Kava: An Alcohol Alternative Creating Social Buzz Without The Booze


Meeting at a bar or pub is the common go-to for unwinding with colleagues or socializing with friends. But sometimes the noise can drown out genuine connection and the alcohol can stifle real, memorable conversation. 

Central Florida resident Anna Martel grew tired of the bar scene in her 30s. She craved authentic relationships and an escape from what she called “the social charade.” She envisioned a space for business professionals like herself to socialize without the noise that comes with alcohol. 

Around that time Martel was introduced to kava tea and it was “love at first taste.” With its earthy flavor and relaxing effects, along with a lack of hangover, Martel began to consider kava as a healthier replacement for alcohol. 

For years people have searched for an alternative to booze. Kava tea has become a popular option. It’s a drink made from a pepper plant native to the South Pacific Islands known to relieve stress and reduce anxiety.  

Since the early 2000s kava bars have been popping up in the U.S. The ground-up root has actually been used as a ceremonial drink for thousands of years and is traditionally served hot or cold in a shell or bowl. 

“It feels like you’ve had one glass of wine where it hits that sweet spot and everything just kind of melts,” Martel explained. “It gets you there, but it doesn’t get you any further. There’s no hangover. It’s really fantastic.” 

Martel enjoyed the kava experience so much that in 2021 she transitioned from a wedding planner and interior designer to a business entrepreneur and kava bar owner by opening Zenva in Winter Park, Florida. Zenva is an upscale kava bar and contemporary art gallery also serving coffee, kombucha, and specialty mocktails made with kava or z-tea. (Z-tea is a member of the coffee family from Southeast Asia that can act as a natural immune booster and anti-inflammatory). 

“There’s such a need for the kava bar because there’s really nothing in between the bar scene and a coffee shop,” said Martel. “If you don’t go out drinking, there’s nowhere to go to get dressed up and socialize. Everyone wants an experience and kava bars give an experience.” 

When Martel changed careers later in life, many people warned her. She had two small children and was recently divorced. 

“A lot of people like safety, but I like the edge,” said Martel. “I never felt like I was making a mistake. When I got the idea for this space, I had a feeling like this was my purpose. This is what I was put on this earth to do.” 

“I feel fantastic about my choice. I have encouraged my girls to do the brave thing that sets your world on fire. I hope to be an example for them of doing that and not getting stuck in a safe space.” 

Since she opened Zenva, Martel has noticed how deep the conversations have been between patrons. 

“There is such a sense of community,” she said. “We live in a busy world. Everything is go, go, go. Connection is really lacking. Zenva is a place where you can find yourself and be centered, but also find connection.” 

Although Martel’s original intention was to create a hot spot for young professionals, she quickly realized kava drew people of all ages. 

“That’s one of the coolest things we have built here,” said Martel. “Everybody really co-mingles together. There are business deals happening. There are college kids studying. There are older adults. This space has really meshed all age groups within a safe community.” 

This article is featured in the January 2023 issue of The Growing Bolder Digital Digest.

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