•  Wellness

    Super drink- Kombucha

  • –  Shailaja Sharma

    Indian Kombucha market is finally having its moment!

    By now the word is out in the open. There’s a new champagne-like tea in town and in all probability your colleague or neighbour is chugging it down with a wholesome breakfast or a meal.

    Kombucha is opening upreal conversation about probiotics and natural fermentation with Indian consumersand whether you love it for its unique taste or hate it for the same, the beverage is quick becoming a café staple and a go-to-drink for those looking to consume functional beverages.

    The Indian kombucha market is nascent, nurtured by homebrewers and establishedby brands that have passionately begun from their home kitchens, just like I did with HappyBooch, two years ago. And I can speak collectively on behalf of this industry to say that kombucha is rising as an influential player in the Indian beverage industry like never before.

    For me, it started with tugging of heavy glass bottles of homemade kombucha in ice-boxes week after week, paper cups for sampling in tow, a poster rolled under one arm, and I was ready to unleash the kombucha queen within. There were lot manycurious looks from the clean-eating shoppers at the farmers’ markets, who had yet not been acquainted with the mysterious brew that is kombucha, but once they had understood the tarty, vinegary beverage, they were quick to join the booch fanclub. Cut to the present day, a majority of buyers and fans of the booch can sniffit from a distance and don’t hesitate in picking up a dozen bottles at a go.

    At least six new Indian kombucha brands have sprung up in 2018 alone as passionate brewers of the drink see promise of building a business for themselves.

    As a result of these developments, kombucha is beginning to be seen on café menus in cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore and can be found in store aisles of gourmet chains like Nature’s Basket and Foodhall, sitting pretty alongside its beverage peers and soda giants.

    Tea but with probiotics and a long history

    For the uninitiated, kombucha is a sweetened black or green tea that is fermented for a week or two with the help of the fluffy gelatinous kombucha culture known as a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), which forms an airtight seal at the top of the brewing jar and releases probiotics and beneficial acids into the tea mixture during the course of fermentation. The culture does so by feeding off the sugar and caffeine in the tea, resulting in a naturally bubbly beverage that is low in calories and sugar and high on benefits.

    The fermented tea has been around since 220 B.C., originating in China and traveling to Russia, Korea and the United States through trade.

    The popular story goes that the tea derived its name from a Korean physician Dr. Kombu, who brewed the tea for curing Japanese Emperor Inkyo. Besides the namesake, it has been called by 80 other names worldover, including mushroom tea, teekwass, wunderpilz, hongo, and teeschwamm.

    The kombucha industry officially began over two decades ago when GT Dave founded GT’s Kombucha, the largest brand of such drinks in the US. Prior to GT’s kombucha enthusiasts worldover merely shared their SCOBYs to homebrew the beverage. The drink, called everything from “health elixir” and “tea of immortality” remained a farmers’ market successbefore the likes of Starbucks and Coke, PepsiCo set their eyes on snapping up local companies.

    Earlier this year, the US-based coffee chain Starbucks Corp. debuted its own line of juice-based kombucha under brand Evolution Fresh, which it had acquired in 2011. PepsiCo acquired kombucha company KeVita in 2016 while Coca Cola Co bought Australia’s Organic & Raw Trading Co, which makes MOJO kombucha, as recent as September 2018.

    And the proof is in the booch. The marked for the non-alcoholic fermented tea in the USis estimated to have crossed $1billion in saleslast year while the global kombucha market is projected to reach $5.4 billion by 2025, according to a report by Grand View Research Inc. Besides established markets of North America, Australia, certain European countries, Japan, and China, countries including Thailand, Singapore, and India are turning out to be promising kombucha markets of the future.

    If not for the health benefits, more and more people drink kombucha for its taste profile and the natural boost of energy. A gap existed in the market for a social, refreshing, and non-alcoholic drink – kombucha with its variety of natural flavours and brands is filling that gap for many.

    The Gut connection

    A big reason for the rise in popularity of fermented foods is the topic of gut-health. The ‘most under-rated organ’ as author Giulia Enders describes it in her book on the inside story of the gut, is finally getting the attention it deserves. And that is not without a reason as gut bacteria are proven to play a role in everything from obesity, allergies, or mental illnesses.

    Say, when we go through a course of antibiotics, a great deal of good bacteria are washed out of our system, which if we fail to repopulate automatically or through ingestion of probiotics, we compromise our immune system and become susceptible to infections.

    As we know, fermentation is not a new technique. Consumption of fermented foods has been an essential part of a balanced diet in most cultures – curd, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, kanji, kvass, miso, and closer home idliand dhokla – giving us a diversity of gutmicrobiome. However, with heightened consumption of processed foods, instances of gut imbalance, leaky gut or irritable bowel syndrome have been common modern day health concerns. And so it is no surprise that ‘fermented’ and gut-friendly foods are now more sought after than ever before.

    So in essence, kombucha, or its equivalents kefir or kvass are no hipster drinks or fads of the present generation. They have known to work on different areas for different people and the outcomes can be surprising. Personally, I always find that my kombucha gives me the extra boost of energy I need to lift the heavy jars and bottles and to stand all day brewing new batches.

    So next time you spot the kombucha at your local farmers’ market, store or café, don’t hesitate to get yourself a shot of the effervescent tea. And if you will, tell me what you thought if it.

    Fast growth but a long ride

    The growth of kombucha, cold-pressed juices, kefir, and bottled water come in the face of a declining volume growth in the US soda market, as consumers gravitate toward ‘natural’ and low-sugar offerings, forcing giants Coca Cola Co and PepsiCo to revamp their cans and launch a variety of flavours. Consumers are demanding probiotics and functionality in their beverage, so passing off high sugar, caffeine, and calories in every day products cannot continue into the future.

    Similarly, with rising disposable incomes of Indian consumers, there also is a visible shift in putting the money behind quality produce and supporting small, local, organic and crafted products. Dozens of organic and ‘farmers’ market’ concept stores are popping up across Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore,Kolkata and Goa, disrupting the convenience store concept.

    Still, kombucha is a niche drink. It’s not for everybody and it isn’t big enough for a large player to blow up the category at the moment, but the future looks bright as the booch has handful of other things going in its favour.

    It’s not just the local or organic qualities that make kombucha an interesting beverage. It has earned itself wide popularity globally owing to the fact that it a healthier replacement to sodas, iced-teas and non-natural energy drinks and has a lot more character in flavour profile. The fermentation process leaves behind only trace amounts of sugar and alcohol (below 0.5%), giving it the enviable position of checking the nutrition box well. For example, calories and sugar content in kombucha can be a fourth of what popular juices or carbonated drinks offer.

    To add to the list, it’s vegan-friendly, gluten-free, fat-free and is often found to contain good bacteria and yeast, b-vitamins, amino acids, enzymes, other beneficial acids. Of course, like any other product, certain kombucha can also come with tweaks of added sugar, added juice, added carbonation, or worst of all – pasteurization. Kombucha in its true form is raw and alive with fermentation activity even after bottling. That’s where, the industry believes, the benefits come from.

    It would be unfair to not mention the war that has been waged on kombucha over time. With its mystical origin, debated health benefit claims, and alive nature, it has been a tough category of beverage to deal with, and not as simply described and understood as milk or other ancient beverages. While enthusiasts over the centuries in many cultures have brewed and consumed kombucha for boosting their immunity and fighting illnesses and history is full of anecdotal data of the brew helping people with various conditions, there are no reliable studies to back up these claims. What we know from studies and tests, however, is that kombucha contains naturally occurring probiotics, b-vitamins, the various beneficial acids and enzymes, which are helpful in healing the gut and bettering digestion.

    To give it some credit, it has survived for over 2200 years across cultures, and the past two decades in North America with demand still rising in double digits.

    The differentiators


    About HappyBooch

    HappyBooch is a Mumbai-based small-batch artisanal kombucha company that is mission-driven to offer stronger gut-health via its range of signature all natural beverages. The delicious line of kombucha from HappyBooch is vegan-friendly, gluten-free, naturally effervescent, free from any added sugar or artificial flavours. We only rely on the magic of natural fermentation and absolute transparency of our real ingredients. In a short span of two years since inception, HappyBooch has become Mumbai’s most loved and trusted kombucha brand. The 100% natural fermented tea brand was started in its founder’s home kitchen in 2016, who was at the time looking for natural remedies to cure her gut and to create natural probiotics to include in her diet. Her childhood love and fascination for exotic teas and adulthood obsession of creating healthy concoctions and fermenting her foods made her want to share the ‘magic potion’ with as many people as possible. The brand was a farmers’ market success from day one and has since been selling through select café and retail partners and various organic farmers’ market in the city.

    HappyBooch is a 100% glass-fermented and glass-stored kombucha brand, using only the highest-quality local organic ingredients – loose leaf teas, herbs, botanicals, barks and fruits, all of which create a healing beverage which is also low on calories and sugar. Glass is the only material that does not leach or react with the beverage during the fermentation process. Each bottle of HappyBooch Kombucha is brewed and packaged by hand and that’s what makes it so special in a world full of beverages that are mass-produced with high sugar and preservatives. HappyBooch is rich in naturally occurring probiotics, beneficial acids, enzymes and b-vitamins, making it the beverage of choice for those looking for functionality from their food. We also go a step further by using UV-protected amber glass bottles to protect the good bacteria in our kombucha.

    We also follow a zero waste philosophy in every aspect of our business – we take great pains to collect empty glass bottles back from the customers in exchange of rebate to them. We sanitize and reuse the perfect fine bottles and upcycle the chipped ones as well as the neck rings from the caps. All our ingredient waste, including the tea leaves, herbs, fruit pulp goes into compost or as free manure to the farmer community.

    Flavours and best-sellers 

    Our signature all-year flavours include Rose Lavender, Basil Lime, Chai Spice, Butterfly Peafower, Apple Cinnamon, Ginger, but we also make a lot of seasonal brews. Think strawberry, guava, mango or lychee, when the fruits are available in the season.

    Our most loved flavour in the market is the Rose Lavender kombucha, which is often compared with a refreshing glass of champagne or wine. The loyal booch lovers swear by the classic Chai Spice, which has the rich aroma of cinnamon, cardamom and clove. Our guava is a great pick me up and a surprising mix of tarty, sweet, fruity beverage.

    Our kombucha is available in retail storesin glass bottles of 250ml priced at Rs150/- and customers can also order the 500ml at Rs250/- directly from us via our website or Instagram page. We’re available at Nature’s Basket outlets in Bandra, Juhu, Lokhandwala, Mahalaxmi, Powai, Chembur, Goregaon, Churchgate, and Vile Parle; and Kenorita Supermarket at Napeansea Road.

    Customers can also find us at select food popups.

    Atmosphere Kombucha 

    Atmosphere Kombucha is the champagne of Kombuchas. Having a very light base flavour, slightly sweet and tangy, it lends itself well to natural flavour variants. The ginger is a favourite for ginger lovers; exotic lime is refreshing and energising, the blueberry lavender is complex and relaxing, while the mango and guava fruity explosions in your mouth bringing the best of the seasons to you.

    About Atomsphere Komucha

    Established by sisters, Ariella and Rebekah Blank, Atmosphere Kombucha is an authentic & tasty probiotic drink that comes in a variety of yummy flavours.

    The sisters are certified nutritionists and very passionate about clean eating and healthy living. They make the kombucha themselves while experimenting with fresh seasonal fruits and herbs to infuse with their healthy, probiotic tea. Growing up in the lush green Himalayas, surrounded by fresh air and positivity, they are excited to bring parts of that stress – free mind set & clean lifestyle to the busy city of New Delhi by creating a healthy ‘Atmosphere’ for their customers.

    And a little bit about Kombucha

    Kombucha is tea that has been fermented with a SCOBY and is full of probiotics and digestive enzymes. Low in calories and sugar while tasting sweet and slightly tangy, kombucha aids digestion, boosts metabolism, and bolsters the immune system. A powerhouse of energizing B vitamins, acetic acid and antioxidants, Atmosphere kombucha is an all-around happiness tonic.

    Atmosphere Kombucha is currently for sale at over a dozen stores and cafes around the Delhi. We also deliver directly to customers in Delhi NCR and offer subscription models to Kombucha addicts.

    Shailaja Sharma is a Mumbai- based independent writer,a certified yoga instructor, fermentation fiend and founder of HappyBooch Kombucha. She can be reached on happyboochindia@gmail.com