How to Drink Kava with Locals in Hawaii


I. Love. Markets.


I will wander doggedly into the darkest corners of a town if I see a “market this way,” sign. I run to it like a disobedient kid to an ice-cream truck… Except in my case it’s a hand-pies, or homemade lemonade, or something made out of hemp….I love you markets, don’t change!

What I love most are artisan markets. I like to chat with artists, a pastime of mine that borders on hobby. I like to know how they all got where they are–sitting under a tent on a weekend, feeling the breeze on their skin and crafting creations for others to keep. Amid the stalls of a market is a heady haze of dreams and hope and pride. I like to stroll slowly and soak it all up. I usually walk away feeling inspired, optimistic and well-nourished, with someone’s homemade recipe happily in my belly.

Walking through Hilo’s Farmer’s Market on a Wednesday afternoon was just what I was craving, a compilation of local artists and fresh food trucks all in one place.

But after a walk-through I was thirsty and looking for wifi. That’s when I walked up a randomly chosen street and stumbled into Bayshore Kava Bar, a curious place that doubles as a Kava tasting bar and an antique shop. The friendly owner, a native Hawaiian down to her soft flowing skirt and dog at her feet, gave me a brief overview of her Kava options. There were two brews. She described them as “one for the adults,” and “one for the kids.” I went for the “earthy, deep adult” version. Duh. I sat down in their garden patio surrounded by rusting signage and vintage memorabilia and began to sip this relaxing elixir I had read so much about.


A quick note about my palate : I love a nice dry, earthy wine. Things that have hints of black pepper and oak don’t scare me. I drink yerbe matte out of gourd. I buy the goat cheese with mushrooms in it. One time I bought a bottle of wine because it was described as having notes of “cigar box” and “charcoal.” Why is this important to know? Because it should tell you a bit about my tolerance for things that taste like an ancient treasure chest. I like them, I really do!

…But when it tastes as if I’m drinking diluted mud I stop to wonder whether I’ve taken my obsession for earthy-flavor too far.

Kava is no coffee.

But nevertheless, I was determined to sit there and sip to the end of my cup. This was an iconic Polynesian experience and I was going to have it, dammit.

The first few gulps were cringe-worthy. And then I went through a moment where I thought I was having an allergic reaction. My lips and tongue started to feel numb. I had no one to turn to to ask if this was normal. I was alone, having wandered off on my own. Again. I was going to die in someone’s salvage yard. Great.


But as it turns out, Kava has a topical numbing effect transmitted through “mucus membranes,” said the gentlemen who sat down next to me halfway through my panic attack. A Kava-drinking regular, the Army RN told me my feelings were normal. Sitting with my new Kava friend I finished my cup of dirt, sediment and all, and eased back into my chair trying to hone in on it’s muscle relaxing effects.

The numbness in my lips was no joke, but relaxed? I think I need something stronger for my breed of anxiety.


My last afternoon in Hilo, and Hawaii on this particular trip, was just the goodbye I was looking for: Local flavor and island life at every turn. A day made truly amazing by the local bus driver and his colorful copilot, who gave me a free ride back to port. Mahalo!



Know any good Kava haunts to try?

How to Drink Kava Like A Local

About Kelsey

Kelsey is a dancer, wandering this world as performing artist and writing about it. She's skilled at forgetting her umbrella, getting lost, and eating too much cheese. Wend is her platform to share her nomadic lifestyle, and all the moments of beauty, grace, and hilarity that happen along the way. Join her as she finds her place in the world while dancing whenever she can.

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