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Home / News / The Different Kava Strains and Why it Matters

The Different Kava Strains and Why it Matters

Diana Grace image

By Diana Grace

Published March 7, 2022

Did you know that pasta was not invented in Italy? Nope. The first form of pasta can be traced back to the Shang Dynasty in China. It is believed that the Chinese used either wheat or rice flour. 

Who'd thunk? Most of us just assume the Italians created pasta, right?!

As of today, there are over six hundred different shapes of pasta. Holy moly. That is a whole lotta shapes. In addition to that, there are more than fifty different types of pasta. 

Go to the grocery store and you’ll find your standard semolina pasta, whole wheat pasta, black bean pasta, chickpea pasta, and edamame pasta, to name a few. Do they all taste the same? Umm … negative ghost rider. 

And thanks to human ingenuity, those numbers are changing all the time. Who knows how many pasta variations there will be in the future?

This idea of variety can also be true for plants. Scientists and Mother Nature are all working to create new varieties of plant life on a regular basis. 

Lilies are a great example of this. There are over ninety different types of lilies. The beautiful variations come in tons of different colors, petal shapes, leaf shapes, and scents.

But what about plants that are used to make foods or beverages? What about the amazing kava plant? Every single variety of kava comes from the exact same plant, piper methysticum. 

You may think there are only two strains of kava, but you would be wrong. You are correct in thinking there are two main types of kava, tudei and noble. But the truth is that there are several different cultivars, a.k.a strains, of kava. And every one of the strains has subtle variations.

Kava Strains Explained

A strain can also be referred to as a cultivar. By definition, a strain is a genetic variant within a species. Each strain is developed by the process of humans or animals participating in selective breeding.

The process of breeding plants involves joining plants that have desirable traits and getting rid of the plants that aren’t producing traits we want. After several generations of the plant being shaped to our will, we can finally get the results we are looking for, think sweeter corn, more durable plant life.

Kava isn’t modified through its seeds or flowers like many other plants because it doesn’t come with seeds or flowers. Kava’s propagation can only happen using its roots. 

That doesn’t seem right for modifying, does it? You start with the same plant and end with the same plant. So how can kava be made into the most desirable plants? The answer is: time and patience followed by more time and patience.

Kava growers test the properties of their plants by drinking it fresh. For the plants that do not achieve an effect the farmer wants, then that plant is trashed. Through the process of elimination, the bad kava is thrown out.

Because this process has been happening for generations, the farmers have been able to literally weed out the good from the bad. This also means that the level of kavalactones present varies greatly. 

The kavalactones are directly responsible for the effects of the kava. It could leave you feeling heavy, intoxicated, sedated, or mentally focused, light-hearted, and euphoric.

Kava Strains Categorized

Kava can be organized by its origin, the way it looks, or its chemotype. Origin is the easiest and most basic way to categorize kava. Kava is found in the islands of the South Pacific, or an area known as Oceania.

There are eight points of origin for kava. Every island’s kava has different properties.

  • Hawaii
  • Tonga
  • Vanuatu
  • Fiji
  • Samoa
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Micronesia
  • French Polynesia

Chemotype is all about the chemical makeup of kava plants. The main active chemicals of kava plants are the kavalactones. Although there are quite a few, six kavalactones are responsible for most of the effects. When you research kava, you want to be familiar with kavalactones. 

Six Main Kavalactones:

  1. Methysticin (M)
  2. Dihydromethysticin (DHM)
  3. Yangonin (Y)
  4. Desmethoxyyangonin (DMY)
  5. Kavain (K)
  6. Dihydrokavain (DKM)

When a chemocode is known, it can then be grouped together with other similar strains. That becomes their chemocode group. Same groups = Same effects. 

Why Does Knowing Your Kava Matter?

This may seem like it isn’t a big deal. But if you are drinking kava for a specific purpose, then it definitely matters. The cultivars are divided into Groups A through I. 

Groups A, B, C, & D are not a great choice for drinking. They come from the strains of Piper wichmanii, also known as wild kava. These strains of kava are the ones that give kava a bad rap because they come with unpleasant side effects. 

Groups E and F have major levels of DHM and DHK, which also means unwanted psychoactive effects. These groups are made up of strains from Piper methysticum.

Groups G, H, & I are where it’s at! These kava groups are the ones that will give you the best effects. So, when you drink kava, these are the groups you should look for.

The best kava is going to be noble kava that helps you to focus your mind while relaxing your body and reducing your anxiety symptoms. You will feel less inhibited and in total control of yourself when you’re drinking high-quality noble kava and using it properly.

You may find that many online kava sales have combined numerous groups of kava into a blend. The blends may be inconsistent and that gives inconsistent results to the user. So, you may want to avoid kava powders containing various strains of kava.

There are also going to be single-strain kava powders. Look for specific kava powder from individual islands. Trying different single-strain cultivars can be a decent option for determining which kava gives you the best effect.   

Noble Kava vs. Tudei Kava

Tudei aptly means “two-day” because the effects can linger for a good forty-eight hours. This is not a good thing … unless you need to feel fuzzy and sedated for a couple of days because you’re planning to be in bed and not function.

High concentrations of DHK and DHM can be found in tudei kava. These babies make you feel a bit trapped in a drunken state. It may make you feel perpetually nauseated, lethargic, lazy, and have a monster headache during the two-day period. 

On the other hand, we have noble kavas. Noble kavas come with a much lighter level of DHK and DHM and a heavy concentration of kavain. Because of this magical combination, noble kava can be enjoyed every single day. 

Noble kava shouldn’t make you feel like walking drunk. Noble kava helps to keep you mentally focused, relaxed, and free from annoying side effects.

The Long and the Short of It!

Before we tell you all about the various strains of kava available throughout the Pacific Islands, we’re going to cut to the chase. 

Always choose high-quality noble kava from a trustworthy source. Calming Co. is a reliable source for drinking kava and reaping the benefits. We have already done the due diligence.

You can enjoy our kava without worrying about any unwanted side effects. Our Calming Tonic is made up of clinically-tested ingredients that will result in the perfect state of zen. 

Kava Strains by Origin

Hawaiian Kava Strains

Hawaii is full of rich cultural experiences and traditions. Just attend a luau and you’ll know! Unfortunately, these traditions as they relate to kava have been lost over the years.  

The Hawaiian Islands are the perfect place to grow kava. So, many different cultivars can be found there, including Tongan, Samoan, Fijian, and Vanuatu kavas. But those aren’t original to the island.

The Puna district is the one place left on the island where the original strains of its kava are still being cultivated. This Awa (the Hawaiian word for kava) is usually weaker and more bitter than some of the other kava strains. The kava grown in the Puna district is better consumed at bedtime. Just know that if you go this route, you may have some rather colorful dreams!

Hiwa kava is the most common Hawaiian kava. Once upon a time, this cultivar was used by the village chiefs. The chiefs preferred this kava because they could indulge for hours without the drunk feeling.

Ikaika is the heaviest kava from the original strains of Hawaiian kava. Prepare to get sleepy if you drink this kava. It also has a shorter shelf-life but tastes better than the other Hawaiian strains of kava.

Kumakua kava doesn’t have a whole lot of research available. The chemotype is unknown and the kavalactone content is untested.

Mahakea kava has long internodes with a telltale reddish color on the nodes.

Awa Mamaka can be found on the beautiful island of Kauai. Nobody seems to be selling this particular cultivar.

Mo-oula kava can be found growing near the Mo’oula falls on the island of Moloka’i. It is a creamy kava that leans toward a more balanced, slightly heady kava. 

Mo-i kava is a heady kava. It is best drunk during the day and works great for studying or working. This is perfect for getting those creative juices flowing. This is a white kava which means it’s the most desirable and valuable in Hawaii. 

Nene kava is a balanced kava. It comes with an average potency and tends to sit on the heady side of the pendulum.

Pana’ewa kava is similar to nene in its effects. The flavor is smooth and less chalky than other Hawaiian strains.

Papa Ele’ele is one of the oldest strains of kava in Hawaii. On the surface, this purple-ish plant looks very strong … but a strong wind can knock it right down!

Papa Kea is another papa strain of kava. It resembles papa ele’ele, only a lighter green. We don’t know much about it. One thing we do know is that it is one of the only strains to produce flowers. It’s pretty darn strong for a Hawaiian kava.

Tongan Kava Strains

The island of Tonga has been celebrating with kava for many generations. The word “kava” is derived directly from the Tongan word for “bitter.” Yep, kava is definitely bitter!

Tongan cultivars are usually black or white, are thought of as having the best flavor, and are very slow-growing. 

Hina Akau kava is slow-growing, white kava. It has been classified as tudei and noble kava and tends to be heavy and strong.

Huli Akau is very similar to hina akau, but is much darker in color with a purple appearance. The DHK is higher in the kava.

Lau Fulufulu is popular among the locals but very hard to get if you don’t live in Tonga. It has fine roots that are known for having excellent taste and effect. It’s pretty hard to find this kava being sold.

Leka Huli is mellow kava with a high kavain content. It’s definitely one that can be enjoyed throughout the day.

Pouini Ono is also known as Ata. It is a very popular Tongan strain because it is perfect for social drinking. 

Vanuatu Kava Strains

The best kava might just have originated on the islands of Vanuatu. Piper metysticum plant was probably first grown on this Pacific island before spreading to the others. But nobody knows for sure!

Given that there are 83 islands that form Vanuatu, there are a variety of kava strains growing. As of today, there are nearly 250 different kava cultivars throughout Vanuatu.  

Apin kava is balanced kava with a high concentration of DHK and DHM, as well as M. The presence of all three is what balances this extremely strong kava strain.

Bir Kar kava is a rare cultivar of heady kava that comes on fast and furious. It’s unique in that it is very heady and also relaxes the muscles.

Borogu kava is unforgettably bitter and balanced kava with shallow roots.

Borogu Temit kava is considered to be the more premium version of borogu kava because it is lighter in color, tastes better, and delivers better effects.

Borogu Tememe kava is red kava with strong sedative properties and is a sister plant of borogu kava.

Borongoru kava can be characterized by low DHM and high kavain content. So it's very heavy with the added benefit of stress reduction and light euphoria. 

Eva kava has similar properties to borongu as a balanced strain of kava. Eva is high in kavain and DHK, making it great for encouraging creativity.

Kau kava is one to “just say no” to. Avoid this strain of piper wichmanii, or you can expect to endure horrible taste, nausea, drunkenness, and dizziness for a couple of days.

Kelai kava is heady kava that is in high demand but hard to find. Kelai kava is thought of as one of the best kava cultivars in the entire world.

Malogro kava is another one to stay away from because it’s a tudei kava. Locals use this particular kava for medicinal purposes.

Melo Melo kava comes with a mild, balanced effect. You can drink this kava without worrying it will be too strong. 

Meltolei kava is a bit of a mystery. We only know it has major anxiolytic properties.

Nakasara kava is another strain used only for medicinal purposes. It’s very strong and extremely heavy. You should not use this kava on your own.

Namabawan kava is similar to both boorogu and eva kavas. Some consider it heavy, while others think of it as more balanced.

Nangol kava gives you mild psychotropic effects while producing mental focus, encouraging creativity, and relieving symptoms of anxiety.

Ono kava encourages relaxation without being too heavy. 

Paama kava has a very heady and social component to it.

Palarasul kava brings really great mental clarity to its users. You’ll be extremely lucky if you can get your hands on this because the locals usually drink it all up!

Palisi kava is composed of high DHK and DMY content, delivering major psychoactive effects. This kava tends to be very overpowering.

Pie kava delivers a deep sense of euphoria to its users. 

Pirimerei kava is similar to borogu kava, but is mostly used locally for pain management.

Poua kava will be solely used for local ceremonial use. If you happen to find it, snag it up because it is top-notch kava.

Rong Rong Wul kava comes with its own little folklore story which makes it intriguing. It grows quickly and legend says it must be planted on the night of a full moon.

Taangurlava kava is heavy wild kava and is a strain of piper wichmanii.

Tabal kava is one of the kava giants growing four to five meters in height. You might see it used as a windbreak!

Tchap kava is a high-quality noble kava cultivar rich in kavain and methysticin, making it a premium heady kava. It’s a very chill kava.

Vambu kava is wild kava also known as stone kava.

Yag kava is also called tuan and visual kava. Little is known about it.

Yevoet kava has strong sedative properties. It is mainly used for medicinal purposes.

Fijian Kava Strains

Should you have the pleasure of traveling to Fiji, don’t ask for kava. The locals call their creamy kava, Yaqona. Fiji has a unique process for their roots because they separate the lateral from the basal root. 

In Fiji, there are three types of kava: kasa, lawena, and waka. Each of them is made from different parts of the root system. 

Dokabana Vula kava is heady kava that is highly valued and rare. You can only find it on the island of Kadavu in Fiji.

Honolulu kava is balanced kava and is great for drinking during the day. 

Loa Kasa Leka kava is another balanced kava that grows well alongside other crops.

Loa Kasa Balavu kava isn’t considered very valuable kava and is mostly used as a windbreak around other crops.

Loa Lawena kava is made from basal roots and is liked for its creamy taste.

Loa Waka kava doesn’t taste too great, is a cheaper plant, and produces a strong psychoactive response. 

Matakaro Balavu kava is balanced kava with dark purple spots. 

Matakaro Leka kava also has dark purple spots with a more sedative effect than matakaro balvu.

Qila Balavu kava grows on the Bay of Islands and produces a heady effect.

Qila Leka kava is heady kava that grows on Vanua Balavu.

Taveuni Waka kava is a common strain of balanced kava that is widely grown.

Vula Kasa Balavu kava is a tall plant that gives its users a heady effect and serves as a fantastic windbreak.

Vula Kasa Leka kava is cheaper kava to buy because it’s full of more fibers and is not strong.

Vula Waka kava is considered to be one of the more high-quality kava plants.

Samoan Kava Strains

The Samoan people truly love their kava. It is a part of their everyday culture. Unfortunately, they don’t have a ton of space to grow kava on their tiny island.

Combine the fact that they drink a lot of kava with a lack of space to grow it and you will find that they’re not really selling kava to the rest of the world. That’s sad for us because it has a creamy, cashew-like flavor.

Ava Lea kava contains a high kavain content, making it good for daily use because it leaves you mentally focused. 

Ava Mumu has been around for a long time in Samoa. There is very little known about this rare kava.

Ava Sa has been traditionally reserved for ceremonial purposes, delivering a heady feeling to its users.

Ava Talo is pretty hard to find, but when you do, you can expect a good combination of deep relaxation and mental clarity.

Papua New Guinea Kava Strains

The natives of Papua New Guinea refer to kava as tigwa. This is not the island for choosing a safe kava. Almost all of the tigwa is tudei. If you want to sleep … and feel sleepy for a couple of days, this is the place!

Borosak kava should be avoided because it has little kavain and a whole lot of DHK, DHM, and methysticin. This one just makes you lethargic.

Bundun kava is another kava not meant for healthy consumption. It may cause even more lethargy than borosak.

Isa kava has a very rich kavalactone content, making it very strong. You cannot drink this kava and expect to get any work done or to carry on a productive conversation!

Kuraka kava grows very quickly, like most of the tudei kavas. Again, avoid tudei kava. 

Sipaia kava will have you feeling like you’re on a bad drug trip with some lovely nausea and bloating. 

Waild Koniak kava is a very strong wild strain of tudei kava. It hits you really hard. 

Microniesian Kava Strains

Micronesia consists of hundreds and hundreds of islands. As you can imagine, there is a whole lot of kava found throughout the islands, but they don’t really vary too much.

Rahmed kava was reserved for the village chief and is known to be very strong.

Rahmwanger kava can be consumed daily. It’s heavy, but not so heavy to keep people from drinking it.

French Polynesia Kava Strains

French Polynesia is composed of tiny islands and contains a little island you may have heard of … Tahiti. The islands are spread out quite a bit. That makes for quite a difference between the strains of kava grown here.

Fatua’a kava is a highly desired strain of kava because it produces amazing effects without the nasty side effects.

Papeno’o kava comes with a much heavier effect for its users.

And there you have it. Now you know all about the various strains of kava!