Tagata Pasifika

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‘Calmness in a cup’: Kavaia Tea giving a Tongan touch to tea time

Kavaia Tea, providing a Tongan touch to the common brew
Kavaia Tea, providing ‘calmness in a cup.’   PHOTO // Kavaia Tea

By Alice Lolohea

The one enduring memory I have from my years living in Tonga is the amount of time I spent in the kitchen making tea for my Grandmother and her friends. I don’t know how Pasifika people became serial tea drinkers, but I believe the never ending process of tea-making is a shared experience in many Pacific households.

For Elisiva Maka (Tongan) and Marlaina Haretuku (Filipino/Hawaiian), tea is a very serious business. Providing ‘calmness in a cup’ since their launch in 2019, Kavaia Tea combines the unique taste of kava with their love of herbal tea. Over recent years kava has slowly made a comeback into mainstream food products, health supplements and good old fashioned kava gatherings.

For Marlaina, the Yogi Tea Kava Blend had always been a favourite of hers. “[I] would ask Elisiva to grab some for me whenever she found them; they are constantly sold out,” Marlaina says.

“She began blending different flavours together with real Kava, and then we just sat down one night and wrote out everything we would need to create this and make it real.”

Setting up production in California, Elisiva and Marlaina worked together with a Master Blender and manufacturer in Los Angeles, creating a delicious blend of kava with real fruit and herbs. “The taste is smoother and more palatable to a greater audience,” say the duo.

“[It has] a lesser strength because we aren’t making a bowlful of straight Kava and water, and creating easy-to-use, smaller amounts within our tea bags. The texture is also much smoother with the tea bags working almost as filters with the Kava, but I guess that depends on who’s making the Kava.”

Meet the Boss Women behind the Kavaia Tea brand, Elisiva Maka and Marlaina Haretuku!
(L-R) The Boss Women behind the Kavaia Tea brand, Elisiva Maka and Marlaina Haretuku   PHOTO // Kavaia Tea

Sourcing their kava from the Tofua Caldera in Ha’apai, Tonga, Elisiva and Marlaina have managed to create tantalising tangs for many tea aficionados. From Pineapple Peppermint to Tropical Tango Mango and Sweet Citrus Spice; Kavaia Tea’s delicious range of flavours has seen a steady rise in their fan base. “We’ve had HUGE support from friends, family & the Poly community, all via word of mouth.”

“That has been our constant push and support as we’ve continued to promote on social media and through our contacts for different partnerships, giveaways, and approaches to the business.”

Learning about the ins and outs of manufacturing Kavaia Tea has been a real learning curve for the pair. But as Covid-19 continues to grip the globe, the pandemic has also had an inevitable impact on their business.

“Covid has delayed many things along the way.”

“Everything from getting our tea produced, to shipping times for our supplies coming in and products going out. We also have had a hard time finding funding for our small business and had to do all of it out of pocket so far.”

“We have done our best to overcome these by pushing forward and not letting those stop us. We are continuously researching options, ideas, and paths that will continue to push our business forward.”

Despite these obstacles, Kavaia Tea has made its way into a variety of homes and work spaces, and is enjoyed by employees from Google, Facebook and Microsoft. The duo are currently in the process of getting Kavaia Tea onto Amazon Grocery, and moving towards wholesale opportunities as well.

For 2021, they hope to expand Kavaia beyond the realm of tea. “We have tons of ideas, adding different products to our lineup and even sidelining additional brands like Kavaia Wine or Kavaia Chocolate – that we could then infuse Kava into products that many of us typically enjoy for relaxation and happiness as well.”

“I’ve tried some Kava Chocolate at different Kava Bars and it isn’t very good… so this would be something to fine-tune and bring to market for sure.”
Click here to check out the range of Kavaia Tea products.


Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

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