Kava bars are starting to pop up in Lakeland, providing a nightlife scene that doesn’t rely on alcohol. There’s N7 Nitro Kava Bar, Sun Kava & CBD, and Quinteassence Kava Bar, to name a few.
Quinteassence opened last November in the Parker Street neighborhood at 839 N. Massachusetts Ave. Owners Jonathan Thoresen, 29, of Lake Wales, and Earnest Joseph Odom, 28, of Lakeland, said they chose to open in that location because they found it to be an affordable place to open a storefront.
“Lakeland is a mostly undiluted market when it comes to kava. Florida has had an explosion of growth in the kava community. With no traditional-style kava bars in the area, it was the perfect location,” said Jonathan Thoresen.
“We serve traditional drinks from around the world — matcha from Japan, cacao from Ecuador, kava from Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Fiji, tea from China and Japan, boba from Taiwan, kratom from Indonesia, blue lotus from Thailand, and our herbal teas are a blend of herbs from around the world,” Thoresen explained.
Sun Kava opened at 5711 S. Florida Ave. on New Year’s Eve. Owner Brittany Dabits of Mulberry said they’re known for their “bliss teas,” hemp products and the ability to pay with cryptocurrency.
“We describe our teas as ‘bliss’ or ‘happy teas’ because they promote a sense of wellness and make people feel like their best selves,” said Dabits, who added she became interested in selling the teas after a friend introduced her to them.
The tea lounge, built by veterans, prides itself on promoting diversity and equality, and is open until 3 a.m. They also serve French press coffee, acai bowls, vegan chili, and brownies. Their teas are available for carry-out.
“We have been slammed nonstop since the day we opened,” Dabits said.
Kava is made from the crushed root of the kava plant, and is found in Pacific islands. Proponents say Kava makes people feel calm and relaxed. WebMd says kava is possibly effective for anxiety but possibly ineffective for generalized anxiety disorder. WebMD also cautions against driving after drinking kava.
“About 20 years ago, kava bars started growing in popularity in Florida and eventually around the country. Kava is a natural anti-anxiety, muscle relaxing, and social beverage. It helps connect people and helps people relax,” Thoresen explained.
Thoresen calls kratom an energy replacement for coffee that he believes provides natural pain relief.
According to a 2019 FDA news release, however, the agency said it was concerned that kratom, which affects the same brain receptors as morphine, appears to have properties that expose users to the risks of addiction and dependence. And the Mayo Clinic warns: “Although people who take kratom believe in its value, researchers who have studied kratom think its side effects and safety problems more than offset any potential benefits.”
Cacao — sometimes served by itself and sometimes mixed with kratom — is cocoa in its raw, less-processed form. The pods of cacao go through a multi-step process where they are harvested and turned into cocoa and eventually chocolate. Cacao trees are found in South America, West Africa, and some countries in Asia, but the majority of them are found in countries in West Africa, including Ghana and the Ivory Coast.
Thoresen said their best sellers are pineapple express boba, ginger root beer, kratom soda, oat milk, matcha latte, and traditional kava, which they offer a free first serving to anyone who has never tried it.
Thoresen said they started the business selling at multi-genre and electronic music festivals.
“In 2015, I had attended [the] Bonnaroo music festival in Manchester, Tenn. I had brought a lot of my own herbal botanical teas and brewed them for myself. I found myself getting constantly asked by people where they could get some of my tea. This lit a spark in my mind, which lead me to vend my herbal botanical drinks at music festivals,” recalled Thoresen.
From there, they expanded the business to selling the teas online.
“When COVID came around, we were no longer able to vend [at] festivals and [we] had to focus entirely on online sales. During this period, we decided to start looking for a location for a storefront. We were fortunate to be friends with Off the Griddle at Community Cafe, as we had been their neighbors vending at many festivals. The building they are located in happened to have a unit that was open, so we chose to take it,” Thoresen said.
Thoresen said they’re happy to be offering a unique, relaxed nightlife experience with fire-spinning and flow art dancing every third Sunday of each month.
“The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. Every day we have been experiencing three to five new customers on average. Many people are more than ready for a new experience and a relaxed environment to study, work or socialize,” Thoresen said.