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Photograph by Stephen Laufer

Berry Kombucha: Our photographer wants you to know that kombucha does not come with berries or flowers, but it just looks better this way.

Kombucha Krazy

Why an elixir that tastes like cider brewed with your roommate's socks is taking Santa Cruz by storm

By Zoe Elizabeth

There's a new drug on the streets of Santa Cruz. It tastes something like cider brewed with your roommate's socks and each sip is punctuated by long strands of slimy snotlike culture. Called kombucha, it's the naughty fermented tea that has been disappearing off local health food stores' shelves faster than you can say farmers market. For those not yet hooked, kombucha is an elixir created through the alchemy of fermentation. A starter culture is added to a mixture of black tea and sugar, then left to sit for a week or more. Want to see the results of this alchemy? Head to New Leaf and observe the drink aisle. As soon as a supply of G.T.'s Organic Raw Kombucha arrives, the fungus fanatics are there, busily filling their green baskets. Stand contemplating your purchase long enough and one of the clerks is sure to give you the pusher man's grin and whisper, "Stay away from the stuff, it's addictive." If you're smart, you'll listen. In the last few weeks demand has eclipsed supply and the shelves at stores around town have emptied before they can be restocked. In those few days, as addicts anxiously awaited the next shipment, I swear I saw panic in people's eyes all over town.

When I called the great folks at G.T., I was greeted with a message explaining there is a supply shortage and asking for patience. But don't worry, there need not be thousands of Cruzans locking themselves in padded rooms shaking with withdrawals, because there is another source in town, a fresher local source from which to get your cultured cure. The health-wise epicurean ladies at the Attic have long had a fever for the funguslike flavor. Not wishing to dawdle in lines and deal with supply shortages, they recruited a couple of kombucha experts a few months ago and started an on-site brewing operation at the Attic. There, above the Pacific Avenue trees, you can partake in a pint of bliss blended with one of the cafe's fabber than fabulous iced teas for $3.25. This is the real stuff.

If you aren't a member of the kombucha club, you're probably wondering what the buzz is about, the clarifying, slightly electrifying, subtle buzz those sweetly sour 16 ounces leave lingering in your veins hours after the final sip. It's kind of like Bikram yoga without all the sweat. It's coffee without the jitters. Yes, finally, those of us who are too clean to dabble in caffeine culture can have our own fix that's just as indulgent as a triple mocha latte. And, according to those in the know, there is no reason to start 12-stepping. This stuff is actually good for you. In the mythos surrounding the wonder drink known as "the elixir of life" in Chinese medicine, kombucha has been attributed to curing everything from acne to cancer.

Local acupuncturist Ed Kasper says that, according to traditional Chinese medicine, kombucha balances digestion, and "as digestion is better, health is better." His website (www.happyherbalist.com) elaborates: "by aiding the stomach to better digest food and by assisting the spleen to deliver more nutrition [the tea helps] the body heal itself."

Apparently, kombucha contains pre-probiotics, friendly yeasts and bacteria that Kasper says act as "house cleaners," removing toxins from the body. In Kasper's experience, as your digestion improves and your body balances, you'll have fewer cravings for junk food and more energy. When you have more energy you'll exercise more. Thus, kombucha is a catalyst toward holistic vitality. If all of this has you excited enough to start your own kombucha brewery, you can find starter kits and advanced kombucha supplies at happyherbalist.com. With your kit you can make home-brewed kombucha in six to 14 days.

If you want to experience the buzz for yourself, but can't wait a wee, head to the Attic or one of the local natural food stores. Make sure to get the raw stuff (pasteurization kills the goodies) in a glass bottle as reactions can occur with metal or plastic. And stock up. If you don't fall in love after your first slimy sip, you'll certainly be able to turn a profit during times of low-supply.

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From the July 6-13, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

For more information about Santa Cruz, visit santacruz.com.




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