Dumpling Duo: We put the the kava tea hype to the test

In Food, Lifestyle
illustration of brandon, amy, tracy, hannah, kristina and evan at Kavasutra
(Dalia Quiroz / Daily Titan)

The subway screeched to a halt as cold wanderers waited for its arrival. It was just past 1 a.m. when we boarded, buzzing with excitement and bellies full of greasy pizza.

Accompanied by Daily Titan news editor and copy editor Amy Wells and Kristina Garcia, we hopped on the subway one last time. Our flight home from New York was the next day, and we planned to make the most out of every second.

Headed to East Village in a nearly empty subway, we wondered what the end of our night would look like. Our destination: KavaSutra.

KavaSutra, suggested to us by Amy during our pre-New York research, is a kava tea bar, which has been starting to pop up throughout the nation. Kava is a root-brewed tea and found in South-Pacific islands of the world. Drinking kava tea is supposed to elicit feelings of elation and relaxation and, essentially, get people high in a completely legal way.

“Kava is a cool experience because it basically eases your body, relaxes the mind, without any of the weigh down of a substance like alcohol,” said Evan Kuzma, our bartender at KavaSutra.

We crammed into the tiny bar, a dim but warm refuge from the cold. We took our seats along the bar, saving one for the other news editor Brandon Pho, who would be unsurprisingly arriving late.

The atmosphere of the bar reminded us of a tiki bar. The bartenders matched the vibe with their Hawaiian shirts. They were friendly and helpful because it was our group’s first time trying kava. We chatted among ourselves and with the bartender. The music that was playing fit the Hawaiian tiki bar-esque vibe of the place. One song that stood out to us was “Sweet to Me” by Summer Salt. To this day, since our trip in March, we still listen to the song to help remind ourselves of the trip.

Being new to the experience and unsure of what to expect, we turned to Evan for suggestions. His vague description of flavors left us confused, so we settled on that night’s special, a triple Funk Nasty Kava.

Amy ordered first. To our surprise, she wasn’t handed a steaming (or iced) cup of relaxing tea. Rather, the bartender placed a metal bowl full of murky, milky water with a pineapple slice on the edge. Before she could touch her drink, he told us to drink the tea as fast as we could.

From a few stools down, a roar of commentary from the loud and excited regulars flooded us after we asked why. Some warned us of taking too long to drink it, and others prompted us to sip it slowly with a devilish tone.

“A big misconception people have about kava is that it tastes great. I certainly don’t want people to have that misconception,” Evan said.

With shifting eyes, we watched Amy take the first sip. Her mild reaction left us scrambling for clues. What had we gotten ourselves into?

The rest of us followed suit and ordered. Our drinks were placed in front of us, one after the other, and we were forced to commit.

The first sip tasted like a punch in the face, but instead of a fist it was a dirt clod. Once downed, the tea seemed to try to claw its way back up (for some of us), but we managed to subdue it.

The taste is almost indescribable. It was bitter and herby, and the brown sandy color of the tea threw us off. The taste was nothing like we would’ve imagined it to be.

The flavor was reminiscent of old Asian root remedies, bringing up memories of some of our moms brewing it up for an anything-cure, which is why the taste of the kava was not too replusing for some of us to continue drinking.

The pineapple was a nice touch to chase the kava tea but the small sliver of it was not enough to mask the horrendous flavor, not to mention the pineapple was nearly tasteless.

Showing up fashionably late, Brandon finally arrived. Excited for the kava and to finally feel happy, he ordered the same drink as the rest of the group. Fighting back a grimace, he pretended like it wasn’t “too bad.”

After finishing our drinks as fast as possible, as per our bartender’s recommendation, we spent a good while there to see if the effects of the kava would hit us. We ended up just talking to each other and reminiscing about our New York adventures.

Approaching 2 a.m., when the bar was supposed to close, the bartender encouraged us to order another round. Amy, feeling adventurous, ordered another round of shots all around. Eyes widened at the horror of drinking kava again, we feigned courage and obliged.

Our bartender served us the dreaded silver bowl, with a much smaller amount of kava tea since it was only a single shot. We downed the tea as quickly as possible so the taste wouldn’t linger in our mouths.

Winding down, the tea bar was preparing to close. We stayed over an hour past its closing time, finally trailing out around 3 a.m., lucky the bartenders didn’t toss us out earlier. We all dug deep into our pockets to pay our respective bills, and even deeper to tip Evan. Some of us went overboard (like Kristina’s generous $10).

We took an Uber home, too tired to figure out Google Maps and which subway to take back to our hotel.

Despite tingly lips and throats, we all agreed the kava didn’t elevate our moods and we denied feeling anything, though our loud chattering and giggles said otherwise.

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