By Erin Detzler
“Shells up – BULA!”
Take one step into Ohana Coffee Kava and Tea and there’s a good chance you’ll hear this cheerful exclamation during your visit. Traditionally this exultation is used in a celebratory way; it’s the Fijian expression for “To good health and good life.”
Benefits of Kava
Now you might have some questions running through your mind at this moment, such as: “What exactly is this “Kava” anyway?” or “Is this tea you speak of some kind of “special” brew?” You want to know what makes these beverages stand out from the rest, so here are some answers. “Kava” or “Kava Kava” is a product of Piper methysticum, a plant from the nightshade family found in the Pacific Islands. Traditionally, Kava is consumed in cultural and religious celebrations for the purpose of relaxation, stress-relief and a sense of euphoria. The plant itself is green in color and heart-shaped, with stringy wooden stems. The root of the plant is typically ground to a paste like consistency and mixed with another liquid such as water. Kava can also be taken orally in the form of a tablet. Taking a look inside, the active ingredients in kava are “kavalactones” which make up for three to 20 percent of the plant’s dry weight (Gavin Van De Walle). Certain studies present evidence that kavalactones may have beneficial effects on the human body. Among these are reduced symptoms of anxiety, chronic pain, and some protection from neural damage (Kava Kava: Benefits, Side Effects and Dosage). These effects seem to come from the way in which kavalactones interact with neurotransmitters in the brain. Gamma-aminobutric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter that decreases nerve activity which may explain the anxiety reducing effect of kava.
Benefits of Kratom
Most kava bars also serve botanical teas, sometimes referred to as Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa). The plant, a tropical evergreen from the coffee family, hails from South Asia and can be found in places like Thailand and Malaysia. Kratom is composed of the active ingredients “mitragynine” and “7-hydroxymitragynine,” two alkaloids capable of producing anti-inflammatory, muscle-relaxing, and pain-relieving effects (Cara J. Stevens). Kratom leaves are dried, crushed and in most cases brewed as a tea. There are three main strains of kratom- red, green and white. Each variety has a different effect on the body and mind. Red provides pain relief for many and may work well as a natural sedative for those afflicted with insomnia. The green strain on the other hand may give the consumer feelings of increased euphoria and alertness. This strain might be of particular benefit to individuals suffering from social or generalized anxiety. “Green veins are popular during recreational activities such as a night out in town. Green vein kratom makes you more talkative, friendly and cheerful (“Kratom Strains and their different colors, Red, White or Green?” 2019).” Lastly, the white vein of kratom has a stimulant type of effect on its’ drinker. “Many have come to take white kratom for increased concentration, motivation and stamina during long working days (“Kratom Strains and their different colors, Red, White or Green?” 2019).” Depending on the size of dosage, kratom may have sedatory (larger dose) and/or stimulating effects (smaller dose) resulting in feelings of alertness, euphoria, and more ease in socializing.
Explosion of Kava bars in the Tampa Bay Area
Although people have been consuming kava and kratom for quite some time, kava bars are a fairly new trend in the United States and Tampa Bay area. It seems as if new bars are popping up every day. Bars that serve kava, tea, and other beverages not only provide a relaxing atmosphere to unwind with a drink, they also boast a stellar community space perfect for meeting new friends, creating art, and making music. I began visiting one of these bars in the fall of last year. I quickly became a regular at Ohana Coffee Kava and Tea after a friend took me for a visit.
My experience at Ohana
Ohana Coffee Kava and Tea is a quaint café located in Largo, Florida. They officially opened September 1, 2018. Though they are stationed in a seemingly low-traffic area, there’s no shortage of customers and I would go as far to say that most of the customers are regulars who easily frequent the bar once or twice per week. I sat down with Jeremy Dolan, one of Ohana’s three partners and asked for more information on kava, kratom, and the business as a whole. He revealed that he had struggled with alcohol addiction in his past and is now six years sober. When asked to identify the ultimate goal of Ohana, he said it was to “Provide a safe and fun environment for people wishing to better their lives.” I was curious about what he thought set Ohana apart from other places that also serve kava. He said they wanted to be unique in terms of atmosphere and offer coffee as well as other baked goods to their customers. Another important note that he touched on was that Ohana is LGBT friendly and welcomes people from all walks of life. I thought this aspect of the interview was special to note and it is incredibly true. I feel extremely welcome in Ohana every time that I visit because of both the atmosphere and staff behind the bar. Everyone always has a smile on their face and it is obvious that they are educated on the product, ready to answer questions from newcomers to the kava scene and are working there because they truly enjoy what they do.
A few words from behind the bar
After frequenting Ohana enough times, I quickly got to know many of the bartenders on a personal level. I wanted to know more about their history with the bar- how they got started there, what they enjoyed most about their job as well as how they would introduce kava and botanical beverages to newcomers. Kay Kennedy got her start working at Ohana through a mutual friend, Jeremy Dolan, one of Ohana’s three owners. Kay told me she and Jeremy were partners in both web development and remote marketing, before she gained employment at Ohana. As a marketing professional, Kay currently provides services for yet another kava bar in Tampa Bay. She was curious what being behind the bar was like; she felt that it would help her market the product better. When I asked her what she enjoyed most about her job, she said it was meeting so many new people. “I love making someone’s day and as a bartender it is my responsibility to make sure everyone is taken care of and happy!” She told me the atmosphere of the café depends on the bartender working. Overall, she said “Ohana makes me feel at home. Ohana does mean family, right?” Kay expressed to me that she feels blessed with the ability to educate others on more natural pain relief methods as an alternative to substances like alcohol that can take quite a toll on the body. “I always approach the education of kava kindly, but honestly.” I spoke with another bartender, Michael Bellmore, a very new addition to the crew. Michael began working at Ohana by getting to know the owners and the team. He told me that he “went the extra mile for customers by greeting them and suggesting his favorite products.” He disclosed to me that he loves working there because of the ability to chat with friends and work simultaneously. Michael summed Ohana up in three words, “chill, relaxing, and happy.” He’d recommend Ohana to anyone searching for the sober side of night life. Michael said that everyone who comes to Ohana is helpful and loving, just like one big family.
So, what does the future hold?
When I asked Jeremy about possible future plans for Ohana, he told me they’d like to eventually open up four or five new bars, mentioning Tampa, Orlando, and West Palm Beach as prospective locations. On March 2, 2019 Ohana attended the “Awakening into the Sun” festival held at South Straub park in downtown St. Petersburg (see photo above). They were busy educating visitors on the benefits of kratom and kava on a beautiful spring day, serving tea left and right. The festival, featured yoga, health foods, and products made from natural materials. It seemed like the perfect place for Ohana to gain more exposure as a business. Jeremy said Ohana would like to attend more events like this one in the future, such as St. Petersburg’s “Reggae Rise-up” a three-day annual music festival in March.