The first time I tasted kombucha, about 10 years ago, my nose crinkled. Daryn Stoger is less generous with his description: “It tasted like vinegar.”
Those first impressions were common in the early days of kombucha’s current revival. Now, with a new generation of kombucha brewers such as Stoger — who, with his partner, Rachel Rappa, bottles 100 gallons of the stuff each week at Coastal Craft Kombucha in Oceanside — it’s on many supermarket shelves.
I reach for it reflexively when spring arrives; with its wisp of alcohol (usually less than 0.5 percent) and distinctive tang, kombucha can be a solid substitute for beer at the time of year when our bodies might crave a break from the indulgences of winter.
Kombucha is essentially brewed, sweetened tea fermented with a slippery disc-like starter called a scoby (an acronym for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast”). The origins of that starter supposedly stretch back to third-century China; more certain is that the funky, fizzy product of that fermentation is full of antioxidants, B vitamins and probiotics. Kombucha devotees swear the drink aids digestion and natural detoxification; others just find it energizing.
Rappa, a Long Beach native, began home-brewing kombucha four years ago after taking a kombucha-making workshop in Brooklyn. She began to distribute her efforts among family and friends, and as she refined her culture and process, finessing kombucha’s rougher edges, the kombucha “began to grow in personality,” Stoger said.
The couple began producing the drink commercially in 2015, fermenting a base of brewed black and green teas — as well as cold-brewed coffee and even yerba mate — before adding fresh fruit juices, herb extracts and spices. One of their seven flavors, Hawaiian Fire, pairs pineapple juice with a spicy hit of cayenne. Another, Berry Hibiscus, is bright-pink, floral, subtly tangy and totally delicious, a kombucha for people who swear they don’t like kombucha.
Rappa and Stoger sell their kombucha across Long Island at specialty markets and a handful of farmers markets for about $5 for 16 ounces. If you want the full experience of kicking back with a pint of kombucha, though, it’s on tap at The Purple Elephant in Northport.