Health

Kava, the drink soothing the stress of New York millennials

It has been a mainstay in the South Pacific for thousands of years. Now, stressed-out millennial New Yorkers are kissing goodbye to alcohol and gulping down a mildly narcotic drink to ease the pain of long hours and bottleneck commutes.

Kava - a root ground to powder, mixed with water and then strained - might taste like muddy water, but it is the mood enhancer taking the edge off for those struggling to cope with hectic modern life.

Effects include a mild numbing of the tongue and lips, relaxation and euphoria - feelings in short supply in New York.

"If any city needs to relax a little bit and calm down, slow down, it is New York," said Mr Harding Stowe, the 31-year-old owner of Brooklyn Kava in the neighbourhood of Bushwick.

"I really think it is going to explode, and I think it is starting right now."

Kava may be steeped in tradition on Pacific islands such as Fiji, but in the West, it is seen increasingly as a healthier alternative to booze by younger people who do not want to wake up with a hangover the next day.

With millennials drinking less alcohol than their parents, entrepreneurs believe a less booze-soaked future might be just around the corner.

"It is not as cool anymore to go to bars every night," said Mr Stowe. "People want something new and they want something healthy."

An initial kava boom in the West in the 1990s fuelled low-quality exports, which - combined with little understanding of the plant - led to health concerns and prohibitions in Europe. That led to a bust.

But while the United States Food and Drug Administration warned in 2002 of a "rare" potential risk of severe liver injury associated with kava-containing products, kava is now seeing another boom, and exports from Fiji alone more than doubled from 2012 to 2016.

"Unlike in the 1990s, the scholarly understanding of the plant is much better. It has been widely studied and it is generally perceived as safe and beneficial," said researcher Zbigniew Dumienski at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

There is a well-established scene in Florida, yet kava has been relatively slow to take root in America's most populous city, where there are only three kava lounges but 10,000 bars.

Two of the lounges are a short walk from each other in Bushwick, known for its artistic scene and influx of young people drawn by more affordable rents.

It is the perfect breeding ground for the kava customer: Residents in their mid-20s, embarking on stressful careers, navigating relationships and, in a Democratic city, dealing with Donald Trump blues.

"I went through quite a lot of anxiety with my previous job and this definitely helped a lot," said Mr Phil Mai, 25, a financial analyst in Manhattan.

"I used to drink alcohol two, three times a week and, on a weekend, sometimes binge. I think I had my last drink probably like two weeks ago." - AFP

Food & Drink