Different Kava Strains and Kava Cultivars

Different Kava Strains and Kava Cultivars



The different strains and kava cultivars have appeared due to selective breeding and farming practices, and have different effects due to the chemical make up in them known as kavalactone content.

Kava has been grown and drank for thousands of years in the south Pacific. Throughout the Pacific islands the cultivation of kava has evolved over time as has the culture of drinking kava. Due to a number of factors including selective farming, somewhere along the way kava lost it's ability to naturally reproduce. The cultivation of kava requires "cloning" of the plant. In order to grow new kava, part of the stem from the mother plant must be planted in soil for a new kava plant to grow.

This practice is believed to have started in Vanuatu, the motherland of kava (and where our kava comes from). The different kava strains that resulted from this selective breeding are all distinctive varieties of kava, or kava cultivars. Most drink kava for one reason, and that is for the effects. Luckily the process of kava cloning worked in our favor. Certain kava cultivars are sought after for the unique effects they produce from strain to strain.

Also there are differences in kava product, such as micronized vs. instant vs. traditional. Check out our articles on the subject including instant kava: what it really means.

Noble Kava vs Tudei Kava

There are some kava strains that are referred to as "tudei kava", and some that are referred to as "wild" kava strains. These are not for common recreational use. Traditionally, tudei kava is reserved for medicinal use or religious ceremony. They typically have undesirable side effects for recreational use, and can last multiple days. Hence the name tudei (two-day).

The sought after kava strains are known as "noble kava". Noble kava strains have more desirable effects and are therefore what is most commonly sold (or supposed to be). Some farmers and vendors take advantage of the system and will sell tudei kava as noble kava, or even mix both as tudei kava often grows faster. Noble kava strains are not always as high in kavalactones so they must grow longer for the desired effect and kavalactone content. Mature noble kava plants make for the best experience drinking kava.

According to Vanuatu's legislation (Kava Act 2002) only noble kava cultivars can be legally exported from the islands in order to protect the country's kava export reputation. They take kava root very seriously, as do we. All of our kava comes from Vanuatu, and we are committed to only providing noble kava (see our About Us page). The fact that we source only single cultivars (one strain at a time) makes providing noble kava easier, as some blends on the online market have several different kava strains making it somewhat more of a task to keep up with testing. To test and make sure that they are noble kava strains, we use a method known as HPLC. HPLC & acetone testing not only determines if a kava is a noble kava or not, but provides an analysis of the kava chemotype and checks for adulteration of noble kava with tudei kava strains.

Kava Chemotype & Kavalactones

The effects of kava root are caused by the kavalactones, and determined by the unique "chemotype" of each of the kava cultivars. There are six types of kavalactones, and different kava cultivars (aka kava strains) have a different make up and amount of the kavalactones present. Each kavalactone produces different effects. The chemotype code is written in a series of digits starting with what kavalactone is the most prominent.

There are actually at least 18 kavalactones, but the six primary kavalactones listed in the chemotype of the kava strains is what is used to determine most of the expected effects.

For example, one of the well known kava strains that we offer is our "Creamsicle" Kelai Kava. (Yes, we just added the word creamsicle in the front on this batch because it was so smooth.) Moving on... the Kelai kava strain is revered for it's "heady" cerebral effect and is fast acting. It's chemotype code is 421365. Kavalactone #4, (kavain) is the most dominant so it appears at the front of the chemotype code, followed by #2 (dihydrokavain) and so on and so forth.

Tudei and wild kava root strains will often start with the digits 526 at the front of the chemotype. As mentioned before these kava strains can come with unwanted effects, such as lethargy and nausea. More sedative "muscle-melting" kava strains such as our "Midnight" Borogu kava will usually start with a #2 (dihydrokavain). Kava chemotype codes that begin with kavain, dihydrokavain and methysticin (#4,#2,#6) in the first three digits demonstrate better effect profiles. These are examples of noble kava chemotypes.

Confused yet? Don't worry you don't have to understand the science, we do that for you. All of our kava strains have the effects (and chemotype) listed below them on the product pages. Want some heavy night time kava? Want some heady day time kava? We've got you covered here.

To confuse you more here is a molecular chart of the six main kavalactones:


Heady vs Heavy Kava Varieties

Noble kava strains and their effects are typically divided into two categories. "Heavy kava" and "heady kava". Heavy strains typically produce more sedation, are more of a muscle relaxant, and are some of the strongest kava varieties kavalactone wise. Heady kava varieties on the other hand, produce cerebral uplifting mental effects. Some are even considered "stimulating" (were going to have to disagree on that in the energy sense, stimulating creativity perhaps).

All kava strains have mixed effects on both the mind and body, they usually just lean towards the "heavy" side or the "heady" side. Every single kava (even tudei or wild kava) has anti-nervousness, relaxing effects. These relaxing effects come with the kava plant and kavalactones in general. Whether you want a heavy or heady experience, it is really a individual choice.

Besides heady and heavy types of kava, there is what is known as "balanced" kava, the third effect profile described. Balanced means exactly what it sounds like. This is a combination of both. As we said earlier, all the types of kava have both heavy and heady effects, but tend to lean one way or another in our experience. Balanced kava types give you the best of both worlds and land somewhere in the middle, hence the term "balanced".

A lot depends on the individual and the amount of kava consumed. Some say balanced and heady kavas will become heavy in higher doses. We wouldn't argue.


There are many different kava strains and kava varieties all throughout the South Pacific. The different varieties of kava were created through selective breeding of noble kava plants to produce the desired effects. Over time, the most popular kava strains were reproduced more leading to some names even growing famous, and eventually the genetics making there way to other islands in the south Pacific. You can find significant differences in kava from Fiji vs. kava from Vanuatu.



Fijian kava is perhaps the most common of the varieties of kava on the market. Fijian kavas are known to be exceptionally smooth and less bitter. Kava root from Fiji is typically heady and light in flavor, though not as strong as Vanuatu or Solomon. The Fijian kava strains that are the most popular make up a huge portion of what is sold internationally. Kava is the national drink of Fiji, so it is to be assumed Fijian kava is something Fijian locals are very proud of.

Fijian kava is unique in the way it is sold in that they offer the "Waka" and "Lawena" varieties. The waka and lawena varieties of kava refer to the different parts of the kava root.

Lawena refers to kava made from the basal part of the root and stem. This part of the root is alot milder in taste, but is also milder in terms of the effects.

Waka refers to the lateral roots. These have more kavalactones and stronger effects, but a more bitter flavor.

Kasa is the third part of the plant used in Fiji kava blends sometimes. It is the cheapest and roughest fibrous part of the kava plant used. Sometimes it is unfortunately used as a sort of "cut" to increase profit margins in the kava industry. Kasa not only is bad tasting, it is weak in terms of potency and can have nausea side effects. If you have ever ordered medium grind kava and seen black specks in it, this is Kasa. Sadly it is pretty common (this is not unique to Fiji).

In places outside fiji, typically the blend is something along the lines of 70% Lateral root to 30% basal root. The waka root would just be too bitter on it's own.

Fijian kava, like most kava, is typically sold in blends of these different parts of the roots, as just the "Waka" by itself would be too bitter for most. Some kava vendors from Fiji will offer just lawena, but almost never straight waka (it is highly uncommon due to taste). Kava bars are also a popular attraction in Fiji.



Hawaiian kava is definitely interesting. Unfortunately a lot of Hawaiian kava culture has been lost. Recently, Hawaiian kava strains have become more and more popular in the North American kava market. Hawaiian kava is called Awa by the natives, and Hawaii has a rich history of kava drinking. Due to the sunny warm climate in Hawaii, it is an ideal location to grow the kava plant.

Often Fijian, Tongan or Samoan kava strains are grown and sold from Hawaii. Hawaiian kava is lighter and heady, but typically known to be less potent then Fiji Kava.



Tonga has an extremely rich history with kava and it is a major part of the culture. Many Tongan kava genetics have been used all throughout the kava market. The word "kava" actually comes from the Tongan word for "bitter".

As far as Tongan kava strains, there are usually two main types of kava. Huli, which means black- and Hina, which means white. The Huli kava strains are more bitter but harder hitting, however the Hina kava strains are the most sought after as far as Tongan Kava, and are the most expensive from the country. The huli (white) kava is typically light and cerebral. The genetics for these kava strains can be found in Fijian and Hawaiian kava as well as others. Most Tongan kava on the market is sold in blends and not individual strains.



Samoan kava drinking culture has been around for hundreds of years and kava is extremely popular in the country. So much so that very little Samoan kava is exported as most is consumed locally by the natives who drink kava. Samoans refer to kava as "ava". Samoan kava is typically light and heady or balanced.

Samoa is a smaller country in the pacific islands. Because of the geographical size, not much room is left to cultivate kava plants for export. Most Samoan kava on the market is sold as blends vs individual strains, and there are maybe 3 different prominent strains. Samoan culture includes long kava drinking sessions, for hours at a time. Samoan kava is typically not as strong as others, allowing for these longer kava sessions.



Papua New Guinea has kava drinking history but maybe not as much as the other islands. There are 3 main varieties of kava in Papua New Guinea, and not much genetic diversity between them. Unfortunately Papua New Guinea kavas are typically type F (Tudei, Isa or Wild Kava) and can cause unwanted effects such as nausea or diarrhea. Don't get us wrong, Papua New Guinean kava is strong- just expect to be sick with bad side effects the next day. For this reason it is hard to find kava products from Papua New Guinea.



Kava use is very popular in Micronesia. Because of the geography of Micronesia being numerous isolated islands, there are various names and cultivars all throughout the region. In Micronesia most of the kava strains on the market come from the island of Pohnpei. In Pohnpei kava is referred to as Sakau.

Micronesian kava varieties are typically heavier, and there is not much variety between cultivars despite the geographical diversity. Some micronesian kava is known to produce unwanted side effects the next day.



The Solomon Islands are known for producing some of the heaviest "body load" kavas. The effects of kava vary from strain to strain, but most all Solomon Island kava is on the heavy side. Most of the kava from the Solomon Islands is actually Vanuatu kava cultivars grown in the islands. Solomon kava is sold in blends consisting of two main kava cultivars: Temotu Purple and Isabel Feo. We do enjoy Solomon kava. If our business in Vanuatu fell apart, we would look to set up shop here. (We like heavy or balanced kava strains).



The kava culture of Vanuatu is perhaps the most prominent in all of Oceania. Vanuatu is believed to be the birth place of kava, before it spread throughout the south Pacific. Farming and harvesting the kava plant is one of the main industries in the Republic of Vanuatu. There are over 200 different varieties of kava here, and some world famous Vanuatu kava cultivars. As well as kava powder, kava bars are also popular in the islands, and are known as Nakamals.

Vanuatu kava is the most diverse genetically by far (perhaps because of how long it has been cultivated) with strains that are heavy, strains that are heady, and strains that are balanced.

Vanuatu kava strains include some of the hardest hitting heavy kavas available, as well as the most cerebral heady kava for use at kava bars. The rich volcanic soil in the island country, coupled with the weather and monetary incentives, help kava plants grown here reach mature age easier. The more mature kava plants, the higher kavalactone content typically.

There are numerous names for kava on different islands. Vanuatu kava is some of, if not the best, kava in the world. Most all of the strains in the country are exceptionally high in kavalactones and have very unique chemotypes. The exportation of kava and kava products is a huge industry in Vanuatu.

The cultural importance and widespread adoption of kava in Vanuatu allow us to provide single cultivars (one strain) as opposed to blends. This helps each product produce distinct effects. The exportation of kava and the kava plant is highly regulated in Vanuatu so only noble kava varieties are allowed to be exported. To see our favorite Vanuatu noble kava strains we carry, check out our products. Yes, we picked the very best.

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