Introducing our newest limited-edition cultivar: Silesse
Hailing from the bushlands of Malekula – an island steeped in history, peppered with sites of cultural significance, and abundant in ancient artifacts – comes this distinctive and exceptional treat.
The second largest island in the Vanuatu archipelago is famous amongst Ni Vanuatu locals (the indigenous people of Vanuatu) not only for its world-class cacao (the chocolate here is delicious!), but also as the treasured home of immense kava gardens where many special cultivars are grown, with one in particular that stands out from the others: Silesse.
Although venerated by the indigenous inhabitants for many generations, this excellent cultivar has scarcely been seen outside of Malekula.
Vincent Lebot, Mark Merlin, and Lamont Lindstrom mentioned Silesse in their book, “Kava: The Pacific Elixir”, which introduced its existence to the Western world in 1997, but at that time the availability of single cultivars of kava outside of the Pacific Islands was all but unheard of. Silesse was praised again a few years later in “Buveurs de Kava”, by Vincent Lebot and Patricia Simeoni, but the general lack of awareness of single cultivars continued to persist for quite some time.
Eventually though, Western palates and minds matured to a point that these niche cultivars began to be brought out of relative obscurity, and demand for them has been growing steadily. Silesse has now made its way onto many people’s “must try” lists, however, despite the increase in demand, the logistical challenges of sourcing, processing, and exporting this incredible cultivar remain.
Root & Pestle love a good challenge though, and we have been putting great effort into bringing the finest cultivars of Vanuatu kava into the shells of people around the world. To this end, we are now able to make available to you this sought after, but rarely seen cultivar, in its purest form.
With a light and creamy texture, a buttery mouth feel, and a robust nutty flavour, Silesse is an easy- drinking kava with an excellent taste profile and a smooth finish. The rich cashewy aroma and very subtle fruity tones give nothing away as to the deep nature of this potent kava, especially considering how incredibly clean drinking it is.
Unlike most other kavas, Silesse is not known for being a “social” cultivar. Instead, many people find it to be powerfully introspective. If you enjoy drinking kava on your own, Silesse is a crucial addition to your solo kava repertoire. That’s not to say it isn’t a great choice to serve with your friends too, it’s just that we’ve noticed that conversation tends to quiet right down once everyone’s had a couple shells of this beauty.
This kava is strong and steady, with effects that begin to kick in fairly quickly for most, but which can continue to slowly build stronger and stronger, with some folks calling it a “creeper”. For many, this steady deepening of effects continues until a state of immersive inner contemplation is reached, which tends to last for quite a while, making this noble kava one of our longest-enduring.
For those interested in the technical side of things (skip this paragraph if you’re not into techno- babble!), we have found the chemotype to be 423156, with a K to DHM ratio of approximately 3.93. Silesse is high in both kavain and dihydrokavain, with samples typically having a relative abundance of around 29.63% and 28.12%, respectively (compared to the total abundance of the six major kavalactones and the three flavokavains). It tends to have a good dollop of yangonin (around 14.94%), followed by DMY (at around 10.57%), with dihydromethysticin coming in at approximately 7.53%, and methysticin typically near 6.77%. The low amount of methysticin probably contributes to the lack of strong bitterness which characterises so many other kavas. We found samples typically contained about 1.27% relative abundance of flavokavain B, and about 1.19% flavokavain A. Flavokavain C was well under 0.1% in our tests.
Silesse is definitely a unique kava, but well-balanced; We’ve had reports of it being heady, whilst others extol it as muscle-melting. In any case, there is a consensus that it makes a perfect accompaniment to a chilled evening before bedtime, so give Silesse a shot if you would like to try a special kava that’s a bit out of the ordinary.
Behind the Scenes: A Day in the Life of Joseph Oscar, Kava Farmer and Steward of Silesse
We thought too, that you might like to learn a little bit about where this limited-edition kava comes from, and about the wonderful people who cultivate it for you, so we’d love to introduce you to one of our major suppliers of this remarkable cultivar:
Deep in the lush inland jungle of Northwestern Malekula, Vanuatu, lies the village of Pikaier, home to Joseph Oscar and his family. Here, the year-round heat and humidity combine with nutrient-rich deep black soil to create the perfect environment for kava growth. Joseph, a fourth-generation kava farmer, tends to his 3-hectare garden of 3000 kava plants, locally known as “stumpas”. Kava is the only cash crop that they grow, and it’s essential to their family’s economic well-being. They also grow a little bit of pawpaw and island cabbage for their family, however, Joseph and his extended family, which consists of around 50 members, take special pride in their Silesse variety, which is by far the most dominant cultivar on Malekula, and one of its most important crops.
Joseph’s favourite cultivar of kava is unsurprisingly Silesse, which is abundant in Northwestern Malekula. There are actually 2 kinds of Silesse, according to Joseph, but the naming conventions can be a little bit confusing; The “Tavandi Silesse”, as it is called locally, is the variety he grows, known for its big branches, leaves, and roots, while the other variety of Silesse on Malekula, is just referred to as “Tavandi”, and is shorter in stature than the Tavandi Silesse but still yields substantial roots. Although the taste and effects are the same, the Tavandi Silesse’s size and furious growth makes it a more lucrative choice for harvest.
Historically, they never drank fresh green kava in Pikaier; instead, they slowly smoked the freshly picked and washed kava and left it hanging on sticks to dry for up to five months. Checking it periodically, but waiting until the inside was completely white, they would then peel the dried kava with sharpened bamboo (or a knife in more contemporary times) before preparing it for grinding. The “meat” of the inner kava roots was to go into a specially carved hollow palm tree stump, which then became the base of a large bowl known as a “Paken,” (similar to a Natambea or Tanoa). The kava meat would then be crushed by rocks until it had become a fine powder, at which point water was added.
The addition of water was ritualised to an extent as well; A long shoot of bamboo would have its inner nodes (the solid material segregating each hollow segment from each other) carved out, leaving only one in place near the end of an otherwise empty chamber. This would form what is essentially an extremely long canteen of sorts, which would be taken to the river and filled with water. It was this specially prepared water transport container that would be used when it became time to pour water into the paken in preparation for mixing.
After the kava had been mixed but before anyone in the village could drink it, they would sit in silence until the chief had knelt down on one knee to have a taste, directly from the paken. Then, without anyone saying a word, each of those who were to consume kava would in turn get onto one knee and drink their first drink directly from the paken.
These days things are a bit different. Like most places in Vanuatu, they now drink fresh green kava as the norm, instead of aged and smoked kava as their ancestors had. Joseph typically only drinks kava around three times a week, usually with his buddies, and often has five or so shells (for our newer customers, a shell is a cup of kava) in a session, which is enough to put him in the perfect mood and to get him set for a full night of relaxation. He didn’t begin drinking kava regularly until he was 23, but at 40 now, he intends to drink kava for many more years to come.
One of the biggest challenges for kava growers in Northwestern Malekula is discovered only when the roots are harvested and found to have white spots on them, which is apparently some kind of fungus. We are told that this usually only happens when they are planted too close to the Namalaus hardwood trees. Joseph ensures his plants are grown far enough away, but nevertheless, every so often there are inevitably a few roots that must be discarded, which is not only an economic loss, but a lot of physical exertion spent pulling out another plant.
Each harvest requires about five to ten men to help, and while the road installed in recent years makes it easier to transport the kava to the coast where it can be loaded on a boat, carrying each bag on their backs for a long way is still unavoidable. Joseph’s plants are around 7 years old, with roots ranging from about 15 to 27 kg. He replants whenever they harvest, which is usually a few plants at a time, a few times per week. This continuous planting and harvesting means that both work and income are steady for Joseph’s family, and that there are always many kava plants in all stages of growth here.
When asked if Joseph had a message to give to Silesse drinkers around the world, he told us that when our customers enjoy his kava, it brings him happiness, and that for those who continue to enjoy it, he will continue to grow it.
It seems his life as a kava farmer is filled with the joy that comes from sharing his beloved Silesse with others. Kava is not only a source of income for Joseph and his family but also an integral part of their culture and heritage.
It’s not every day that we get over to Malekula, so if you like to mix things up a bit and want to try something unique while you can, why not order some fresh R&P Silesse today by clicking the link below?
Orders are available now. Packing and distribution to commence Tuesday, 2nd March.