MeloMelo brings Kava to Bay Area



Pineapple slices are used to cut down the bitterness of the kava drink.

Shannon Stroud,
Metro Editor

Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Berkeley on the corner of University Avenue and McGee Avenue stands a new type of bar: a kava bar.

MeloMelo Kava Bar is the first kava bar in the Bay Area and third one to open in California since Kava’s legalization in 2002, according to the Food and Drug administration. The bar opened in January and has slowly become a local hangout for students and East Bay residents.

“We were shocked that there wasn’t a kava place in the Bay Area since it’s so cutting edge,” said MeloMelo Kava bar co-owner, Rami Kayali. “We were told by friends that out of the Bay Area, the people of Berkeley were the most open minded and would be more receptive of a kava bar.”

Kava is a plant that is grown on the islands Vanuatu, Fiji and Hawaii. The root of the plant is crushed up, mixed with water and made into a drink.

Kava has also been found in dietary supplements, but according to previous FDA studies, kava used in this way has been linked to liver damage. A more recent American Herbal Products Association study found no links between pure kava consumption and health issues.

According to Kayali and Nicolas Rivard, owners of MeloMelo Kava Bar, for 3,000 years the people of the South Pacific islands have been drinking the kava root for its relaxing properties.

“When we first tried kava six years ago, it really was love at first sight,” said Kayali. “For us it was a game changer, we wanted to share it with everyone and just really mainstream it.”

The drinks served at MeloMelo are made from the kava root, which has the opposite effect of having a strong cup of java coffee. While java gives you the quick extra boost of energy, kava calms you down, explained Rivard and Kayali.

MeloMelo serves their drinks in the form of a shot in a coconut shell, and calls original kava drinks “shells.”  Kava is similar to the taste of a potato peel. After 30 minutes to an hour, kava drinkers will start to feel a little more loose and relaxed, or what regulars like to call “shell-faced.”

“Alcohol and coffee are these two extremes, kava is this perfect middle ground and plus teas are becoming more popular in the area,” said Kayali.
The Kava drink is an alternative to alcohol as it relaxes the drinker without disrupting mental clarity, according to

Rivard explained that drinking kava is equivalent to drinking a lot of chamomile tea all at once. There is not a legal age limit to drinking Kava, but MeloMelo does not allow patrons under the age of 18 unless accompanied by an adult.

Kayali and Rivard offer weekly Kava Koncoctions and Kava Mimosas as well as kombucha tea on tap, and locally made vegan treats. Kava Koncoctions and Kava Mimosas are fruity kava drinks that you sip rather than shoot all at once.

MeloMelo Kava bar is open from noon to midnight Monday through Saturday and until 10 p.m. on Sunday.

At night, the naturally lit space becomes a lounge lined with neon lights that are linked to MeloMelo’s Twitter account and Flickr every time a customer uses the #MeloKava hashtag.

Kayali and Rivard plan to introduce weekly Jenga tournaments, video game competitions, occasional live music performances and open mic nights.