Scoby Snacks

An artisan, live-fermented beverage produced by a Hackney Wick brewery has been making waves in trendy shops and bars across London.

An artisan, live-fermented beverage produced by a Hackney Wick brewery has been making waves in trendy shops and bars across London. No, we’re not talking about a new craft beer from Crate Brewery, but a North-East Asian variety of raw fermented tea, produced by Jarr Kombucha and drunk for its supposed health benefits.

Jarr Kombucha is the brainchild of Adam Vanni, an American tea enthusiast. Adam’s passion for kombucha started when he was living in LA, making the drink in his parents’ kitchen to save money. On a stopover visit, the folks behind neighbouring Crate persuaded him he should move to the UK and upscale production.

“We all realised nobody was really doing it in the UK or in Europe at all for that matter,” Adam explains. “So we jokingly suggested I move over and scale up and start a brewery, so I just booked a flight and two months later I was here experimenting away.”

After moving to the UK in May 2015, Adam opened the first ever kombucha taproom in Europe in October 2015 and, sixth months later, Jarr Kombucha was put into bottles for the first time. The brewery now has the capacity to produce up to 1,000 litres a week, and grows all its own ‘scobys’ (the symbiotic cultures of bacteria and yeast used in the fermentation of kombucha) in-house.

“We’re growing quite organically and we’re trying not to scale up too quickly,” Adam says, ”which is cool because we’re able to pick and choose the people we work with.

“We started with an organically certified scoby from Happy Kombucha, and then we grew that up slowly from a jar and into our stainless steel fermentation tanks. We have our own farm, where we propagate our own cultures. It’s kind of like growing plants.”

Unlike those who brew kombucha in single batches at home, Jarr Kombucha produces its tea using a method known as ‘continuous brew’. This involves skimming off around 200 litres from each of the brewery’s fermentation tanks to create the perfect blend, then topping this up with sweet tea.

“We find that we have more consistency and a denser profile of acids and beneficial bacteria from this method,” Adam states. “The tea turns over much more efficiently and quickly than an entire batch would. At our scale, a single batch would otherwise take a month and a half; we turn over tanks every week.”

The supposed health benefits of kombucha have long been the subject of intense debate, with some even going as far as to claim the product can treat a wide variety of human illnesses, including AIDS, cancer, and diabetes. Others say these claims are wildly overstated and that kombucha can even be harmful in large doses due to its highly acidic content.

“We don’t like to claim its some magical cure-all or anything,” Adam says. “But in a very basic sense it’s tea, and tea contains many different things that are good for you. Green tea contains anti-oxidant polyphenols that are amazing for balancing the blood sugar. It contains magnesium and calcium, which are really good for bone growth. Tea is amazing for the immune system and then when you ferment it you get this whole acid profile; acetic acid, lactic acid and all these things are good for detoxifying the kidneys and the liver.

“It’s also good for digestion. It breaks down starches and proteins really efficiently, and it contains live bacteria similar to those found in yoghurt, which help to grow microflora in your gut. There have been no studies done on kombucha as a whole, but all of us are avid digesters and we’ve all noticed the benefits.

“You wouldn’t want to have it if you have an intolerance to yeast, but other than that, there shouldn’t be any negative effects on the body. Generally speaking, we’ve never had any issues with ourselves and customers or consumers.”

Health effects aside, part of the appeal of kombucha lies in its ethical and sustainable credentials. Jarr Kombucha is no different in this regard, with the tea leaves used in production hailing from two organically certified plantations in Sri Lanka and Taipei. “Our green tea is from the first carbon neutral tea plantation in Sri Lanka,” Adam says proudly. “And our Oolong tea comes from a single estate outside of Taipei. We’ve bought his entire crop for the season.”

“We don’t know many other brands that actually use Oolong tea in their brew because it’s so expensive, but it creates a texture and mouthfeel that’s completely different.”

Jarr Kombucha currently produces three different teas. The original recipe is described by Adam as “like a non-alcoholic, sparkling apple cider,” while the passion fruit flavour is a blend of the classic kombucha with 100% pure Ecuadorian passion fruit purée. “It’s an incredible burst of juicy flavour and it goes really well in cocktails,” Adam says. The range is completed by the ginger kombucha, a low sugar, healthy ginger beer substitute that is the best-selling of Jarr Kombucha’s teas.

“Our flavour is a bit more sour and punchy than some kombucha,” Adam says. “It’s unfiltered and unapologetic – that’s the whole concept behind our name. We’re jarring flavour and concept.”

While currently still confined mainly to London and only in higher-end retail and health shops, Adam is hoping it won’t be long before Jarr Kombucha is available further afield. “We’ve had people contact us from Singapore and Dubai. I’m currently in talks with a guy from Iceland about potentially buying a pallet next week, but for now we’re pretty London-centric.”

“We’re slowly making our way towards the mainstream, but we’re restricted by the amount we can produce. With kombucha you must nurture these scobys and essentially grow them from scratch. Every tank takes about a month and a half.”

Although kombucha is still a fairly new trend within the UK market, with less than ten breweries nationally, the demand in America is far greater, and is something Adam is hoping will soon be replicated across the pond. “It seemed really strange at first; this funky sour tea, how’s that ever going to take off? But it did.

"The US Kombucha market is now valued at $650m and it’s going up at a consistent growth rate of 25 per cent a year, which is just unheard of. They’re predicting globally that it’s going to be a $1bn market by 2020.”

So why exactly are people going mad for these organic, healthy teas?

“I think it’s part of a bigger move towards conscious eating,” Adam explains. “People don’t want the guilt associated with drinking a coca cola with lunch. They want something that’s good for them. Everyone seems to be moving more towards drinking craft beverages, whether it’s a beer, a soda, a coffee or a tea; they want to know where the product came from and who made it.

“The mass market appeal just isn’t the same that it used to be. I think that’s really exciting, and it’s allowing a lot of smaller artisan producers to develop things and do quite well out of it.”

Looking to the future, Jarr Kombucha has just ordered another five tanks, and is partnering up with a number of cocktail bars in London. It’s also produced a custom kombucha for a symposium in Paris in June, and is aiming to launch two new flavours in the next few months. “We’re always experimenting,” Adam says. “The cool thing about kombucha is you can add any kind of flavouring, whether it’s fruit, sugar or spices, post-fermentation. You can customise every single batch, which is pretty great.”

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