Taki MaiTaki Mai

By Zane Yoshida

Are You Trendy Enough For Kava?

We’re proud to report that Taki Mai made its way into a feature story in the New York Times last week – our first appearance in a major U.S. newspaper.

Under the title Counting on the Trendy to Revive Kava, a Traditional Drink, freelance journalist Serena Solomon talks about the modernization of kava and how governments and others are working to revive the industry by helping kava appeal to a younger, western audience.

Kava has been featured on many regional U.S. news sites in the past few years, due mainly to the increasing numbers of kava bars opening up across the country. But this article is the first to our knowledge to specifically look at the direction of the industry as a whole.

The article is quick to reference the “wave of trendy bars in places like Brooklyn and Berkeley, Calif,” and mentions that there are around 100 kava bars now open across the country – three times the amount open five years ago.

Solomon points out that the journey for kava starts with hard work. She highlights one particular farmer on the island of Ovalau, in Fiji, who now grows kava for Taki Mai rather than drying and processing it himself in the traditional way.

Regular readers of this blog will know that Ovalau is where we grow, source, and process all of the kava that ends up in Taki Mai shots, instant kava, and our kava tablet supplements.

The article goes on to talk about the “mellow buzz” that people get from kava, its “bitter, chalky taste”, the effects of Cyclone Winston on the local kava industry, and how the industry has suffered for years due to inconsistencies in standards.

It then goes on to say how “governments, not-for-profits and a new group of entrepreneurs” are addressing these problems. That’s where Taki Mai comes in: we are mentioned as the company that “wants to do with kava what others have done for exotic coffee”, by helping to raise standards across the board and maintain high quality for export.

You can read the full article here, and find out how working with Taki Mai has changed the fortunes of one particular  farmer on Ovalau.

We hope to be helping many more in the future – and coverage in the New York Times certainly helps with that goal.

By Zane Yoshida

Kava Life: The Taki Mai Experience On Video

I’ve used many words over the years to try to explain the kava experience…and, in particular, what it means to be part of the Taki Mai project. But sometimes words are not enough; you need a little help from pictures and, better still, video.

This post looks back at a few of the Taki Mai videos that help explain what it means to be involved in the kava industry in Fiji…and to be sending our Taki Mai kava around the world.

This first one simply takes in the stunning view from one of the Taki Mai trucks, as it goes on one of its delivery journeys from the processing plant on the island of Ovalau, in Fiji – where all our kava originates…

https://www.facebook.com/TakiMai/videos/1292353927462077

There are more images of Ovalau, including the Taki Mai nurseries, some of our kava root drying, and a few different views of kava plants growing in other kava farms on the island, in this video:

https://www.facebook.com/TakiMai/videos/1329264787104324

What does Taki Mai instant kava powder look like when it’s mixed with water and finds its home in the kava bowl (tanoa)? Well, this should give you a fair idea…

https://www.facebook.com/TakiMai/videos/10150618773446883

And what does it mean to taste Taki Mai? Well, you probably know already…but maybe we should verify that with Rohan Marley, son of the legendary Bob Marley, who sampled Taki Mai at Expo West a few years back:

https://www.facebook.com/TakiMai/videos/732447180119424

Wherever you are in the world enjoying Taki Mai, isn’t it great to find out where the kava came from in the first place?

These videos hopefully give you an idea of what it means for Fijians to be involved in growing and making the kava that helps people relax and enjoy life around the world.

If you have any comments or questions, feel free to ask us below.

By Zane Yoshida

Helping Ovalau Kava Farmers After Winston

A new quality assurance initiative is being introduced on the Fijian island of Ovalau this week to help kava farmers there – and we’re proud to be behind it.

The system is designed to help generate increased profits and a steady income for kava farmers in the wake of Cyclone Winston which, as you know, severely impacted the kava industry across Fiji.

What is the Participant Guarantee System (PGS)?

The Participant Guarantee System (PGS) is an initiative originally designed by the Pacific Agribusiness Research for Development Initiative (PARDI) which is funded by the Australian government and coordinated by The University of Queensland.

Its overall aim is to create sustainable developments for South Pacific agribusiness, improving the livelihoods of South Pacific farmers and their families.

The PGS is a quality assurance initiative, whereby the farmers guarantee reliable and consistent quality and a regular supply of premium produce and, in return, the major buyers (such as resorts) guarantee to accept a certain quantity of the produce and to pay a good price for it.

The following video explains more about the PGS and how it’s helping all types of farmers around Fiji.

As you can see, the system wasn’t designed for kava farmers. It was originally piloted with 16 vegetable farmers near the capital, Suva, and will expand to other regions around Fiji.

The support it provides to smallholders, who traditionally have little market power, is encouraging farmers to produce higher quality and greater quantities of produce, because of the guaranteed market demand.

It is a win-win for the farmers and the businesses buying the vegetables and the success of the scheme has led to a similar initiative being set up for kava.

How does it work for Ovalau kava farmers?

Kava farmers on the island of Ovalau are smallholders. This is the island where South Pacific Elixirs has set up its Taki Mai operations and we have our nurseries and production facilities there. It’s also where I was born, so I have a keen interest in helping the island prosper.

Dr. Rob Erskine Smith, from the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia (who can be seen in the above video above) received a small grant from the EU through the Increasing Agricultural Commodity Trade (IACT) program. This was designed to help the kava farmers on Ovalau with a structured rebuilding program after Winston, and to secure a more reliable supply chain.

South Pacific Elixirs has helped develop the initiative in terms of quality control input and together we are forming nine farmers’ groups on the island.

Kava farmers join up to become members of one of the nine groups, which function as individual companies. Each has a president, secretary and treasurer, with the company owned equally by members. Training is provided and profits are paid to members according to the produce they supply, while a small sum is retained for company operations such as cool room costs, transport, and marketing. Each company has more buying power for fertiliser and other essential supplies and this is another benefit of becoming a member.

As one of the main buyers of kava on the island, South Pacific Elixirs is proud to be throwing our weight behind the initiative and supporting the farmers there.

What are the benefits for the kava farmers?

As you see from the video, the PGS has a real impact on the lives of smallholder farmers around Fiji. As a coordinated group with consistent quality produce, they are able to attract premium prices, allowing for extra profits to be used to improve farms and households.

Rather than the profits going to market entrepreneurs (such as middle men) they end up in the farmers’ pockets.

The tomato farmers in the video were able to pipe water from the source to improve irrigation on their land, buy cattle, and build more solid houses. With a steadier income, they can afford to fund better education for their children.

The hope is that similar benefits will come to Ovalau kava farmers as a result of the system being put in place there.

By Zane Yoshida

What Is The Kava Bill – And How Does It Affect You?

In recent months you probably heard talk of a Kava Bill, if you’ve been following Fijian news at all.

Because of problems in recent years with European bans and in maintaining kava quality, calls have grown louder for measures to be introduced that help protect the key players in the industry, from the farmers through to the exporters.

When Cyclone Winston hit the country in February, the devastating consequences for many kava farmers in Fiji again reminded us of the fragile nature of the industry.

The Kava Bill is the Fijian government’s response to past problems and future opportunities. It had its first reading in the Fijian Parliament on 27th April 2016, and we take a closer look at it below.

What’s in the Kava Bill?

First and foremost the Kava Bill aims to:

establish the Fiji Kava Council for the purpose of the regulation and the management of the Kava Industry and its related matters.”

The Bill contains information about the functions and powers of the Fiji Kava Council, and details:

“a proper legal framework to establish the Council which will manage, administer and assist the growth of the kava industry”.

And it aims to:

“ensure that the trading of kava at domestic level and exported or imported at international level, will be done according to appropriate standards and procedures.”

Perhaps for the first time, this formally recognises kava as a key contributor to the Fijian economy and which requires adequate protection, as domestic and international demand increases. It also provides a formal platform for local kava farmers and exporters to voice problems and concerns.

While Fiji is a member of the International Kava Executive Council (IKEC), there is no legislation currently in place to manage the kava industry in the country; this understandably has many people in Fiji nervously looking over their shoulders.

A word from the president…

When the prime minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama, opened the South Pacific Elixir factory on Ovalau island, he noted the following:

“Kava is one of our nation’s most cherished crops and Ovalau has long been known as one of Fiji’s premier kava-producing regions. Despite this, however, we have struggled over the years with exporting kava to overseas markets. Many of you will remember a few years ago when Europe’s demand for kava created a boom in the industry. Unfortunately, in the rush to take advantage of this windfall, little consideration was given to quality control. Leaves and stems were mixed with the roots and look what happened. There was no quality control. Governments must engender quality control and standards.”

So the Kava Bill is partly a response to this recognition that the Fijian kava industry is in a precarious position while it remains completely without regulation; it is very much a case of learning from past mistakes on that front.

Protection through quality

The future of the Fijian kava industry relies on protecting the high quality of its product. That’s behind the local Kava Bill and it’s also a regional consideration.

Recently, the WHO’s Regional Codex Committee met in Vanuatu to discuss the introduction of a kava standard, aimed at maintaining quality and preventing future damage to the reputation of kava.

This is an important step regionally; and the Kava Bill tackles the problem locally, by helping the industry focus on producing high quality, elite kava. This is the way forward, as it will protect everybody from the farmer to the consumer. That’s perhaps why nobody is seriously opposing the Kava Bill – except maybe a few of the ‘middlemen’ who currently profit from their monopolies over the farmers.

How are we involved?

South Pacific Elixirs is committed to working with local farmers on Ovalau, growing elite varieties of kava in our nurseries, and exporting the highest quality of kava overseas to new markets in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and elsewhere.

Our cultivation methods help to ensure disease-free, elite kava that delivers predictable and consistent properties. We hope that, by doing this, customers of Taki Mai always feel confident about the kava in their hands, and the reputation of Fiji’s kava farmers is also enhanced.

The Kava Bill will help us on all these fronts!

By Zane Yoshida

What You Need To Know About Kavalactones

Most of you reading this will be well aware of the relaxing effect that kava has on the body and mind. But what do you know about the kavalactones responsible for producing this effect?

How can a pre-prepared kava shot, capsule, or powder mixed with water calm the mind, soothe the muscles, and produce the feeling of well-being that kava lovers enjoy?

Yep … it’s all in the kavalactones.

The all-important ‘active’ ingredients

When a substance produces an effect on the body, we talk about the ‘active’ ingredients that cause it. In the case of kava, a range of phytochemicals known as kavalactones are responsible.

With many plants, we predominantly use the leaves for their health-giving or nutritional effects; with kava, the magic all happens underground.

The piper methysticum plant is a member of the pepper family. The kavalactones are concentrated in its rootstock and roots, rather than the leaves or stems. This is why ‘real’ kava is made only from the roots; using any other parts of the plant will damage the quality and may even lead to toxicity.

The many faces of kavalactones…

Kava is not quite so simple though. There is not just one type of kavalactone contained in it; there are eighteen. Of these, six are generally measured, as they account for 90 percent of the kavalactones commonly found.

These are:

  1. Desmethoxyyangonin
  2. Dihydrokavain
  3. Yangonin
  4. Kavain
  5. Dihydromethysticin
  6. Methysticin

Don’t worry – there’s no test to see if you remember the names!

Just be aware that each one produces a slightly different effect on the body. This is why not all kava produces the same intensity of relaxation, stress-relief, or sense of mild euphoria; and some may even produce less welcome side effects.

The kavalactones all work together, of course; but it is the specific make-up of their content, the preparation, and your own personal physical make-up that will ultimately determine the effects of the kava you take.

The search for predictability

Different kava cultivars are usually distinguished by measuring the relative concentration of the six substances detailed above; and this difference in concentration is called its ‘chemotype’.

For instance, some varieties of Vanuatan kava may contain high amounts of dihydrokavain, which can cause nausea. However, the response to kavalactones is individual and some people have a higher tolerance than others.

A six-figure numbering system is commonly used to differentiate between varieties based upon each cultivar’s kavalactone-type content. So those starting with 34 will have a higher content of yangonin and kavain.

Remember – predictability is important with kava; if you don’t know where the kava comes from it’s impossible to know its precise effect on you before you take it.

That’s why Taki Mai kava products use only kava grown on the island of Ovalau in Fiji. By insisting on this we know that we can enjoy the pure, sedative, calming effect of kava at any time of the day, without any side effects.

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Are You Trendy Enough For Kava?
Kava Life: The Taki Mai Experience On Video
Helping Ovalau Kava Farmers After Winston
What Is The Kava Bill – And How Does It Affect You?
What You Need To Know About Kavalactones