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Spotlight of Kombucha

The founder of Pure Kombucha, Paul Sherring, was invited to write an article b
Naturopathy Magazine, Spring Issue 2022: pp.28~30.

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Known as ‘The Tea of Immortality’ or ‘Immortal Health Elixir,’ Kombucha was first recorded in China around 221 BC during the Tsin Dynasty. It has been drunk widely across Russia, Eastern Europe and Japan for hundreds of years. From this point in history Kombucha spread across Eastern Europe and was long known in Russia as a healing tea called ‘Kvass’, which was said to be grown from a “Japanese Mushroom”.

The name Kombucha is said to have been created in Japan between 415 AD and 450 AD. There are two stories of where the name originates from; “Kombu” or possibly Kambu, either taken from the Japanese name for brown seaweed or for the doctor who brought Kombucha to Japan to cure Emperor Inkyo. The second part of the word “cha” meaning tea. Finally, to confuse even more; there is a fermented tea in Japan with name Kombu, so the truth remains a mystery.

Kombucha traditionally is a colony of yeasts and bacteria that digest sugar and black or green tea and produce a naturally fizzy fermented probiotic drink with numerous health benefits. Due to the fermentation process involved in creating Kombucha, it contains a large number of healthy living bacteria. These bacteria line your digestive tract and support your immune system, as they absorb nutrients and fight infection and illness.

As a producer, stall holder and the founder of ‘Pure Kombucha’ much fun is had when talking to people from Japan at farmers’ markets or events due to the language barrier. It is a real challenge to garner interest as they often think I am trying to sell them ‘brown seaweed’.

A Short History

During World War II, Kombucha production in Europe became limited due to a shortage of tea and sugar. So the growth of Kombucha was somewhat diminished, however at the same time prisoners of war shared the healing properties of Kombucha, thus still spreading the word.

In the 1960s Kombucha started to gain popularity and to appear as the ‘grooviest tea in town.’  American households, especially in California, brewed Kombucha regularly sharing with friends. It was called “Groovy Tea”.

It is ironic that, were it not for the huge money machine promoting it in the United States, Kombucha may have never have reached the mainstream, and grown this much in popularity.

The global Kombucha market size stood at USD 1.84 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach USD 10.45 billion by 2027, exhibiting a CAGR of 23.2% during the forecast period.[1]

In the 1990s GT Kombucha was founded in California by Dave Wiki, who is known as the Kombucha Billionaire. When Dave was asked how he did this he replied: “I refuse to compromise the quality of my product.”

 I have tried GT Kombucha and would say it is good.

But to be frank, there are many that are not in the same league as GT.

My own journey with Kombucha began just before April 2015. At this time, I had never heard of "The Tea of Immortality". In December 2014 I had holidayed to Asia for my winter sun (as I had for many years). An acquaintance had given us the use of a private villa and beach on the beautiful island Koa Samui, Thailand, but I had a motorcycle accident there and ended up having to have an operation on a broken wrist. When I got home I had problems with the break, the cold temperature was already making movement challenging.

I have a very rare reaction when I break a bone; much like other people, my body goes into shock, that’s normal, however with me, it’s slightly different. I have a hyper-sensitive nervous system and my sympathetic nervous system wants to over-protect my bones, so it produces more fluid and restricts movement with pain. One day a friend visited me, she had brought a bottle of Kombucha and explained some of the properties to me. A light bulb lit up in my head; (aha, helps with inflammation), I soon realised that this could help.

So in April of 2015 I attended the Natural Organics Food Show in search of stronger Kombucha. This was at the beginning of what I like to call the Gold rush. I met my first Kombucha producer at this show, asked lots of questions, and took many samples home to start making it myself. I was sure I could make a stronger Kombucha to help heal my break. The break healed very fast with many modalities and Kombucha was a key element.  I was told it would take around four years to heal the nerve damage to the wrist. It took just 18 months. I became passionate about it and decided to start a business in Kombucha.

I studied product design, graphic design, engineering and have a geek-like passion for food, so I wanted to make Pure Kombucha completely different. For two decades before this, I had been researching and attending lectures, exhibitions in both and food nutrition, new products and technology. From around 2001 I started to study and collect selected herbs. When travelling, I would buy local Indigenous foods herbs, I would ask what grew in the area, and if there were any herbs used in natural treatments, traditional drinks etc.

When I started producing Kombucha, I experimented with a substantial variety of teas, herbs and sugars. I wanted to know how the bacteria were affected by their environment, the material it was brewed in, what other factors would influence the process, and why? There are many books and articles on the subject, but nothing beats the tried and tested way. Making mistakes along the way is how you master and perfect the process. Experience is what it takes to make Kombucha really well. It’s a colony of living bacteria and once you understand how to keep it in a live state and harvest from the brew, you can make Kombucha. If you are brewing at home, it is very important Kombucha is brewed correctly, otherwise it could create an incorrect balance in the gut.

My top tip: a PH tester and heater plate or band on your container, and keep it in a dark aerated place These are the bare bone tools that will help you to produce Kombucha with successful results.

The Kombucha industry has been one of the fastest growing industries in the past decade. Around 7 years ago is when the ‘gold rush’ as I call it started in the UK. It is in full swing as the market is flooded with Kombucha, some very good and some very poor. I was looking brewery options, that would bottle, label and carbonate my Kombucha. They showed me how they brewed their Kombucha in plastic containers which is not ideal. In the UK Kombucha has become a soft drink, in other words just another carbonated drink. So, what’s the problem with that? It is no longer a ‘health drink’, as one of the side effects of carbonation on depletion of bone density[2] has been studied. The evidence is mixed but we know it isn’t natural and its always good to err on the side of caution. [3] The point of this article is: if you want to drink a health drink then try a Kombucha which is authentically brewed, naturally fizzy rather than carbonated. To make a true Kombucha it takes a minimum of 4-6 weeks to brew properly, 6-8 weeks on a large scale. Unfortunately, many producers cut corners in the name of profits, and brew as fast as possible, then add carbonation to make it fizzy with minimum health benefits.

Another worrying trend that came to my attention over the last 2 years, is the sugar free or low sugar Kombucha drinks that have been released on the market. The Scooby requires sugar to digest and convert to probiotics and B vitamins and a few healthy acids so sugar is key in the fermentation process. 

It is important as a producer to remain curious and check out the competition and see what’s new. After taking advantage of a discount deal at a well known health food shop, I took home 3 cans of Kombucha, which looked very appealing.  I put them in the fridge and took them out when they where cold. I opened to taste, then poured them straight down the sink with a shudder of revulsion.

The biggest challenge now, for a small artisan producer like myself is to convince consumers at farmers’ markets to try my authentic product after they have tried and got used to the cheaper commercial Kombucha in the shops, which can only be called ‘fizzy water’. The greatest shame is that many people are denied the access to a healthful drink that could benefit them, due to the unscrupulous ‘profit over integrity’ approach in the food and drink industry.

If you ever visit a farmers’ market and see us there please give us a try, you may be pleasantly surprised. At Pure Kombucha we are committed to producing authentic, quality, artisanal, healthy probiotic products that aid digestion and reduce inflammation and we will continue to do so as sticking to our principles is what the company ethos was founded upon.

www.purekombucha.co.uk


[1] https://www.fortunebusinessinsights.com/industry-reports/kombucha-market-100230

[2] https://egrove.olemiss.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1614&context=etd

[3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17023723/