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Buzzy Beverages: 3 Ancient Libations To Take The Edge Off Modern Times

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Kava, Cacao and Kombucha (Lila Volkas)

Sure, I love drinking water, but sometimes the essential beverage of life doesn’t quite quench all my thirsts. Not being a big drinker (hangovers just don’t feel worth it) nor a caffeine fiend, I have had to look elsewhere to satiate my desire to imbibe something with my buds, get down on the dance floor or get my sh*t done. Luckily, the Bay Area, being the land of alternative foods and beverages, offers a fountain of (slightly) intoxicating liquid refreshments to fulfill my fancy beverage fix.


Kava (Lila Volkas)

What is kava?
At first glance, kava looks a bit like a glass of dirty water, but don’t let its cloudy appearance discourage you from sipping this ultimate chill-out beverage. Kava (Piper methysticum) is a potent potion from the Pacific Islands and translates to “intoxicating pepper.” This 3,000-year-old drink is traditionally made by pounding or chewing the roots of the kava plant, mixing the product with water and ingesting the filtered fluid.

How does it make you feel?
Super chill.

The active components of kava, called the kava lactones, give this de-stress beverage its anti-anxiety, muscle relaxing and analgesic qualities. After my second cup of kava, my mouth felt tingly, I had warm, relaxed sensations in my body and was extremely content in the present moment.

Is kava dangerous?
Not everyone has hopped on the kava train. WebMD warns folks that “kava is possibly unsafe when taken by mouth.” How did some members of the medical community come to deem this ancient plant “hazardous”?  Rami Kayali, co-owner of Melomelo Kava Bar, described the ill-informed error of a German pharmaceutical company, who processed the entire plant, when Pacific Islanders traditionally only used the roots for consumption. When consumers of this misguided mixture started to get sick, Germany freaked out and completely banned kava in 2002. (This ban was overturned in 2014, but the usage of kava is still restricted in Germany). Several other countries, such as Australia and the U.K, have also made it more difficult to get your hands on kava by banning the importation of the plant without a license.


Kava is legal in the United States yet many folks are still wary of the ‘intoxicating pepper’ because of reports of health complications. Because of the international concern over kava The World Health Organization commissioned an assessment in 2007 on kava’s possible hepatotoxicity. They concluded that the "kava lactones in any type of product may rarely cause hepatic adverse reactions because of kava-drug interactions, excessive alcohol intake, metabolic or immune mediated idiosyncrasy, excessive dose or pre-existing liver disease."

Does the buzz of kava impair your driving? A 2012 study in the Journal of Traffic Injury Prevention found that a dose of kava containing 180mg of kavalactones does not impair driving abilities.

Where can I get kava?
You can find hand-pressed kava served in coconut shells at Melomelo Kava Bar on University Ave, in Berkeley and Kava Lounge SF on Divisadero St. in San Francisco. Both shops concoct this plant into a variety of libations from its classical preparation in water, which tastes like a sipping a coconut shell of liquid earth to creative elixirs like Melomelo’s “Kava Dreams” which tastes like an orange creamsicle and Kava Lounge’s “Sweetness Elixir” which has a sweet, chocolaty flavor. The Bula-tenders (the kava variation of a bartender) at both kava shops serve up few varieties of this socially lubricating beverage. Different strains of kava have different personalities, for example the Vanuatu kava is heady and a little bit like getting stoned, while the Fijian has more of a body feel and is akin to having a massage.

Melomelo also sells growlers of kava that you can serve at your next party. And if you want to make kava yourself, all you have to do is purchase the ground root powder, put it in a muslin bag and massage the pouch in a bowl of water (Check out Melomelo’s tutorial video).

MeloMelo Kava Bar
1701 University Ave, Berkeley
Ph: (510) 900-9316
Hours: Mon-Sat 12pm-12am, Sun 12pm-10pm
Facebook: MeloMelo Kava Bar
Twitter: @MeloKava

Kava Lounge SF
901 Divisadero St, San Francisco
Ph: (415) 834-5174
Hours: Mon-Thurs 3pm-12am, Fri-Sat 3pm-1am, Sun 1pm-11pm
Facebook: Kava Lounge SF
Twitter: @kavaloungesf


Kombucha (Lila Volkas)

What is kombucha?
The naturally carbonated and probiotic beverage is simply fermented tea. It is made by placing a jellyfish–looking SCOBY (which stands for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) in a container of a sweetened tea with a little bit of starter liquid (previously brewed kombucha). This mixture is left to ferment for 7-14 days in a dark place and then voila you have kombucha! No one knows the exact history of kombucha, but its ancient roots have been traced all the way back to China over 2,000 years ago.

How does it make you feel?
Bubbly and peppy.

Food Renegade blog admires the bubbly beverage for its energizing, probiotic, antioxidant, joint boosting and immune enhancing qualities. When I have a glass of my homemade effervescent and slightly vinegary booch’ I feel energized and satiated.

There is no doubt that the health benefits of kombucha have been a contentious topic in the health world. Many people ask the question: is kombucha good for you? It is true that there is a lack of scientific studies and evidence that proves the probiotic has medicinal qualities, yet where would the money come from to fund that research? Many generations around the globe have been drinking kombucha as a health beverage for thousands of years. Kombucha, like any of these beverages is something of an acquired taste, so if the taste doesn’t turn you on, don’t force it.

As a 5-year kombucha brewer and facilitator of kombucha brewing workshops, I don’t believe the bubbly beverage is a panacea, but I do think it can be part of a healthy diet. My favorite quality of kombucha is its natural carbonation, which is heaps better than sugary soda alternatives. I have recently been experimenting making kombucha with medicinal herbs like skullcap, damiana and tulsi to get additional anti-anxiety, heart-opening and uplifting qualities from my brew.

Where can I get kombucha?
You can find bottled kombucha in almost any grocery store nowadays in a plethora of flavors from mint mojito to ginger fire. Check out Shelby Pope’s article to read her review on some Bay Area booch’ brands if you need some guidance. Both Melomelo Kava Bar and Kava Lounge SF have local booch’ on tap as well! And if you feel the desire brew kombucha yourself, come to one of my monthly kombucha workshops to get my full kombucha download and receive your very own SCOBY.


Cacao (Lila Volkas)

What is drinking cacao?
It is essentially liquid chocolate. Cacao (Theobroma cacao) was originally drunk in liquid form in ancient Mesoamerica and considered a sacred and religious beverage used as an offering to the Aztec gods. Somehow the blessed beverage strayed far from its primeval roots to become a wimpy mug topped with tiny marshmallows. Most of the cacao that you buy in the market today contains only half the story. Conventional powdered cacao and hot chocolate mixes are lacking the cacao butter from the cacao beans, have been roasted at a high temperature (which compromises the medicinal qualities of the cacao) and are often mixed with refined sugar. One of my favorite “bean to bar” companies, Firefly Chocolates maintains the integrity of the cacao with their process, which includes lightly roasting their beans and stone grinding them for 24 hours to keep the cacao in its whole food form. Drinking cacao consists of blending cacao paste in hot water. You get all the antioxidant, cardio vascular and mood boosting qualities without the interference of dairy or sugar.

How does it make you feel?
Present and open.

Jonas Ketterle, founder of Firefly Chocolates, recommends setting an intention for your cacao journey and describes the experience of drinking cacao as “a way to bring attentiveness into your body and feel more connected, open and engaged with the present moment.” The flirty alkaloid in chocolate, known as theobromine, gives cacao its energy and sensuality. Cacao also contains anandamine, which is known as the “bliss molecule.”  Sounds pretty good right? I partook in drinking cacao at a 2016 New Year’s party and I felt the divine flow of the chocolate potion. I took pleasure in moving my body on the dance floor and enjoyed diving into connected conversations with friends. I drank my cacao elixir around 9:30pm as instructed by Ketterle because the plant peeks 2-3 hours after consumption.

Where can I get cacao?
Firefly Chocolates sells 8oz and 16oz bags of their ceremonial cacao paste that you can use to make your very own heavenly cacao beverages. Combine 1oz of cacao paste, one cup of hot water and honey to taste (optional) in a blender and blend for 30 seconds to properly emulsify the cacao. Pour and enjoy!

Tip: Try using your favorite hot tea (such as rose) instead of just hot water to enhance your cacao experience.
Check out more recipe ideas.
Interested in attending a cacao ceremony? Ketterle facilitates heart-centered group and individual experience using his cacao.

Melomelo Kava Bar also serves up four sipping cacao beverages from Cacoco; my favorite is the “Fire Walker” which has 70% cacao, rhodiola root, reishi extract, habanero and mucuna seed.

Dandelion Chocolate on Valencia St. in San Francisco also has a cacao drink menu that contains a variety of hot, cold and mocha beverages. I enjoy the European drinking chocolate which is like a chocolate cake in a little cup.

Cheers! (Lila Volkas)


Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medicinal advice.

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