Berkeley is a boiling cauldron of stress, particularly during finals season. Stress, whether positive or negative, deserves to have an outlet. Instead of turning to the party scene or the spa to unwind during your next round of finals, try an underrated alternative: kava.

Katherine Luo

Kava is a small plant native to Fiji, Hawaii, and Tonga. Its roots have been ground up and used for centuries in Pacific Island rituals and ceremonies because of its mildly psychoactive properties. Kava is essentially caffeine's opposite: instead of stimulating, think tranquilizing. Yet, at the same time, it induces conversation. Now on the rise in the quirky bars of South Florida, Manhattan, and Berkeley, kava is growing in popularity because of its anxiety-reducing tendency in the country's most stressed out cities. MeloMelo Kava Bar in Berkeley does just this.

MeloMelo Kava Bar

Katherine Luo

Located a few blocks away from the Downtown Berkeley Bart Station, MeloMelo prides itself in being the Bay Area's first kava bar. The space has been open for three years, and is minimalistic, adorned with simple wooden high chairs, a long white bar, plush couches, and colorful lights. The atmosphere is welcoming; friendly pets are allowed and customers are encouraged to bring their own food, as long as they are willing to share with others. 


Katherine Luo

MeloMelo recommends that customers begin with the most popular Purist kava. This drink is unadulterated, and reflects the original ceremonial purpose of the drink. It is also the least expensive kava at MeloMelo and has the same social and relaxing effects as other renditions. 

Purist is known for its earthy color and smooth texture. It is traditionally prepared from water and crushed up kava plant. Customers are encouraged to drink it in gulps to reap the benefits of the concoction without having to mingle for long upon the taste. Fresh slices of pineapple counteract the bitter and earthy taste well. To get a full idea for the kava plant, one should start with Purist before mixing it with other flavors.

A traditional kava is often the "phase one" for customers before more. After gulping down the earthy water, the customer joins in a hearty "bula" with others at the bar. Bula, a word used in ancient Fiji tradition, is synonymous to our "cheers," encouraging good fortune and a hearty life. 

Kava Chai

Katherine Luo

I am brought to the holiday season when I sip this cool flavored kava. Notes of cinnamon and chai dance on the taste buds, mingling compatibly with the numbing effect of kava. The Chai is lightly sweetened with agave nectar, counteracting the natural bitterness of the plant root. It is finished with a creamy dash of organic almond milk, adding a rich dimension. 

"Cacoco" Drinking Chocolate

Katherine Luo

If you are not craving an altered state of consciousness, MeloMelo has a plethora of alternative options. Customers can choose from a variety of looseleaf teas, kombucha on tap, or a rich cacao drink. The effects of kava on the body are still not completely certain. There is a slight risk of liver damage if kava is consumed excessively. Thus, drinks like MeloMelo's drinking chocolate or kombucha provide a good alternative for those unwilling to embrace kava's ambiguities.

MeloMelo's drinking chocolate resembles an Italian hot chocolate. It is thick, creamy, rich, and perfect to warm both the fingers and the soul. The Original drinking chocolate contains 55% cacao powder and is known for its cinnamon, nutmeg, and lucuma notes. However, there are several other options with fruitier notes, and even an enticing Midnight Mystic drinking chocolate with 80% cacao.

Katherine Luo

If MeloMelo's drinks themselves don't convince you to take a trip to temporary anxiety relief, let it be the people. Bartenders rally customers to join in a "bula" with newcomers, and fellow drinkers can easily become new best friends over a board game, mutual love of dogs, or insightful conversation. MeloMelo also provides the option to take your tea to go or to buy Kava leaves so you can make your own concoction. In light of finals season, "bula,"and let your unnecessary anxieties fade with good tea and good company at MeloMelo.