Dear Kava Guru,
What does Kava taste like?
Rob, Chicago, IL
Now this is a challenge I’m happy to take on! First of all, let me say that I have yet to meet someone who has been introduced to kava kava who hasn’t needed to acquire a taste for it. As my wife said when she tried kava for the first time; “You really have to want to drink this.”
This isn’t to say the taste of kava is unpleasant. Certainly not. Even for those who find the bitterness something they’re not used to, especially in the West, don’t think the taste itself is necessarily unpleasant. A comment we hear often is that kava has an “earthy” flavor to it. That’s not to say that kava tastes like dirt! I would agree with the assessment that kava has an earthy flavor. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for this complex plant.
For me, I would say that kava is something like unsweetened Turkish coffee. It’s a strong coffee that has the coffee grounds still in it when consumed. That’s not entirely accurate either, but it gives you a general idea of what to expect. Imagine a very earthy coffee with the consistency of a milkshake. The fact is, is a kava beverage made from fresh kava roots is much thinner than kava that’s made from the kava powder that’s typically commercially available. Whether you extract kava yourself or purchase it as an instant mix, unless you double the amount of liquid that the instructions tell you to use, the kava drink will be a bit thick.
And the bitterness of kava is difficult to cover with just about any kind of sweetener. Personally, I’ve found that the traditional mixers for kava continue to be the best at “masking” the bitterness of kava. And those two key mixers/extractors for kava are coconut water or pineapple juice.
That’s my guess why kava is still a relatively obscure “afcionado” type of dietary supplement instead of a household name; it takes some work to get past the taste if you want to enjoy this complex plant as it has been used traditionally for thousands of years.
The good news is that making kava into a drink isn’t the only way to enjoy this dietary supplement. There are pastes, cordials, capsules, and even a couple of beverages that have begun to appear on the market. With kavalactone pastes, you still need to taste the kava, but it’s just a small pea-sized amount that can be swallowed quickly. Capsules, of course, have virtually no flavor of their own. But traditionally, kava has been drunk in a single gulp from a half coconut shell. (A single round of kava brew is called a “shell of kava”.)
I can say this: of all those who worked to acquire a taste for kava, about 75% of those I’ve introduced to kava have discovered the subtle complexities of the root. They’ve found a mixer that they actually enjoy blended with kava, and find the taste quite pleasing. For me, working to acquire a taste for kava changed me forever. Now, I begin and end each day with a shell; it energizes me in the morning, especially when I eat a healthy breakfast with fruits and grains, but it has the opposite effect in the evening, when I slow down, unwind, and gulp down a shell of kava. It gives me a relaxed, gentle repose that melts away the stress of my day.