Many new kava users are very confused by the great variety of kava types, strains and forms and often need to spend hours online trying to figure out which kava to try. We've decided to write this quick article to sum up some of the basic info on the differences between various kavas available on the market.
Do a bit of research (yea, we know that we always say this, but we cannot emphasise this point enough - it is important to know to what expect from kava, how it works etc before even thinking about trying it).
Your quick research should tell you that while all kavas are relaxing and generally bitter-tasting, some kavas are more sedative, others more euphoric, some kavas are mild-tasting, others are very bitter, etc.
2. Drink noble kava only. As noted by Garry Stoner "Several types of kava are defined by the Islanders, but the primary groups are “daily use” and “two day”. Daily use kava is just as its name implies, a type of kava that is considered safe and desirable for daily use. Two day kava is so named because it produces undesirable effects that last for two days, including acute nausea, lethargy, and a hangover similar to that caused by overuse of alcohol. Though two day kava is sometimes used for ceremonial or medicinal purposes, daily use, or "noble" kava is the only type of kava consumed by Pacific Islanders on a routine basis." In the recent years several vendors have been (concsiouly or not) selling the so-called tudei kavas or tudei-spiked noble kavas. Why would they do that? First of all, tudei kavas grow much faster, are resistant to pests and are much cheaper than proper, noble kavas. Second, many of these kavas can appear as "stronger" than cheap noble kavas. Note that this doesn't mean that they are as pleasant as noble kavas. Far from it - they are known to be very heavy, unpleasant and likely to produce side-effects. However, unlike cheap, poorly stored, weak noble kavas, these cheap tudei kavas appear to do "something" which is likely to impress new customers who won't be able to complain that their kava was totally ineffective.
Note that the export of non-noble kava from Vanuatu is officially illegal (with other Pacific countries preparing to introduce a similar ban) due to the concerns that their spread can damage kava's reputation. Still, this ban often gets ignored and we often see tudei or tudei-mixed kavas openly sold around New Zealand.
3. Kava types.
While all kavas are relaxing, they are not the same. Depending on their chemotype (read our "About Kava" section), they can be either more dreamy, sedating or more euphoring, uplifting. It is important to know this when you purchase your kava as different people drink kava for different reasons. E.g. those who look for a "night-time kava", should avoid very heady varieties that are fantastic for social gatherings or for relaxing during the day/early evening, but not so great if you want to go to bed straight after your kava session.
4. Kava forms.
There are three basic kava forms: traditional, instant and micronised. The first form is simply the kava root (dried or fresh) that is ground into a relatively fine powder and that has to be strained through a straining cloth prior to consumption. It's the most "authentic" and time consuming form of kava. But it's also the most affordable and popular option. Proper instant kavas are made through dehydating fresh kava beverage. They offer great potency, smoothness and convenience but are also quite pricy. Micronised kavas (note that some vendors advertise their micronised kavas as "instant" as these are generally known to be more expensive and better - try to do some research to make sure you get what you think you are paying for) are something between traditional and instant as they are made by grinding traditional powder into a very, very fine powder, which is easier to drink without any straining. Note that most vendors' micronised kavas contain all parts of the roots. This means that you effectively end up consuming both kavalactone resins, soft root mass and coarse fibres, which, in larger quantities, can cause quite a bit of nausea. Good micronised kavas are free of these coarse fibres and much easier to drink (albeit can still cause a bit of nause due to the general effects of kavalactones).
5. Kava price. While it is possible to get good and cheap kava (e.g. directly from a farmer on a remote island or through family connections), generally speaking, high quality, noble and properly processed kava is more expensive than standard, "mystery" or "dairy" kava. But the difference in price to quality ratio doesn't have to be significant as properly farmed, processed and stored kavas tend to be much stronger their veggie store alternatives. So while 1kg of "mystery kava" from a local dairy can seem very cheap, its potency can be very low (due to poor farming or processing) which means you need to use at least 2-3 times as much powder as if you buy properly farmed, strong kava (6-12%). Furthermore, cheap kavas can often be cut with all kinds of adulterants (e.g. flour, other plants, sawdust) or poorly cleaned (to keep the weight higher) which makes them not just weak, but also capable of causing adverse reactions without any pleasant effects. It can therefore be said that cheaper kavas are not always really cheap when one takes into account the actual experience and effects offered by different kavas at different price points.