A fringe fermented tea takes over NYC—and has its fanatics
Kombucha Brooklyn’s biggest problem is supply. “We can’t make enough of the stuff,” says Eric Childs, owner of the year-old business that supplies Brooklyn’s haute barnyard food purveyors: Marlow & Sons, Urban Rustic, Brouwerij Lane, and the wholesome Park Slope Food Coop.
For the uninitiated, kombucha, or ‘buch, is a fermented health elixir that hails from Russia or Japan, depending on whom you ask. Despite its very acquired taste—a yeasty, hoppy version of ginger ale with mysterious organisms floating in it—it’s wildly popular with New Yorkers right now.
Childs, who teaches sold-out kombucha-making classes at the Brooklyn Kitchen, believes ‘buch will soon be as pervasive as yogurt. “In the ‘70s, yogurt was this freaky-looking thick milk that people had no interest in. Then it became this probiotic breakfast staple that took over the country. Kombucha is next,” Child insists.
But why, we wondered, would anyone take up home-brewing? Even Childs admits it’s not for the squeamish. “Everyone is scared when they first touch a scoby (it stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts). It’s a gnarly, gnarly creature.” So kombucha-brewing demands a strong stomach—and, to hear New Yorkers talk about it, a devotion to either its taste or in its healing properties. Well+Good asked some of the brave new world of NYC brewers why they spawn their own fast-fermenting slime.
Metta Murdaya, East Village, co-founder of Juara Skincare
I bought my first starter-tea batch in college from a guy called Bacteria Pimp on eBay. It arrived via UPS in a Ziplock bag. It sounds gross but the scoby looks like slice of ham, translucent and slippery. Fleshy. Making the first batch brought out the only maternal instincts I’ve ever had. It’s supposed to grow on the top of the pitcher. Ours sank to the bottom…. I’ll drink kombucha when I feel like snacking. It stops cravings. And because it helps your body better digest food, I have more energy. Now it’s like living with a plant that you want to keep alive—I named it Scoby Wan Kenobi, and he or she has Facebook page. I am constantly giving away its spawns, who are its Facebook Friends: There’s Scoby Bryant, Scoby Maguire, and of course Scoby Doo.
Julia March, SoHo, skin-care therapist and holistic healer
My mother called it a Russian mushroom drink. It came with the soldiers who stayed in Slovakia after the 1969 invasion. In their stories, kombucha was given to a Russian Tzar by Chinese emperor, who received it from Japan. The soldiers believed it prevented cancer. I don’t know about that, but many cultures use fermented foods—sauerkraut and kefir, for example, and miso, tempeh,and natto—for health benefits, linked to longevity, energy, and beauty. Kombucha alkalines us, and it’s a quick way to detox: It’s helped me eliminate sugar cravings, digest food, and relieve that sluggish, foggy, forgetful feeling. I enjoy making something that benefits me personally. I know my skin benefits from it, too. I get compliments on it all the time. I add a few drops to my toner or a mask to maintain a healthy pH of my skin. I love it.
Benjamin Harper, Fort Greene, Comic book editor
“I was fed up paying $4 a bottle for kombucha so I bought my first culture on eBay. It was gross, nasty stuff that made sweet but rotten tea so I threw it away. Then I got a culture from a friend that was really good; it bred like Tribbles [Star Trek reference] and took over everything. I had eight jars going at a time. My kitchen was literally overtaken. I drank a ton of it, gave it to friends, and my yoga teachers. Eventually I stopped. Originally I was drawn to it for the taste and eventually I just got sick of it.”
Would you rather make your own kombucha, buy it, or have nothing to do with it? Tell us, here!