New Year’s Eve came early in the Test Kitchen, as we’re busy mixing, shaking, and vetting potential recipes to help you ring in 2009. Of course the main focus is on cocktails but, to mix it up, we’re including some nonalcoholic drinks too. The most anticipated is one made with kava root because we knew pretty much nothing about it until a few weeks ago except that it’s a popular libation in the South Pacific. It may merely be a root, but quite a controversy surrounds kava: It’s not FDA-approved and is said to have a variety of side effects from numbing of the mouth to, in extreme cases, liver toxicity.

Never ones to turn away from an adventure, we started concocting drinks as soon as the powder arrived from the mailroom. We started off by blending up kava root, yogurt, milk, sugar, vanilla extract—a sort of kava lassi, if you will. But it tasted more like a wet cardboard smoothie or, as Amy named it, “Milky Sawdust Delight.” Adela stepped in to work her magic, and after a little more research convinced us that the way to go was to treat the kava root powder like a tea and steep it. We also decided to ditch the lassi angle and focus on improving the taste. A few minutes later, we apprehensively sipped on the newest iteration. It was so much better—like a coconut- and earthy-flavored cocoa—that we poured it over ice and toasted Adela as today’s MVT (most valuable tester).

Oh, and as for the side effects, they’re for real. For the next hour we had tingly mouths, light sensitivity, and a boost of energy similar to that experienced from taking guarana extract. I mean, I was so buzzing with energy it was like I had swallowed a beehive. Luckily, though it’s worn off, I feel more relaxed than if I had slept 12 hours, and I’m looking forward to the next test.

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