Joy Juice

"We just want to take the edge off."

No selfie control: Taja captures the moment
  • No selfie control: Taja captures the moment

“Two claps!” says Tysheen. “Now, shout it out.”


“OK. Gulp it down in one. And, one more clap!”



This is kava-drinking in City Heights. Boy. Have to say. It’s ceremonial and it’s fun. Only problem? The kava tastes like an old towel smells.

“Don’t worry,” says Tysheen. “This is going to help you relax. You’ll feel serene. It’ll benefit your insomnia, depression, pain, UTI, digestive problems. We just want to take the edge off. Give it time.”

Tysheen’s kava place at 3675 University Avenue

Tysheen’s kava place at 3675 University Avenue

Taja and I sit for a moment, like your proverbial stunned oxen. I’ve just met Taja. She came in after me, and started taking a selfie, which is funny, because she’s wearing a black tee shirt that says, “No Selfie Control.” She’s a new mom. Well, she has a couple of teens, but she’s just started again with young Alieyha, who’s one year old.

And like me, Taja’s a first-timer in the world of kava. Kava’s the squashed-out sap of the piper methysticum (“intoxicating pepper”) tropical plant that’s been drunk forever through the Pacific Islands as a kind of worry-targeting joy juice.

Each bowl of kava comes with a chunk of orange, to freshen up your mouth

Each bowl of kava comes with a chunk of orange, to freshen up your mouth

I walked into this Sunset Wellness Bar, partly because I’m curious about kava. It’s not like booze, or pot, and yet it seems to be a mood enhancer. Experts agree, it’s for real. It is “more effective than placebo at treating short-term anxiety,” says one respected group, Cochrane Systematic Review.

Also, the World Health Organization says this drink has “an acceptably low level of health risk” regarding such worries as liver toxicity.

So it works, and it’s pretty safe. No wonder kava bars are starting to sprout on this side of the Pacific. And it’s not just us: What started off in places such as Vanuatu and Fiji is now being drunk in places such as France and India. There’s a worldwide kava thing going on.

Sunset Wellness Bar

3675 University Avenue, City Heights

“I stumbled on the magical kava place, ‘Mystic Water,’” says Tysheen, when I ask how she got into it, “and I said, ‘This place is weird.’ But I like weird. So I went to work for them. Then I saw this location on Craigslist. It took two years to make it happen. I opened in March. It’s a space where people can come, let go, meet, and still be a part of the community.”

What’s astonishing is that the authorities haven’t made these guys run through hoops on what is definitely a psycho-active drug.

“It’s even more active when women and children chew the stalks and spit the liquid into a bowl,” Tysheen says. “They say the mixing of the kava juice with saliva extracts the active ingredients and makes them more effective. Right now I just squeeze it and filter it. But I could always spit.”

Taja’s face says, ‘No way.” Tysheen’s kidding, I think. Meantime, I have to know before the next round:

“What does ‘Bula!’ mean?”

“It’s Fijian for “Aloha!” Tysheen says. “Means ‘Greetings!’ and ‘Love!’”

She’s ladling more kava from the bowl.

“Now,” she says. “Let’s practice: Two claps! And shout it out.”


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I've never tried kava, even though there's a kava bar nearby in Hillcrest. WebMD advises it can interact with other medications, so you should check with your doctor before using it. There have been reports of liver damage, too. So I suggest being cautious before drinking that stuff. P.T. Barnum was right.

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