After a lengthy ban (2007-2021) on the commercial importation of kava, Australia's kava industry is now one of the fastest growing in the world. The Phase 2 kava trial in Australia allows kava to be imported under a permit system as of January 2022. Once imported, kava is now allowed to be sold commercially as a food.
This is great news for those who want to experience the relaxing and calming effects of kava without having to travel to Pacific islands. However, it's important to remember that there are some relaxed views by Australia Quarantine on the quality of kava being imported.
What type of kava is allowed into Australia and how can it be used?
Under the Phase 2 Kava trial, only two type of kava product can be imported into Australia:
- 100% Kava powder
- Kava extract made using an aqueous extraction process
Further to this, once imported kava cannot be used as an ingredient in food. This means RTD products like Kava Cola and Leilo are unable to be imported or manufactured for the Australian Market.
It is also important to note that whilst Australian Quarantine are very strict with microbial testing, they do not test imports for noble variety or purity. Whilst this might not impact importers bring kava in from Fiji and Tonga, it does mean that Tu-Dei or Isa kava cultivars can be imported from Vanuatu or Hawaii.
Furthermore inferior kava products from both Tonga and Fiji - often loaded with above first node plant material (often referred to as "kasa") are able to be imported. It is understood that when the Phase 2 Kava trial ends in December 2023, that a stronger testing framework will be put in place. However until then there is plenty of inferior kava products on the market that simply wouldn't fly in a mature kava market like the USA.
Kava Bars in Australia.... slowly but surely.
It’s hard to imagine now with the advent of over 300 kava bars in the USA. However there was a time back in 2000 when there was only one commercial kava, the Nakava kava bar in Baton Rouge. Australia is at that same period right now.
There are only 3 kava bars currently in Australia, two of which are community based (i.e., more a kava and Pacific island induction group) and one which is commercially focused. They are:
Kava and Co - Based in the ACT which acts as a kava advocacy group as much as a kava bar.
Blactson Wear - Based in the West End of Brisbane. They are a kava bar on demand and will serve kava in a group setting on request.
Kava Bar - A Fijian focused commercial kava bar in Slacks Creek Logan.
It’s expected that kava bars will boom just as quickly as they did in the USA, it will just take a few years for the momentum to build.
Kava Vendors in Australia
With the news of the Australian Government changing their position on kava in late 2021, several vendors began operations. This quickly snow balled with over 200 vendors of varying sizes offering varying kava products from across the Pacific. The amount of kava that has been imported into Australia since January 2022 is staggering. Check out the above data published by the Australian Government!
Experienced players within the worldwide kava industry with Australian ties have quickly established a foot hold in the market. This makes it easy for experienced and new kava consumers to buy kava in Australia
Australia Kava Shop
With experience in the kava industry going back to 2005, the principals of Australia Kava Shop leaned into their old network to quickly establish a position of selling high quality noble variety kava. It’s worth noting that both Australia Kava Shop and Art of Kava share several the same small hold and plantation kava farm contacts.
Root and Pestle
Root and Pestle are the online arm of the Forney Group. Long time producers of quality kava from the island of Santo, the Forney Group's principal had recently semi-retired to Australia.
With such large Pacific Island communities on the East Coast of Australia, there are many terrestrial distribution networks. These networks sell large amounts of kava in regions with a large Pacific Island demographic such as Logan in QLD and Western Sydney. Sales are mostly via word of mouth, group chats, socials, and convenience stores.
The Future for kava in Australia
The Phase 2 Kava Trial finishes in December 2023. To date there has been no news from the Australian Government as to whether they will extended the trial and/or make changes to the current importation model. The general understanding is that the Phase 2 Kava trial has been a success with limited if any hiccups recorded as yet. Assuming that the Government continues with allowing the importation of kava, it looks like good times ahead for Australian kava drinkers; new, experienced and those that don't even know they one as yet!