In this series of interviews, we feature local fermentation enthusiasts and makers to celebrate the growing diverse community of folks doing fermentation here in the Philippines. This series is not sponsored.
This chat with kombucha brewer TVN Kitchen is much needed. My first introduction to kombucha wasn’t the most pleasant experience. And I didn’t even get to taste it. Somebody gave me kombucha in a swing-top glass bottle and told me it was still fermenting. Unfortunately, at the time, I wasn’t much of a fermentation enthusiast and didn’t have dreams of being a kombucha brewer in the Philippines, so I wasn’t paying attention to the instructions.
Either the bottle was shaken before I opened it or I failed to burp it, that when I opened it, kombucha burst from the bottle all the way up to the ceiling. Soda spray drenched my small kitchen. Thankfully the bottle did not break and no humans were hurt.
Years later, I’ve grown fond of this fermented drink. It’s tart, subtly sweet, and fizzy, perfect for anyone who has sworn off soft drinks. It has also grown in popularity, from artisanal makers to international coffee chains and restaurants. TVN Kitchen is one of the brewers we love at Starter Sisters because of their creativity and the causes they promote.
TVN Kitchen of The Vegan Neighbors Philippines is a small kitchen that started during the pandemic. It prepares small batches of fermented drinks and specialty veganized Filipino dishes. The small profit that they make from cooking and fermenting supports their outreach to different urban and rural communities.
How did you start making kombucha?
We started making it in 2021 when our family had COVID-19. A friend sent us a bottle of kombucha and kefir. We loved the kombucha and started researching, and that’s when we got in touch with friends from Pulot Gata to ask for a starter kit and a guide to brewing our first bottle. We got addicted to it. The process was also exciting and we loved the challenge of experimenting on flavors. We also did tepache, a fermented pineapple peel drink, though we just make it occasionally.
How is kombucha different from kefir? Do you also brew kefir?
Though both promise to have health benefits, there are some differences in terms of production, taste, texture, and nutrient content. For example, kefir’s base can be water or coconut water, while kombucha is sweet tea. Kombucha is low in calories while kefir can be a high-caloric drink. And while kefir can provide protein, fiber and fat, kombucha doesn’t have fat nor does it provide protein or fiber. We don’t brew kefir, not yet. We want to stick to kombucha for now. And tepache. We miss tepache!
What do you enjoy about kombucha fermentation? What do you find challenging?
We love the start of the brewing process, the first day of F1 or first fermentation. At the end of that day, when we look at the ferments in the jars, it just feels so satisfying knowing something can really come out of it! The certainty that there is something to look forward to, is almost therapeutic, especially in this era of uncertainty.
Ironically though, the challenging part is the uncertainty during the flavoring part or the F2 (2nd fermentation)–because we are not very “by the book” and we love experimenting with new flavors–we are always uncertain whether the finished product will be good or not. Though we love to rest on the fact that no two are perfectly alike. As many people may already know, fermentation is affected by different factors inside and outside the jars.
What discourages people from making their own kombucha, and why shouldn’t it?
One of the biggest challenges is space. Brewing kombucha is addictive! One jar can never be enough once you get the hang of it! So better have enough space in your kitchen for them jars!
Maybe what discourages people are things like finding starter liquid that is not expensive, figuring out what kind of jars to use, and which tea. But that can easily be sorted, actually. So, it shouldn’t discourage people. DM us, let’s talk!
Why do you think it’s very popular?
Because, consumerism. Just kidding. Seriously though, we are surprised to find out that it is indeed popular! First, it is really a good, healthy alternative to soda and other sugary drinks that is why it’s a hit. Secondly, the “healthy lifestyle” trend is really a hit in the market now.
What are its benefits?
We have not tested it scientifically ourselves, however, there is literature saying kombucha has good bacteria that is potentially a source of probiotic function and therefore can aid in digestion, is rich in antioxidants (especially when made with red or green tea), and can kill bacteria.
Your kombucha highlights a lot of local ingredients and uses savory spices. What is your approach to flavor?
There is experimentation! Secondly, whatever is in season. Third, whatever edible stuff we find in our kitchen, we know we can try it on our booch. And listen to partner’s suggestions, like Joyce Santos from Good Food Community.
What is your favorite flavor and how did you create it?
Watermelon, our darling Ania’s favorite fruit. We have other favorites too, the ones that Joyce [of Good Food Community] suggested, such as beets, taogtog berries and tamarillo. But cloves-star anise is a hit too. And pear. And lemon-ginger. We have done a lot of flavors actually!
What is your most popular flavor and what has been the feedback like?
Watermelon is the most popular, because it gives off that breezy feel of summer, perhaps? People have told us, “we love your watermelon kombucha!” Second will be taogtog berries. And then the cloves-star anise.
Generally though, feedback has been great so far. And as I said earlier, no two booches are perfectly alike, so with every batch, people get to experience different flavors. However, since we also advocate for agro-ecology, we only use flavors now that are organic, in season, or whatever is available from our partner, Good Food Community.
How do you like to enjoy or use kombucha? Any unconventional tips?
We are very conventional with our kombucha, just drink straight up! But friends have tried different mixes–with gin, with vodka, with soju.
Are there other ferments that you like to make or are currently in your kitchen?
We would like to make kimchi again, and sriracha too. Both ferments we have tried before but for some reason, we stopped making them. But our dream is to learn making miso! Please help us, Starter Sisters!
Anything else you want people to know about kombucha or fermentation in general?
That it is for everyone! It may look intimidating and it can be really-but maybe, always remember—there are so many things to ferment! And kombucha can be the easiest!