea, or wine. It should be about the holistic experience of consumption, in which taste, smell, and mouth feel are as important as the eventual effects. Especially with a relatively subtle herb like kava, I believe that working patiently with it rather than slamming a glass of kava hoping for an instant effect is the best way to discover kava’s many joys.
That said—do kava tea bags work? This is really the crux of any kava supplement: if you aren’t using the whole kava root but rather a capsule, powder mix or tea, you absolutely have to make sure the supplement contains a kava extract—not just the dried and powdered root. Without some form of extraction, plain powdered root will not be physiologically active. To be effective, a kava supplement product should contain at least 70 milligrams of kavalactones, the active relaxing and anxiolytic constituents of kava. According to the information I could find, Yogi tea bags contain 78 mg of a peeled kava root extract, plus 23.4 mg of a 30% kavalactone extract. Since the kava root extract itself is not 100% kavalactone (the typical range is 60-70%), this means that the maximum kavalactone content of the tea would be 78 mg, and could be in the lower range of 70.2 mg. In other words, one tea bag would contain about the minimum effective dose of kavalactones for the average person. This can definitely be an effective dose for some, but it will probably not be strong enough for others depending on each individual body’s unique tolerance. The instructions on the box even say to use two tea bags for a stronger effect if desired.
However—a weaker brew isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I don’t know about you, but in the Kava Guru’s opinion not every experience with kava has to be a 15-hour nakamal session with a hard-hitting Vanuatu brew. Kava tea bags might be the perfect option if you just want to relax of an evening, take the edge off after a stressful day, or get into a relaxed, focused state before work or to dive into a creative project. A gentle kava tea is also an excellent beverage option for those mornings when you anticipate a stressful day ahead: the lower dosage of kavalactones can lessen your anxiety while still leaving you alert.
If you decide to try kava tea bags, I’ve included a couple tips for you to get the most out of your kava tea experience. Yogi recommends pouring boiling water over 1-2 tea bags and steeping 5-10 minutes, but I would highly recommend using cooler water—the general opinion is that water heated above 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 Celsius) may degrade the kavalactones and diminish their efficacy. However, Kava Dot Com’s experiments with heating kava suggest that this temperature ceiling can be stretched a bit without harming the kavalactones, as long as you don’t actually boil the kava. What you might do is heat water to just under boiling—say, to 176 Fahrenheit/80 Celsius, the same temperature used for green tea. Especially if you add a fatty liquid such as milk during the steeping process, this temperature will be enough to extract the kavalactones so that you can get the most out of your kava tea bags!