Kombucha has been all the rage for foodies and health nuts looking to reap the benefits of a uniquely tangy beverage that’s rich in probiotics and anti-inflammatory qualities.
Per one of our local experts, kombucha starts with a base of green and/or black tea that goes through the fermentation process and evolves into “an effervescent and tangy beverage that’s made up mostly of water, some remnants of tea and a couple very special acids – acetic and gluconic acid.”
And while kombucha isn’t a cure-all for your health ailments, it certainly has the allure of being a tasty elixir that gives you a boost in health and immunity.
As a living natural product that’s best served fresh, you’re better off going local when you buy. Lucky for Buffalonians, our city is home to a few entrepreneurs who dove headfirst into learning the science of brewing kombucha and now offer us the freshest stuff around.
Barrel + Brine
Barrel + Brine is owned by RJ and Lindsey Marvin and opened shop in 2015, selling a variety of fermented foods such as pickles, kimchi and kombucha. With business expanding, they recently took up residence at their new home on Chandler Street, which boasts a 10,000-liter kombucha brewing system.
Lindsey originally went to school for art and after a few years, realized she wanted to do something different. “I started feeling like this isn’t for me, I wanted to make something that I knew people would benefit from as opposed to something that would sit on a table or get hung on a wall.”
Interestingly enough, that something was kombucha – the magic elixir that she concocted in her college apartment and gave to her friends to get them through hangovers and the sickness surrounding exam time. She never imagined at the time that it was something that people would actually want to buy.
She notes that the momentum behind the kombucha craze seems to have come from a mindset shift toward a more holistic approach to personal health and making a conscious choice to be proactive and ingest things that will benefit our bodies. It can also provide a means to segue from unhealthy beverages like soda and energy drinks to a healthier, satisfying option.
“Most people like kombucha because it’s basically like getting your probiotics for your gut health through a whole food instead of taking a vitamin or a pill, Lindsey said. “Your gut is kind of like a little rainforest – you need to take care of it – so having beneficial bacteria is very good for you. After you take an antibiotic or having some food that’s not super healthy, having a fermented food or kombucha helps to get that balance back that you need in your body and your immune system.”
Lindsey also shared a little background on the process of how kombucha actually gets made at Barrel + Brine, where they use a wild fermentation process without any added artificial flavors, pasteurization or filtering.
“We do a blend of two black teas and a green tea,” she said. “Basically we just brew a really dark tea with it and then it gets added with a starter tea, which is just a previous batch of kombucha that’s already acidified. Then on top is your scoby, which is a big old culture of bacteria and yeast. It’s not pretty – it looks like a jellyfish. Basically it’s going to eat all the sugar out of the tea and you end up with something that’s alive, raw and naturally fermented.”
Barrel + Brine believes in supporting their fellow local entrepreneurs and tries to highlight the area farms where they source their flavoring ingredients, like Erdle Farm and Tom Tower Farm. She recommends that buyers get to know the brewers making their favorite kombucha, too, knowing they can trust the quality of the product.
Location: 155 Chandler Street, Suite #3
Phone: (716) 248-2761
Snow Owl Kombucha
Snowy Owl Kombucha is the passion project of two sisters – Tara Sasiadek and Anna Bystran – who were raised in a family of foodies.
“We grew up loving to cook and experiment. We really enjoy the process of making kombucha and serving it,” said Sasiadek. “We also did have a lot of cancer and heart disease in our family. So it kind of became a combination of the hospitality and experimenting in the kitchen with family that we grew up with, but also something that was healthy for us – a very low sugar replacement for a soda or pop. We ended up liking it enough ourselves that we ended up making it for other people as well.”
Sasiadek touts the numerous benefits one can reap from drinking kombucha, from the probiotics that help your body build a fortuitous microbiome and promote healthy digestion, to the vitamin B and acetic acid that help fight inflammation. Plus, it can offer a healthier energy boost than drinking a cup of coffee would.
“Now the estimates are that about 80 percent of your immune system is in your gut,” Sasiadek said. “Your immune system is making sure that you only take in the nutrients that you need and protecting you from anything that you don’t want in your system. Having probiotics is a way to make sure that you are feeding your immune system. There’s also the antioxidants in the tea so you’re getting a lot of anti-inflammatory benefits.”
After a bout with cancer at the age of 23, Sasiadek started looking into farm shares and other resources to rebuild her body’s health.
“I started making kombucha when I read about the acetic acid. Just like eating a lot of greens and trying to stay healthy in a bunch of small ways, it was one of the things I added to my pile of self care. Now my business partner and I drink kombucha like fish drink water.”
The owners at Snowy Owl love experimenting with new flavors and utilizing local products in their brews – like the Tart Cherry Vanilla flavor that features tart cherry concentrate from Singer Farms in Niagara County. Building relationships with local growers and makers is important to them, since they want to provide a product that’s fresh.
And while they focus primarily on consumption for health, they note that kombucha also makes a nice mixer for a cocktail. “Instead of adding juice to your mimosa – add kombucha. Same thing with gin and juice – gin and kombucha. Right now our tart cherry vanilla flavor, which is like a healthy version of cherry coke, is really nice with whiskey.”
They sell their kombucha wholesale, on tap at various Buffalo restaurants, and at their location. Since the pandemic, they’ve also offered home delivery for local customers. On Saturdays they open up their shop where customers can drop in, get tips on recipes, and get their growlers filled at a discounted price.
“We make our kombucha fresh constantly, so instead of it going on a truck and coming here and buying off a shelf in a grocery store – its the same thing as going to a farmers market and getting something that’s made locally. It’s a living product.”
Owners: Tara Sasiadek & Anna Bystran
Location: The Niagara Frontier Food Terminal, 1500 Clinton St. Unit 156
Big Norwegian Kombucha
Big Norwegian Kombucha is a husband-wife operation with a name inspired by one of its owners, Andy Bannister (THE big Norwegian). While Marissa is the flavor architect, Andy is the master of fermentation, production and distribution. They provide kombucha via pick-up at their taproom at 500 Seneca and through wholesale and home delivery within the city of Buffalo.
“The main effect that we’re going for is helping people to alkalize their body,” Bannister said. “One of the wonderful things that happens when you digest a fermented food, specifically the acids made in fermented foods, is that after it passes through your stomach, the next phase of digestion leaves an alkaline ash. So although you’re eating a pretty light acid, it actually is leaving an alkaline ash behind throughout the rest of your digestive process, which can definitely help in reducing the mainly acidic internal environment that a lot of people live with.”
Having an acidic internal environment can make you prone to inflammation, gut problems, blood pressure, and emotional health issues. Bannister recommends introducing some healthier foods – like kombucha – to help remedy that internal acidity.
Bannister notes that different brewers have different preferences as far as what teas they build their kombucha around and how they design their brew. The Big Norwegian style produces a sweetness naturally, which helps them in their quest to provide an alternative to help customers stop drinking soda or pop.
“We try to nurture things a little differently. We push to create a little more gluconic acid, which is a very sweet acid, and we do that so that we don’t have to add copious amounts of sweeteners to our product after the fact.”
Bannister recommends drinking 8 ounces of kombucha per day, first thing in the morning before eating or drinking anything else.
“I love to see the mental shift of people who decide ‘I want to purchase something that’s going to make me feel good’ and then they do it,” he said. “Especially during this pandemic and all of the weird stuff that’s going on in the world, it’s important that we take care of ourselves. We have to make sure that we’re ready to fight the good fight.”
Owners: Andy and Marissa Bannister
Location: 500 Seneca Street
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