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Kava tea is becoming more and more popular as a way to promote natural relaxation, and the increasing popularity of kava bars in the United States is an excellent reflection of that. It is promoted as an alternative to alcohol without many of the side effects often associated with alcohol and other stress relievers.
It is very easy to make kava tea at home with legal ingredients purchased in a store or online, and we will help break down the process for you.
What is Kava?
Kava is a shrub originating from the South Pacific that belongs to the pepper family. The plant itself grows to a height of about six feet, but the parts of the shrub used for kava tea are the root and stump. Kava leaves may be used as a salve for skin conditions, but the leaves and stems of the kava plant should never be consumed, and may cause serious health problems if they are.
Effects of Kava Tea:
- Increases social interaction
- Lifts the drinker’s mood
- Reduces anxiety
- Helps with sleeplessness
- Muscle relaxation
There is a scientific basis behind the effects of kava tea. The active ingredients in kava, kavalactones, have different effects on the body. These are compounds generally only found in the kava plant and are newly under research for their specific physiological and psychotropic effects.
How to Make Kava Tea
There are two main preparations for kava tea, the traditional method and the fast method. The extraction of kava’s active ingredients, kavalactones, is based on some type of agitation or mechanical extraction. This can be achieved by either kneading and squeezing the root during the steeping process, or by placing with liquid in a blender.
If you are starting out with actual raw kava root or kava root chips, you will not end up with a good extraction if you just steep them in hot water. The roots are extremely hardy and need to be broken down, normally with a hammer, then cut into small pieces before being thrown into a blender for grinding.
What you want to end up with is a medium-grind powder, so unless you really desire controlling the entire process, it is easier to purchase your kava root already ground into powder form.
Recommended numbers for preparing one serving of kava root tea:
- 3 tablespoons kava root
- 10 ounces of water
- Water should be around 120F (49C). Anything above around 135F will destroy effects of the kavalactones. Hot water from the tap is usually around this temperature.
The ratio of kava root to water is approximate. Once tasted for the first time, feel free to adjust the numbers as necessary. For more than one serving, simply multiply the numbers above by the amount of servings.
Traditional Method of Making Kava Tea
When making kava tea with the traditional method, you will need a medium pot or heat-resistant bowl that can contain hot water, a porous and malleable bag to squeeze and strain the root, and kava root. For the bag, muslin or cheesecloth work very well, but something like a tea towel or t-shirt (hopefully you’ve washed it) will work in a pinch.
Traditional Kava Tea Process
- Measure the desired amount of kava root into the bag.
- Place the bag into a pot or bowl.
- Pour hot water directly over the kava root. Try to keep the top of the bag from flopping down to reduce the chance of the powder escaping.
- Steep for approximately 8-10 minutes.
- Twist the top of the bag containing the kava root closed while removing all the air.
- Knead and squeeze the bag inside the water that is contained in the bowl for approximately 5-10 minutes. Try your best not to let any root escape directly into the water. If the water level seems low, constantly re-wet the root by dipping the bag in the water.
- The water will turn a brown, milky color as the kava essence is extracted.
- Remove the steeping bag and save for later. Kava root can be steeped 2-5 times depending on the quality of the root.
- Chill the resulting kava tea by placing in the refrigerator or add ice cubes.
Fast Method of Making Kava Tea
While not as classic as the traditional method, there are some benefits to making kava tea quickly in a blender. The obvious difference is speed, as you don’t have to go through the entire kneading process to extract the kava essence.
Kavalactone extraction is based on manually breaking down of the kava root, and the blender method will extract it by using a crushing, brute force instead of coercing the kava essence out. You may have more control while performing this manually, and generally the traditional method will create a brew with stronger effects.
- Add the desired amount of kava root to the blender. If using whole or chipped kava root, you can add the root directly to the blender AFTER crushing with a hammer or other heavy implement.
- Add the desired amount of hot water.
- Turn the blender to the highest setting and blend for three 40-second cycles, with approximately 30 seconds in between cycles to let the root settle. Alternately, blend for one 4 minute cycle.
- Let sit in the blender for 5-10 minutes.
- Strain into another receptacle.
- Chill the brew if desired.
Alternate Method of Making Kava Tea
Beyond the effort included in the basic methods that goes into extracting kavalactones from the kava root, there are combinations of the two that can create an even stronger effect. An excellent alternative version to making kava tea is to start with the blending (fast) method.
- Add the kava root and water to the blender.
- Blend on high for a fairly short amount of time, 20-30 seconds.
- Pour entire contents into a muslin bag, knead the bag, expressing the liquid back into the blender, then place the entire contents back into the blender.
- Repeat steps 2 and 3.
- Strain and chill.
This process can be extended up to four washings, but three washings seems to be the sweet spot. This will make a very strong brew.
Other Forms of Kava Tea
In addition to kava tea prepared from ground kava root, there are other production methods that can provide the kava effect.
Micronized Kava Root
This is a highly processed version of kava root that is provided in an extremely fine powder. To consume, simply mix with any beverage and drink Juice or almond milk is generally recommended.
Kava Root Concentrate
The concentrated form of kava root is normally provided as a concentrated paste or liquid that can come in many different flavors. Just add water to dilute the concentrate.
What Does Kava Tea Taste Like?
To be honest, kava tea is not something most people will drink because they like the flavor. As opposed to other teas that we would normally gravitate to because of their floral scent or citrusy flavor, kava tea at first can taste like muddy water with a hint of bitterness to it. It is not necessarily unpleasant, but not one of the flavors people flock to.
After repeated tastings it is easy to start to find different levels of flavor in kava root. There is an overwhelming earthiness, to be sure, but there are also rich flavors underneath similar to Turkish coffee.
For those who require a bit of dilution or sweetness to their kava tea, two of the most popular mixers are coconut water and/or pineapple juice. Coconut water will help enhance the lighter notes of the drink, while pineapple juice will mask most of the flavor.
The Science Behind Kava Tea
While at least eighteen kavalactones have been identified in kava plants, six are mainly considered as being significant in any medicinal effect. Each variety of kava is identified by a list of numbers that indicate the percentage strength of each kavalactone from highest to lowest.
Kavalactones in Kava
- Desmethoxyyangonin = #1
- Increases dopamine levels
- Dihydrokavain = #2
- Decreases anxiety
- Yangonin = #3
- Kavain = #4
- Decreases anxiety
- Dihydromethysticin = #5
- Mild sedative
- Methysticin = #6
- Increases mood
For instance, a kava product with the chemotype 426531 will have the highest percentage of Kavain and the lowest percentage of Desmethoxyyangonin.
There are over 100 different varieties of the plant, but only the “noble” varieties are suggested for consistent consumption. The other “tudei” varieties can offer a stronger effect, but may cause unpleasantness that can last for up to two days. Because of this, tudei kava is generally not exported from its home country of Vanuatu and they are difficult to find in the United States.
Warnings for Kava Tea
Different people will react differently to drinking kava tea. The main issue is that, as a product with psychoactive properties, it may impair your perceptions, abilities, and reaction time. Avoid operating heavy machinery, and definitely do not drive a car.
There have been reports over the years linking kava root with liver damage. A final conclusion has never been reached on whether drinking kava tea will or will not damage your liver – many of the studies have come from medications produced with kavalactones in the 1990’s, not with kava root itself.
There are also indications that tudei kava root may cause hangover-like symptoms that can last for over a day, so the general consensus is to avoid tea made from this kava root variety.
For those who are looking for a natural and non-addictive mood balancer, kava root may be something to try. There are many different ways to prepare this unique drink, and it is very easy to brew at home.
Scott is the founder of TeaMinded. He enjoys tasting and discovering teas from across the globe, with green teas and ceremonial matcha from Japan being among his favorites. He’s grateful to be immersed in the tea community, always learning and sharing along the journey.