Kombucha. Most people have heard of it, but not all are game to try it. Put simply, the lightly carbonated and slightly tart drink is a fermented tea filled with antioxidants and gut-loving probiotics.
Kombucha is made through the fermentation of green and/or black tea, sugar, and a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). When left to ferment, the sugar is eaten by the yeast, leaving you with a very low sugar brew.
The drink is then flavoured with anything from fresh fruit and herbs to cold pressed juices and distilled essences.
There are several local companies making and selling their own kombucha. We took a look at who is making it in the Hunter and where you can buy it.
Pura Vida Organics
Pura Vida Organics is a Belmont North-based business run by the Curtis family. Cheryl Curtis first learned about kombucha from her son Dean who started drinking it while travelling through South America.
After brewing a few batches at home, the family was hooked. Their kombucha is made on the family property using single-origin loose-leaf Ceylon tea and is flavoured with organically grown ingredients, mostly from their own permaculture garden.
“It’s handmade. We do everything. We grow our ingredients, we chop them up, we add them to every bottle and we hand fill every bottle,” Curtis says.
Their kombucha flavours are seasonal and range from turmeric, ginger, passionfruit and rhubarb to beetroot, lemon, mint and mulberry. You can buy Pura Vida Organics kombucha at The Olive Tree Markets, Newcastle City Farmers Markets, Lake Macquarie City Farmers Markets, Hunter Organic Foods and Indigo Health and Wellness.
Tea Gardens Kombucha
Jeff Low has been brewing kombucha at home since the 1970s; now he is one of Australia’s biggest kombucha producers, pumping out about 5 million bottles of the drink each year from his Tea Gardens factory.
He began the business five years ago and says it has been an ongoing process of refining his kombucha recipe.
“We spent five years coming up with a recipe that is stable, sugar free and only 0.2 per cent alcohol,” he says.
Tea Gardens Kombucha, which is also sold under a few other brands, most notably, Kombucha MAX, is an ideal brew for those who are new to kombucha or have concerns about the taste.
Low uses a “long aged” kombucha process where all the sugar is brewed out and less than 0.2 per cent alcohol remains. This gives his drink a longer shelf life and “sugar free” label.
His brew is flavoured with a touch of organic fermented glucose and Australian-made distilled essences including pomegranate, apple, ginger, pear, lemon, lime, coconut, mango and turmeric.
You can order Tea Gardens Kombucha online or find it locally at Moor Cafe, Newcastle Beach Kiosk and Go Vita Health Food stores. Tea Gardens Kombucha is also making its way into Hunter schools and is already being sold at Belmont High, Irrawang High and Hunter School of the Performing Arts.
Pickled & Pressed
This plant-based cafe at The Junction microbrews its own kombucha. The team at Pickled and Pressed believe the secret to an awesome kombucha is a brew that is naturally carbonated and flavoured with cold pressed juices and natural flavours from herbs.
At Pickled and Pressed they prefer to make kombucha with a green tea base because it’s more subtle, giving the other flavours a chance to shine.
As they seasonally cold press juice, their kombucha flavours change throughout the year. This spring customers can enjoy blueberry, vanilla and thyme, a zingy lime, ginger, lemongrass, chilli and basil mix or pineapple, fresh coconut water, passionfruit and mint.
Owner of Picked and Pressed, Alice Joy, says customers are loving fermented drinks made with fresh produce.
“It’s fresh and full of original flavour combinations you won’t be able to find elsewhere.”
The man behind Central Coast-based business Kombucha Zest first started drinking kombucha while working in the investment banking industry.
“Coming from the investment banking industry with long hours and stress, maintaining a high level of health was critical to keeping on top of your game,” Nathan Jennison says. “Kombucha was a product that I consumed regularly in place of alcohol and coffee and it really helped.”
He began experimenting with brewing kombucha at home and before he knew it, had quit the big smoke to take up a life of brewing. He says kombucha, like any brewed beverage, is an art form and getting it right is the tricky part.
“Kombucha in its raw and simplest form should have fruity elements from the tea leaves with a hint of zest from the fermentation process.”
At Kombucha Zest they use premium certified organic loose-leaf black and green with certified organic raw sugar as the base product. Their flavours range from lychee, pineapple and lime and ginger, turmeric, black pepper and cayenne pepper to passionfruit with a hint of lavender. There’s also a straight up unflavoured kombucha.
Kombucha Zest can be purchased at 70 outlets throughout the Hunter, both on-tap and by the bottle. For all flavours and experimental products head to the Newcastle City Farmers Markets and call into the shed for some taste testing.
Scoop Wholefoods Kombucha
Family-run bulk food store, Scoop Wholefoods at The Junction, has an excellent variety of kombucha on tap. Founder Bettina Kirk said a great kombucha brew should be 100 per cent natural with no additives, preservatives or artificial sweeteners, and be fermented naturally.
She says Scoop has “an amazing variety” of kombucha on tap that changes depending on the organic produce available. Some of their classic flavours include ginger and lime, lemon myrtle, hibiscus flower and ginger and tumeric. Having kombucha on tap fits in perfectly with Scoop’s philosophy of zero waste. “It’s refillable, less wasteful and more cost effective,” Kirk says.