Kombucha has became so popular as of late, there was a moment where we thought it might become the “new water.” Many people think the semi-alcoholic drink is made from fermented mushrooms, but Lev, of Lev's Original Kombucha says technically, it’s a fungus, and he believes the name kombucha came from a monk in ancient China:
SCOUT: So you’re telling us this drink, which is heavily associated with dare we say it, hipsters, may have monastic roots?
LEV: I believe there was a monk named Kombu who was a healer and philosopher to the Emperor. He used chai tea as an herbal remedy for the Emperor. Kombucha today, is a tea base, but without the chai. I think the name comes from combining Kombu and chai.
SCOUT: You call it your Original Kombucha, so how long have you been making it?
LEV: I say that my business is a lifelong hobby that got carried away. In Russia and Germany, there is always something on the table that’s been fermented, it’s very culturally popular in Europe. I was bottling kombucha for friends, and they started asking why I wasn’t bottling it as a business. Now that it’s turned into a business, among many things, I’m here to make sure the kombucha retains the taste I remember growing up with.
SCOUT: What is kombucha supposed to do for our bodies?
LEV: I certainly don’t want to make any health claims, but there are three main aspects to kombucha’s health benefits, and it’s hard to say which is the most important. First, it’s full of important amino acids. Second, it has a pro-biotic effect, meaning it fights bad bacteria with good bacteria. The kombucha is like a defense mechanism in your body to help fight off bad bacteria. Third, it helps balance our pH level, and that’s why a lot of people look to it as a hangover cure.
SCOUT: Unlike a lot of other kombucha connoisseurs, you use green tea instead of black tea. Why is that?
LEV: I use green for purity. Green tea is a whole leaf tea with a subtle flavor, while black is a variety of different flavors. Black tea is oxidized and then flavors are added. I like to say “You can’t make good wine with bad grapes.”
SCOUT: We enjoy our beer on tap, and but you’re putting your kombucha into the keg as well...
LEV: In 2006, I got approval to start making kombucha, but the dilemma was how to distribute it. Bottling it was a big undertaking because you have to deal with the bottles and labels, so I decided to take a short cut by distributing it in kegs. As the tap version took off, then I moved into bottling. When I drink it, I much prefer the tap kombucha, because it’s virgin kombucha that hasn’t been exposed to the light. Kombucha is also a naturally carbonated drink, and you lose some of that in the bottling process.
SCOUT: Kombucha isn’t the only thing you make?
LEV: We also make a kombucha vinegar for cooking. It is a spectacular product that I want to expose more people to, the vinegar market is just kind of a weird one. It’s available at Whole Foods right now, and we do a minimum production. The vinegar started out as an experiment. Basically, the longer you ferment something, the more acidic it gets. My vinegar makes things taste a little bit pickled, but really enhances the taste of food. It’s great as a light dressing over a salad. It’s tough getting people to try it, but once they do, they’re hooked.
SCOUT: Where does all this mixing and measuring and creating go down?
LEV: We are working out of a rented military kitchen on Treasure Island. As you know, the island is right in the middle of the bay, and creates the perfect scenario for us to brew kombucha here. Oxygen, fresh air and cool temperatures are pertinent to making good kombucha, and we have all of that here. We also have an excellent view.
Check Lev’s site for an ever-expanding list of spots you can enjoy his kombucha in the city. He currently offers seven flavors: Original, Black Currant, Hibiscus, Mango, Mint, Ginger and NutraGreen. Collect them all!