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

‘Tainted’ Kava Exports Dispute Highlights Importance of Elite Kava Standards

A recent dispute about ‘tainted’ kava exports from Vanuatu has highlighted the need for developing regional kava standards and for focusing on the development of elite forms of kava.

As regular readers of this blog will know, these are two initiatives that South Pacific Elixirs has been backing in the past 12-24 months; indeed, they are very important to the future of the Fijian kava industry and to our own business.

So what is all the fuss about?

Vanuatu company accused of exporting ‘tainted’ kava

As covered in the South Pacific regional press last month, a kava exporting company in Vanuatu was accused by an American importer of sending almost 60 tons of non-noble, inferior quality, tainted kava to the U.S., via New Zealand.

‘Tudei’ or ‘Two-day’ kava is a stronger, less consistent variety of kava. In this case, it was claimed that it was contaminated with kava leaf and stalk, whereas traditional, safe kava only contains the root extract.

Garry Stoner, founder of Pure Kava in the U.S., lodged the complaint. This included a chemical analysis supposedly derived from a 2015 test of retail kava powder provided by a Vanuatu-based supplier that showed ‘aerial matter’ and ‘chloropyll (from leaves).

The damaging complaint was made to Dr Mathias Schmidt in Germany, who alerted the Vanuatu Ambassador to the European Union, Roy Mickey Joy.  They have both been instrumental in defending the reputation of Pacific kava-producing countries’ exports in Europe, since the kava ban in 2001.

The Sarami Plantation at the centre of the dispute is owned by Peter Colmar, who initially caught the sharp end of the tongue from the Minister of Agriculture in Vanuatu, who said:

 “I strongly recommend that the Vanuatu Commodities Marketing Board (VCMB) terminate his export licence forthwith”.

Ambassador Joy even implied that Vanuatu customs officials must have been complicit to allow non-noble kava to leave the country:

“I am lost for words but can only compel the way and the easy manner by which the ‘Sarami Plantation’ has continued to effectively trade its kava shipment against all odds and without any sense of regularity control or SPS from our authorities.”

In response, all kava growers and exporters have been given until the end of February to comply with the new Kava Export Standard in Vanuatu. They must clean up operations and cease the sale or export of ‘two-day’ or ‘adulterated’ kava, or face being blacklisted.

The Sarami Plantation owner hits back

The owner of the Sarami Plantation, however, has hit back at claims that he is exporting tainted kava. Peter Colmar has submitted scientific analysis of his kava exports, showing no ‘tainting’ or ‘adulteration’ of kava materials, no evidence of ‘two-day’ varieties, and demonstrating that the kava he provided to American suppliers is, in fact, ‘noble’.

He asserts that the complaints leveled against him are either false or historical – dating from 5-7 years ago.

Further follow-up has caused the Minister of Agriculture in Vanuatu to revise his initial assessment:

“I am not a scientist to evaluate the results provided. However, my position as minister for MALFFB, if the exported kava is of good quality then there is no need for VCMB to cancel his/her licence.”

Furthermore, the Daily Post issued an apology to Colmar for running its initial story and reported the following:

“ Colmar is a supplier with a sterling reputation, whose products test “clean” on a consistent and regular basis. Any suggestion that his operation is not operating to a high standard is not supported by the evidence now in our possession.”

Developing kava standards that everybody abides by

However this case ends, and it may well be that the Sarami Plantation clears its name, the episode demonstrates the need for laws to be updated as soon as possible, adequately enforced, and for kava export standards to be upped and maintained across the region.

Tainting kava’s name does not just harm the reputation of one company or one island nation; it damages the kava industry as a whole, putting the livelihoods of the many people who work in it in danger.

By Zane Yoshida

Big 2017 Predicted for the Kava Industry

It’s not just us at Taki Mai who are predicting good things for the kava industry in the year ahead.

We said it a lot in 2016: despite the devastation of Cyclone Winston, the kava industry is heading in the right direction, getting its ‘house’ in order and starting to take the right measures to protect the industry for the longer term, as demand increases overseas.

Now one of the major authorities in the retail food trade is saying it too…

The Shelby Report: Whole Foods Market 2017 Trends Forecast

The Shelby Report is one of the foremost voices in the retail food industry in the US and is distributed nationwide, with five monthly regional print and digital editions. It is an educational resource targeted at everyone from manufacturers and wholesalers to independent and chain stores.

And this giant of the industry just released its Whole Foods Market Trends Forecast for 2017. This is compiled by the Whole Foods Market’s global buyers and experts and includes everything from trends in wellness beverages through to condiments and particular food colours that are going to be popular.

We’re delighted to see that, alongside the likes of coconut and Japanese condiments, kava got a big mention as one of the products to watch in 2017.

Here’s what the report said about the rising popularity of wellness toniocs:

Wellness Tonics: The new year will usher in a new wave of tonics, tinctures and wellness drinks that go far beyond the fresh-pressed juice craze. The year’s hottest picks will draw on beneficial botanicals and have roots in alternative medicine and global traditions.

Buzzed-about ingredients include kava, Tulsi/holy basil, turmeric, apple cider vinegar, medicinal mushrooms (like reishi and chaga) and adaptogenic herbs (maca and ashwagandha). Kor Organic Raw Shots, Suja Drinking Vinegars and Temple Turmeric Elixirs are just a few products leading the trend.

There it is in black and white: kava is a “buzzed-about ingredient”.

No argument from us… let’s keep the buzz going and make 2017 a huge one for the kava industry and Taki Mai.

Happy New Year to all our readers…have a relaxing, stress-free 2017 full of all the good things.

Kava shot anyone?

By Zane Yoshida

Opportunities For Kava In A ‘Modern, Globalised World’

What are the opportunites for kava  in a world barely constrained by geography and distance? Where you can choose freshly-caught Indian Ocean tuna from supermarket shelves in Europe; or enjoy French cheese and wine on a remote island in the South Pacific?

The ‘globalised world’ certainly makes many things possible for kava – and that is perhaps what is behind the recent activities to start regulating and protecting the kava industry in the South Pacific region.

A few years ago kava was barely known outside of the region. Now people are experiencing the benefits of kava in the kava bars and health food stores of the U.S. and Europe.

But this is only the start. If things are managed well, there should be a bright new dawn for kava farmers and exporters everywhere. This point was made in a recent Aljazeera report from New Zealand, which talks of kava’s assured place in a ‘modern, globalised world’.

Constraints and challenges

Unfortunately, there are plenty of constraints and challenges for the kava industry to overcome first. Some of these include:

  • Kava is a slow growing crop – taking up to six years to fully mature and be ready for harvest.
  • It is susceptible to disease and natural disasters – which can devastate crops and reduce supplies, such as experienced after Cyclone Winston earlier this year.
  • Kava strength and effects can vary – different kava varieties produce different kavalactone concentrations and different ‘chemotypes’, which produce different effects.
  • Quality can vary – without strict regulations, manufacturers do not have clear standards to abide by.
  • Western government regulations are often heavily weighted against developing countries, making it difficult for kava to break-through into international markets.

The opportunities for kava

However, with these challenges comes great opportunity.

Kava’s relaxing properties are quite well understood but the true limits of its medicinal properties are really just being explored. Whilst Fijians and other Pacific islanders have been extolling the health benefits of kava on the islands for centuries, proving these to the rest of the world is another matter.

But huge potential exists in this area. People are becoming less trusting of pharmaceuticals and interest in alternative medicine is growing.

The Aljazeera video above mentions how exponents of Chinese medicine are becoming increasingly interested in the properties of kava. If this catches on, then it’s a question of how supply can meet soaring demand from China and elsewhere.

We have only just scratched the surface when it comes to investigating the properties of kava as an alternative treatment for insomnia, stress, depression, and other ailments.

In-depth clinical studies are expensive, and beyond the budgets of most interested parties. But there is potential if groups join forces for funding. And, given the potential gains, it could be a worthwhile investment, as kava continues to repair its reputation after the now-overturned European bans.

Meanwhile, we at South Pacific Elixirs will continue to do our bit to establish elite, disease-free varieties of kava that produce predictable and consistent effects; and to support the push for kava standards to be developed for the region, as this can only be good for the future of kava.

By Zane Yoshida

Is There Enough To Go Round – As Kava Demand Grows?

As Fiji recovers from the effects of Cyclone Winston, and local Fijians face a shortage of their beloved root, increasing kava demand from overseas is putting extra pressure on the kava market.

It’s been well reported that farmers were forced to harvest early on some of the major kava producing islands in Fiji; this has led to price increases and shortages of kava a few months down the line.

It’s not just Fiji feeling the strain, either. A recent severe drought destroyed many plantations in nearby Vanuatu.

This has wide-reaching implications, not just on quantity – but also on quality. Pacific nation governments are currently on a drive to educate farmers in the region about the importance of quality, both for domestic and export markets, so any downturn in quality due to the shortages will not be welcome.

Meeting local and international kava demand

In truth, the governments know how important kava is to the local economy, so every effort will be taken to maintain its quality.

Fiji earned $20.9 million from kava exports between 2012 and 2014, and this is on the increase; exports to the US alone are expected to reach $15 within the next 12 months.

There have been many challenges to the kava industry in recent years – not only from climactic effects on crops, but kava bans too. So the present shortage is just one more hurdle to pass. The renewed focus on ‘noble’ kava varieties will help to safeguard the all-important future of the industry.

Kava is gaining popularity in the west for both its medicinal properties (anti-anxiety, especially) and as a healthier alternative to alcohol.

In the United States, there are already over 100 kava bars. Increasingly, these have been opening in major urban centres like New York and Chicago, instead of the traditional kava bar beach communities of California and Florida.

In New Zealand, a country with a population of only 4.5 million, it is estimated that 20-25,000 people drink kava on a Friday or Saturday night.

Kava is a slow-growing crop and can take five years for its roots to mature. There are no short-term solutions to meeting increasing demand. But, by maintaining quality now, the growing worldwide reputation of kava will only increase in years to come – and that’s what really matters.

That’s why we have invested our own time and efforts into growing elite kava varieties in our nurseries on Ovalau Island in Fiji. This represents the future of Taki Mai shots, capsules, and instant kava!

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Are You Trendy Enough For Kava?
‘Tainted’ Kava Exports Dispute Highlights Importance of Elite Kava Standards
Big 2017 Predicted for the Kava Industry
Opportunities For Kava In A ‘Modern, Globalised World’
Is There Enough To Go Round – As Kava Demand Grows?