Photo by Ash Daniel
Ninja Kombucha brews green tea as the base for its Shinobi with lemon, ginger and basil.
Richmond may be partial to breweries, but a growing number of local markets now offer a different kind of beverage on tap: kombucha. The probiotic, fermented tea has been enjoyed around the globe for nearly 2,000 years, and now, many in the River City can get their first taste.
True, its funky flavor isn’t for everyone. Neither is the sight of the slippery SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) that floats atop each batch and ferments the drink. But those who develop a taste for kombucha can’t seem to get enough.
Kate Zuckerman had her first sip in California nearly a decade ago. “There was something about it that made me feel good,” she says. Today, Zuckerman and her husband, Ethan, run the Nelson County-based Barefoot Bucha, which is sold on tap at markets including Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market, Union Market and Harvest Grocery & Supply.
The Zuckermans still use the same kombucha culture they started with years ago, which Kate believes is a major distinguishing factor between Barefoot and other brands. “The culture takes on characteristics of the water, the yeast and the air where you’re brewing,” she says. “Each SCOBY is going to be distinct, so no two kombuchas will ever taste alike.”
So what can newbies expect? At its core, the brew is effervescent with a slightly sweet-tart flavor, and it’s packed with amino acids and active enzymes that are said to detoxify the body and aid digestion. While every brand has its variations, Barefoot offers flavors like ginger, cherry root and its newest, black raspberry.
Richmond’s new Ninja Kombucha, which made its official debut at South of the James Market in May, offers complex flavor variations such as Grasshopper (lemongrass, hops, ginger and grapefruit with green tea) and Hibiscus Mist (Rooibos and black tea with strawberries and hibiscus). Founder Brett Nobile started drinking kombucha as an alternative to beer. Having worked at a commercial brewery, he was familiar with the fermentation process.
He plans to keep the operation compact and close to Richmond, he says, distributing in small markets and working with farmers to source local ingredients. “It fits into the healthy, active lifestyle of being good to your body and feeling good with knowing what you’re doing to your body.”