I came home and sat on the couch. It was only about 4:30 in the afternoon, but I really didn’t feel like doing anything. I just experienced my first drink of kava and I was tired.

I tried to remember the conversation I had with my sister in the morning, when told her I was planning to check out a kava bar in my neighborhood.

“That sounds like fun,” she said. “I wonder if any of it will be like the wine you brought back from Barcelona.”

OK, that was a non sequitur. It took me some time to realize that she was talking about cava (sparkling Spanish wine).

My husband had a similar reaction when I mentioned that I was kava-curious. He cheerfully replied that his brother used to drink instant Kava back in the 70s. (He was talking about a classic brand of decaffeinated coffee .)

Auto-correct on my iPhone is also confused. It thinks I really want lava.

(Kava, lava, java… what difference does it really all make?)

What Exactly Is Kava?

My son was the one who originally told me about this new (to me) beverage. He drinks it regularly in Austin (where he lives), especially when he’s doing his “sober months.”

This is an activity (or lack of activity) which seems to be growing in popularity with his age group.

I can honestly say anyone who decides to stop drinking at my age does so permanently. We are past the “temporary” stage of quitting. You’re either all-in or all-out.

The drink is brewed from the root of a plant (Piper methysticum) that grows in the Pacific Islands. Kava means “bitter” in the Tongan language, and there’s truth in advertising there, because the beverage I drank was very bitter.

Polynesian cultures have imbibed kava for over 1,500 years as a medicinal and spiritual libation. It’s now being touted in western societies as a non-weed, non-alcoholic way to relax, mellow-out, and feel groovy.

Kava bars have long been a fixture in Hawaii, with the first one opened in the continental United States back in 2002. In the early 2000’s there was some concern about kava’s safety, such as possible liver damage.

It appears to have been found to be safe for most people, but I’m very cautious and strive to do everything in moderation. As with taking any drug or supplement the general rules apply: Do your homework first.

My Kava Bar Experience

An online search turned up two venues near my home where I could sample some kava. The first one was a hookah lounge, so I chose to go to the one that was strictly a kava bar. I drove there shortly after their 3:00 opening, bravely opened the door and walked in.

It had a low-light kind of ambiance, which I understand is not unusual, and the background music was unremarkable. It wasn’t classic rock, wasn’t jazz, not country or hip hop. I don’t know what it was, and it didn’t impress me.

However, the rest of the place did surprise me. It was actually kind of nice.

The room was dominated by a long, wood top bar with comfortable bar chairs, and it had maybe a dozen booths. There was a young guy behind the counter (who was the owner), and a younger guy behind the bar (who was an employee). Younger guided me to my first kava drink.

He handed me what appeared to be an 8-ounce serving, with the flavoring of my choice: Irish Cream – much like the creamer I use in my coffee. But this didn’t taste anything like coffee.

He told me to drink it fast, which I easily obliged to get it over with, because this stuff must be an acquired taste. Younger suggested I suck on a lime chaser to help with bitterness, but I think I’ll pass on that the next time.

He instructed me to sit and relax to get the full effect.

Within a minute or two, my mouth got numb, kind of like a Novocain feeling. (Eh, not sure that’s something I like.)

Young and Younger behind the bar assured me that was normal.

A couple of minutes later, I started to feel dizzy. Then really dizzy.

I told Younger and he said to drink water, since kava can be dehydrating. So, I got up and clumsily walked to the bar to get a cup of water and bring it back to my booth.

In the meantime, four also-younger guys had entered the joint and were sitting a couple of booths away. They were having a good time and were obvious regulars. A 20-something woman walked in for her regular order. It was about 4:00 in the afternoon and people were stopping in to relax and socialize after work – like what we used to call “happy hour.”

I think Young and Younger were a little worried about me. Without prompting, Young brought me a glass of tea, which he said would help me. I wasn’t feeling sick, but who knows what I looked like. I sipped the cold tea.

After about 45 minutes, I thanked them and walked out to my car.

And to be entirely honest, I’m not sure I should have driven. My mind was OK. I didn’t feel drunk or stoned or high. I hadn’t attained some cool alternative mindset (which would have been fantastic). My reflexes felt normal enough and the dizziness had passed. However, my head felt… heavy. It was a weird sensation.

When I got home, I sat on the couch, turned on the TV, and called my son.

“You should drink it slowly,” he said. That’s not what Young and Younger had advised.

I felt tired the rest of the evening, but unfortunately, that didn’t translate to better sleep that night. The effects of kava apparently wear off within 30-90 minutes.

I’m thinking I’m going to try it again. I’m not afraid of it, but as I am a lightweight with drugs, I’ll ask for a weaker brew.

If there’s a moral to this story, it’s “go slow.” Buyer beware, but don’t be afraid to try new things.

I was kind of proud of myself for doing something like this on my own. It’s been a while.