Good for a Smile: Kava and US Cafe Culture

Good for a smile!

Fiji roots, culture available at Cafe Culture

By Ben Mullin     Published: Wednesday, September 29, 2010. Source.

Parveen Ram, head chef at Cafe Culture, is getting back to her roots - chopped up finely and infused with a chai or colada kick.
Ram, who migrated to California from Fiji when she was 3 years old, has been a longtime connoisseur of an exotic drink from her native country, and she's decided to share it with Chico tomorrow night at Cafe Culture's inaugural Kava Kava Party.
"Kava kava is a mildly anesthetic drink made from a root that comes from Fiji," Ram said. "I've been around kava all my life and I wanted to bring it to Chico because no one else here serves it."
A concoction that is steeped in water with more than 1,000 years of traditional history, kava - or kava kava - has long been consumed by South Pacific Islanders because of the non-intoxicating, communal atmosphere that it creates.
"It's a social drink, kind of like the way that people drink alcohol here," Ram said. "You drink half a coconut shell, wait 15 minutes, hang out and then drink another shot to keep the buzz going."
This does not lead to loss of memory or impairment of motor reflexes, though it does have some interesting side effects, Ram said.
"Kava has a relaxing, calming effect," she said. "It numbs your lips a little bit and relaxes your muscles. If you drink about 10 coconut shells full of kava, you might even start to fall asleep."
Despite its mild mood-altering effects, there is no minimum age requirement to consume kava in the U.S.
At Thursday night's party, however, it will only be served to people who look old enough to be responsible for their own bodies, Ram said.
"There's no age limit, but we try to keep it over 18," she said. "We're not going to be serving it to kids who don't know what they're drinking."
The kava culinary celebration will kick off at 8 p.m. tomorrow night and will cost $10 for unlimited tastings of kava. The party will feature the world musical stylings of Greg Fletcher, who will be playing the ngoni, an instrument rarely seen in the U.S.
"The ngoni is a harp from West Africa," Fletcher said. "I discovered it while I was traveling around Africa studying drumming."
Partygoers will drink and socialize on traditional Fijian mats, circled around a central bowl containing the drink.
"In Fiji, they sit in circles and dip their bowls directly into the kava, but we're going to use a ladle in the interest of hygiene," Ram said.
Jillian Lotti, a seasoned kava consumer, has been drinking the beverage at Cafe Culture ever since she discovered it at the Mystic Garden Party, a music festival held in Manton, Calif., she said. Lotti described kava's flavor with furrowed brows, after a moment of consideration.
"It's a unique taste," Lotti said. "It's completely different from tea or any of the herbal drinks with lots of caffeine in them."
Lotti recommended the coconut-infused flavor for beginners because of its sweetness and commented on kava's effect on the drinker's mood.
"Kava is relaxing, but at the same time, it makes you very alert and aware of your surroundings," Lotti said. "It's healthy and probably more liver friendly then the other things Chico State students are drinking on the weekends."

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