Prior to my chef friends Steven Strupp and Michael Zonfrilli starting Bambucha Kombucha my interest in Kombucha was minimal and my exposure limited to a quick glance and slight chuckle as I walked by booths at the farmers market pitching it.
Another hipster/hippie concoction to heal everything I thought to my smug, uneducated self.
It wasn’t until I was browsing the opening of the new Lazy Acres store in Encinitas and saw at least a dozen brands of Kombucha in a section dedicated entirely to it that I decided to follow up with Steven and Michael and learn more.
These guys have impressive culinary resumes and are not the type to jump on a trending bandwagon without the skills and intuition that this isn’t a fad but a new beverage category poised to go mainstream.
I should also mention that I’ve been drinking their stuff for about a month and love it as a healthy alternative to soda. Here are some highlights from our recent conversation.
Let’s start with the basics. For those readers unfamiliar with Kombucha, what the heck is it?
Michael Zonfrilli: It is a fermented probiotic tea. An ancient elixir made from introducing a culture to sweetened tea and letting it ferment. The symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, or SCOBY, eat the sugars in the tea, producing natural carbonation and beneficial acids that give it a bright, tart flavor.
Give me a nutshell history and why do you think it’s made such a resurgence of late?
Michael Zonfrilli: Kombucha making is over 200 years old and originated in China and made its way to Japan and Korea, where it possibly got its name from a doctor named Kombu. I recently spoke to a woman whose mother used to make in Russia, where it turned up in the early 1900s. I first tried it on a communal farm in southern Oregon about 25 years ago, so here in the states it seems to have been nurtured, in its dormancy, by hippies.
Steven Strupp: Everyone is becoming more conscious of what they put into their bodies. Drinking this every day will detoxify your body while putting good bacteria in your gut.
It is a great substitute for high sugar sodas and juices. We also think Kombucha brewing is evolving and producing more enjoyable drinks. Kombucha in general takes a few tries to develop a taste for, but we are really trying to create an approachable drink that is enjoyable, and possibly really quite good for you.
There are all kinds of purported health claims surrounding it, you guys have been drinking it, what have you noticed?
Michael Zonfrilli: This is just one part of our daily regime. Just like exercise and putting good nutritious foods into my body Kombucha it’s just one piece of the pie. We don’t like to preach about possible health benefits, but we feel great when I drink it. We are both totally hooked and don’t go a day without some. We recommend starting with a four ounce serving and increasing, as desired, once your body, and taste buds acclimate.
You both have stellar culinary resumes, what was the motivation behind this venture, entering a somewhat crowded market?
Steven Strupp: For the past seven years I’ve has been home brewing beer and always wanted to open up my own brewery in the area. Although I’ve brewed Kombucha a few times it wasn’t until Michael approached with the idea that I gave it good thought. Compared to beer market the Kombucha industry is such an emerging market, really in its infancy with plenty of room for quality entrants like Bambucha.
Love the name by the way, where did it come from?
Michael Zonfrilli: Bambucha is a Hawaiian slang for “really big” and that is exactly how we want our flavors to be. We also liked how it rhymed with Kombucha.
What are some of the Bambucha differentiators, what makes you different?
Steven Strupp: Well, to start we have chef-crafted flavors that are more interesting and fun than most offerings on the market. Since we are both coming at it from a chef’s perspective, we are really into combining ingredients that create perfect balance of flavor. We take inspiration from the flavor pairings of world cuisines. Our Mango Masala combines organic mango with turmeric, ginger, lime and cayenne. Sicilian Sunrise combines Valencia orange with fennel pollen and anise. Thai Bird is lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, ginger and Thai bird chili. We also use a proprietary technique we named “intense maceration” to best extract flavor from our ingredients.
You had mentioned also developing shrub syrups for cocktails, what’s that all about?
Michael Zonfrilli: Yes that will be phase two of our launch. We are actually making a probiotic vinegar by fermenting our kombucha for a very long time. We mix this with organic cane sugar and natural flavors and age it some more. The shrub syrups are amazing mixed with sparkling water or into crafty cocktails.
When can we expect to see you in stores and restaurants?
Steven Strupp: We are currently in Cardiff Seaside Market and having both been connected to the restaurant scene in San Diego we already have several restaurants ready for us. We are in the process of making new connections, doing tastings, and getting accounts lined up. Any restaurant or bar with a draft beer system should consider having at least one Kombucha on tap. Grocery stores that have juice bars and growler filling stations are great because we really like the sustainability of reusable bottles.
Check out Bambucha Kombucha at bambuchakombucha.com.
David Boylan is the founder of Artichoke Creative an Encinitas based integrated marketing firm. He also hosts Lick the Plate Radio that airs Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. on FM94/9, Easy 98.1, and KSON. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (858) 395-6905.