Author: Holly J Coley / Photographer: Hillary Caltagirone
Before you reach for that cola, consider trying something naturally energizing. The kombucha from Blessed Brewery is what we jones for, even when we’re not fighting the dreaded afternoon slump. Ever since we started following the brand on Instagram we’ve been dying to get our hands on the stuff and when we did, we weren’t disappointed. Thirst quenching and delicious, Blessed Brews are sweet not saccharine, and give the fizz of a soda without the sugar. Made with many local, organic and fair trade ingredients, each are vegan and gluten free.
If you don’t know about kombucha, you’re not alone. While health gurus and enthusiasts swear by it, many of us have been left in the dark about this ancient tea. That’s a shame because it has major health benefits. To educate ourselves and learn more about the kick ass company bringing it to the Hudson Valley, we met with Founder and Brewer Adam Barfield and Marketing Manager Stephanie Scavelli. The three of us sat down to chat in Beacon, NY, the city where Blessed Brew is made.
“It’s not a mushroom but it’s often referred to as a mushroom culture,” Adam says, describing the tea. He would know. He’s an expert when it comes to mushrooms and has spent years learning how to grow them. “When you’re making mushrooms, one of the first steps is making a liquid culture,” he explains. “You use that liquid culture to make spawn and the spawn makes a soil you can grow the mushrooms on.”
According to Adam, making mushrooms is “very very similar to making Kombucha” because of the use of culture but it wasn’t simply his interest in fungi that turned him onto the drink. “In terms of brew, I was more into beer,” he admits with a laugh.
His passion for suds quickly shifted to a passion for what some call The Living Tea when a group of friends started telling him about how it could be made at home. Before he even tried the drink he was “kind of obsessed” with the idea of it. Impressed by its health benefits, he liked the thought of making something beneficial to the community. He began researching, utilizing his skills as a mushroom harvester to help him along. Experimenting with different teas he eventually started brewing with Yerba Mate which contains compounds that have been shown to help with mental focus and weight control. It also contains caffeine which provides a natural energy boost. “It’s a south American plant. They use it for ceremonies and daily drinking,” he explains. “It’s a different plant than most of the tea you see in the United States, because white tea, black tea and green tea all come from the same plant. Yerba Mate is a different species all together.”
Adam always had it in his mind to create the brews commercially but before he could do that there was lots of recipe and flavor testing. Stephanie was more than happy to help with the process. A vegan for five years and a vegetarian for ten, she learned long ago the correlation between her health and what she ate. Like Adam, she’s an avid forager and with a background in environmental science she was game to try something that had so many payoffs. Excited by how great it made her feel she quickly began turning others onto it and coordinating sales at farmers markets. “This product is changing my life,” she says. “Any time I had people over I was like, ‘You have to try this drink.’ Kombucha made me feel so good. I wanted to share that feeling with other people.”
There’s real science behind why kombucha makes people feel so invigorated and it’s due to its creation using SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). SCOBY looks a lot like a pancake made from a jellyfish and though it won’t bark or nibble your finger, it’s very much alive. It has to be fed, given oxygen, and kept at the right temperature. And while it doesn’t make its way into the final product, the probiotics it creates during digestion do. This results in kombucha being a great way to get the gut-healthy bacteria without relying on yogurt or supplements.
“It’s a living drink,” says Stephanie. “And that benefit in our digestive system is so important because we eat a lot of dead food in our culture, so it’s extremely important to get living foods in… With kombucha, SCOBY has to digest down the sugar in the tea. From its digestive process it’s spitting out the nutrients that are good for us. So there is this amazing symbiotic relationship going on.”
Along with probiotics, the drink contains amino acids and energizing B vitamins. It’s immune boosting, thanks to the antioxidants and some experts believe that its glycolic acid may prevent cancer. If you’re an athlete or suffer from joint issues, you’ll want to try it for its glucosamine and the enzymes further assist the digestive track. Its liver cleansing and its carbonation occurs naturally from the fermentation process. Most of the sugar that goes into making it is eaten by the SCOBY, creating a low calorie beverage by the time its filtered and ready for consumption.
Many Kombucha lovers concede that the beverage takes a bit of getting used to, being on the sourer side of the spectrum. But when we sampled Blessed Brew we found there was no taste to acquire. It’s just good; the flavors carefully developed over time. Stephanie says “Adam is very skilled” at finding herbs and spices that compliment each other. He does a lot of research but in the end it comes from an instinctive place. He enjoys visiting health food stores and apothecaries where he can buy different ingredients to play with. “I just like to go and open the jars and just smell,” he laughs. “Then I buy some stuff, take it home and brew it and see how it tastes. A lot of it is experiment. A lot of it is just ideas that I have.”
Many of the ingredients used in Blessed Brew kombuchas are not only added to increase flavor but to give additional medicinal benefits. Wizard Sticks contains sassafras, known to provide gastrointestinal support, as well as treat colds. The tea also has star anise, fresh pressed ginger, cinnamon sticks and winter green. It has a beautiful aromatic smell and a taste similar to root beer. It’s a good one to try if you’re just entering the kombucha world. “We call it Wizard Sticks because it’s magical,” Adam jokes. “It’s made from earthly roots, like the ginger root and cinnamon sticks.”
Ginger Dragon is a bit spicier, containing beet juice, shown to help blood circulation, and detoxifying cayenne pepper. “Ginger dragon is a really great way to start your day,” says Stephanie. “It picks you up and wakes you up. It stimulates all the systems in your body. It gets the liver going by flushing things out.” We found the Thai Tea particularly innovative with its use of orange peel, Ceylon Tea in place of Yerba Mate, and vanilla. While you can drink it straight from the bottle, pouring it over ice and adding a little almond milk or nut based cream takes it to a whole other level. All beverages come with a best before date on the bottle. Eye catching and with an eastern flare, labels were developed by graphic designer Loren Klein, who Adam says is “basically a genius” when it comes to branding.
Although the company is only a year into business, its garnered ample attention and enthusiasm from the community. Their products have been snatched up at farmers markets, made local papers and are generating buzz on social media. Beacon’s More Good was the ideal place to produce on a larger scale. Owner Jason Schuler has shown a lot of support, helping them make contact with health inspectors and making sure they were in compliance with the laws for brewing kombucha commercially. “We could have gone to another commercial kitchen but they wouldn’t have been as invested,” says Adam. “Jason is about local companies succeeding and creating healthy, alternative food for people.”
In the future, Adam and Stephanie plan to offer another product called Jun which uses a different culture than kombucha and subsists on honey. They hope this product will allow them to support local bee farmers and bring more awareness to the importance of hives in our ecological system. “Part of the whole idea is to not just have it be about a product but more about a lifestyle,” says Stephanie.
Blessed Brew Kombucha can be found at the Chappaqua Farmers Market and the Irvington Farmers Market. To learn more or order, visit blessedbrewery.com.