Gluten Free Drinks: Kombucha

...Hey guys

...Hey guys

At the beginning of December last year I was on one of my trips to Hawaii, so this year while it's beginning to freeze in New England (although it has been unseasonably warm lately - low 50s!!), I'm reminiscing about floating around Waikiki Beach, driving by the huge - and kind of creepy - Christmas figurines in Honolulu, and Christmas music playing in the open air malls as I wandered about sweating in shorts. I am super jealous of past me.

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Instead of engaging in some twisted form of self-jealousy I am going to share with you one of my favorite take-aways of my time in Hawaii: the nectar of the gods, kombucha. This stuff was so accessible around Hawaii, and if it wasn't such a normal beverage option in Hilo and Kona on the Big Island I doubt I ever would have tried it. The thought of fermented tea is pretty bogus, but when I wandered into Conscious Culture Cafe in Hilo one day after work I became a believer.

 

Conscious Culture Cafe has since merged with Big Island Booch Kombucha, which had an outpost before but was making some booch in the Cafe when I first stopped in. I only stopped in because of the sounds coming through the screen door - cheerful music, lots of happy chatter and the soft clinks of utensils on plates that seems to signal good food is near. The orange room was small with a small wooden bar and a few taps, and a drink sounded perfect after a long day of work. I realized pretty quickly that the taps were not for alcohol though, but the concept of kombucha distracted me from being disappointed. 

I asked all the beginner questions: was it alcoholic, is fermented bad, is it really good for you (answers: not really, not in this case, maybe but not definitely)? Then came by real question: but is it good? Luckily they are big on letting you sample of Big Island Booch, and as many as you'd like! I pretty much sampled the whole list. 

 

I'd describe kombucha as a sweet but tangy alternative to soda, with lots of carbonation and a light fruity flavor. When I first arrived at the cafe they had big silver vats in the back room, each topped with what looked like a canvas tarp as different types of kombucha were made. This stuff is delicious, and every time I visited I purchased a new glass bottle and refilled it at least once a day. The trick to this fresh kombucha is to keep it cool, which is next to impossible going to and from work in Hawaii, where if the temperature itself won't melt you, the humidity certainly will. Basically this means once you get your kombucha in Hawaii, if you can't store it in a fridge you need to chug that puppy. That's not really a problem though since it's so delicious!

About the health benefits: supposedly kombucha is great for your gut and digestion, and helps with mental clarity and an improved mood. My mood was pretty great the whole time - I was in Hawaii! - and I'm not sure I noticed these purported benefits, but I'd be really interested in hearing about any stories of success you have!

Local fruit samples, too!

Local fruit samples, too!

Kombucha is available all over, but usually I can only find it in bottled form and not straight from the tap. So far the only exception I've found is at my local Whole Foods, where there's a small tap recently added to the back of the store. Bottled Kombucha offerings are all over the place though - at a WF in Houston I saw a huge variety of brands and flavors - and if you can find them, tell me your favorite brand and flavor! Since Big Island Booch is only on the islands (for now!) I have to get a bit more creative. I can't say enough good things about Big Island Booch though - if you're ever in Hawaii this is a must, and if you make it to Hilo I seriously insist you stop by the Conscious Culture Cafe to chat with their friendly staff, listen to a music night, or eat a local filling lunch or dinner. They are the BEST.

Have you had an interesting kombucha experience? Want to weigh in on the best brand or flavor?