Kava is made from the root of the South Pacific Piper methysticum plant. Will Crooks/Greenville Journal

If you walked into a bar and saw dozens of people playing board games, jamming on guitars, and periodically cheers-ing a round of shots, you’d be safe to assume most of those partaking shouldn’t be driving home at the end of the night.

But not at The Kava Konnection, where you’d find all of those activities going on any night the bar is open and also see all of the customers leave completely sober at 2 a.m.

The difference is, The Kava Konnection serves only nonalcoholic beverages.

So what’s the deal with the shots? They’re a cloudy brown drink called kava, made from the root of the South Pacific Piper methysticum plant.

“Think of it as the anti-caffeine,” the bar’s co-owner Gabriel Coggins says. “It’s not going to be impairing. It’s extremely socializing.”

Kava, which means “bitter,” has been used by South Pacific islanders for centuries as a calming drink. Coggins discovered it in pill form at a local health food store when he was looking for a nonprescription means of curbing his anxiety and helping him sleep.

A former drug and alcohol user who has been sober for several years, Coggins also discovered the social aspect of drinking kava in Asheville, N.C., to be much like the bar scene he used to enjoy but without the impairment. That discovery led him to open The Kava Konnection in September 2015, and it remains the only kava bar in South Carolina.

Kava is a complex beverage. Certain cultivars, or varieties, of kava lessen any hindering social inhibitions, much the way “liquid courage” does, but without the potentially negative side effects. There are also specific cultivars that have a stronger sedating and calming effect that are used just prior to bed or for muscle recovery after strenuous workouts. And contrary to the tolerance built up by repeated alcohol use, kava users require less and less kava to achieve the desired effect the more often they drink it.

But, since it’s literally a foreign concept and has an earthier flavor than the average American is used to drinking, there’s a bit of an introduction that’s necessary. Thankfully, the kava-tenders at The Kava Konnection are prepared with a persuasive and informative elevator pitch, during which they’ll also tell you that kava has a slight mouth-numbing effect that is perfectly normal but can be startling without the warning.

First-time kava drinkers will get a free shot of the plain house kava to sample before they order. The menu also includes specialty cultivars as well as the equivalent of mixed drinks or cocktails, blending the kava with flavored syrups to enhance the flavor, draft kombucha, and nitro Due South coffee.

Coggins and his staff make their kava using a method that enhances the effectiveness. The 480 grams of the imported root powder is put in a four-gallon bucket. Then, hot water is added to let the kava soak for 45 minutes, and the water can’t be hotter than 121 degrees, or it starts to break down, lessening its effectiveness. After the hot soak, it’s then cooled and sits overnight to further soften the root, which is non-water-soluble. The mixture is then ladled into a 32-ounce blender and blended for 30 seconds or so before it is poured through a straining bag. The resulting liquid will be good for about five days.

The staff will go through parts of this process every day to meet the demands of the bar, which are greater on nights like open mic poetry night that draws 50-60 customers every other Wednesday night.

Visit thekavakonnection.com for more information.

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