Kombucha – a fermented, lightly fizzy tea drink – has been touted as a magic wand for gut health. But that’s not David Hamilton-Smith’s concern.
The brewer behind Kombu Kombucha is interested in one thing: flavour. “Why not take this ‘healthy’ drink and turn it into something that can really be enjoyed?”
Hamilton-Smith got fermentation down pat studying science in Adelaide before putting it into practice in kitchens across Sydney (most recently at Welcome Dose in Rosebery’s The Cannery). “Those pickling and fermenting skills directly translated to the kombucha world,” he says.
His recipe combines organic green and black tea from Sri Lanka with sugar, a starter culture and a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. After a four- or five-week fermentation it’s flavoured, lightly carbonated and bottled.
“A lot of kombucha is made with a really low amount of sugar – most is consumed during fermentation – which makes for a watery result,” says Hamilton-Smith.
Kombu is “a complete 180 on that”. Hamilton-Smith says not skimping on sugar means a more approachable, full-flavoured product that’s still less sweet than soft drinks or juice.
Hamilton-Smith is all-in here: he signed a two-year commercial lease in Dulwich Hill, in the inner west, and got a few thousand bottles screen-printed. “I really backed myself,” he says. And rightly so – it fast became a full-time job and output is soon to hit 1000 litres a week.
The core four types are brewed year-round. There’s an original flavour; raspberry and thyme; ginger and lemon myrtle, made with cold-pressed-ginger juice and dried lemon-myrtle leaves (for a citrus note “without smashing it with acidity”); and one that’s caffeinated by steeping coarsely ground coffee beans in unflavoured kombucha.
When it’s all about flavour, produce matters. Hamilton-Smith says his is as fresh, and made with as few food miles as possible. All that’s frozen is the Willamette raspberries from Tasmania (“they’re not a berry built for transport”).
There’ll be a new seasonal flavour every few months, starting in summer with a blend of watermelon, strawberry and rose. Look out for native ingredients – Hamilton-Smith’s been trial-brewing with pepperberry, strawberry gum and wattle seed.
You can get your hands on a bottle from stacks of places, including A1 Canteen, Sixpenny, Iggy’s Bread, Smoking Gun and Wholefoods House’s Rosebery and Woollahra stores. Or it’s on tap at The Pacific Club in Bondi.
A regular market pop-up, probably in the inner west, isn’t too far off.