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Fermented tea – just try it

Along with fellow foodie Bruce McMichael, Ed and I were delighted to have spent this morning learning about the weird and wonderful world of fermented teas… All thanks to Louise Avery of LA Brewery.

“Just try it”

My mother must have repeated this command hundreds of times when I was school-age. Not to me, but to my friends who came over for dinner, only to wrinkle their noses and baulk at the unfamiliar aromas and ‘odd’ looking textures of Indonesian food. None of them grew up with the pungent smell of terasi, the not-quite-but-almost meaty texture of tempeh, or the intense chilli heat of some of mum’s dishes. The curious friends always gave everything a go – and more often and not, they enjoyed it. The tentative snobbish ones were rarely invited back to our house to eat.

Terasi – a staple ingredient in Indonesian food – is essentially a block of dried, fermented shrimp. Tempeh – a staple source of protein – is made by fermenting soya beans. Indonesian food is incredibly diverse – unsurprising, given that the country is made up of thousands of islands – but the process of fermenting food is quite widespread. Perhaps then, given my blood and my background, I am predisposed to enjoy kombucha: fermented tea. Our tasting session with the lemongrass, strawberry, and ginger flavours of LA Brewery earlier today was certainly not an unpleasant experience.

It helped that Louise herself was present. With infectious energy, she guided us through her method, ingredients, and science (as well as her history, ambitions, and values). She explained that many of her London stockists naturally attract the vegan gym-bunny crowd who are drawn to kombucha because of its health benefits. But thankfully, Louise is not on an evangelical mission about gut health. Nor is she vegan. She simply loves kombucha: “It’s like Haribo to me.”

The viscosity, bubbles, acidity, and layers of flavour make it an exciting drink. It’s an experience. The smell, the sensory awakening as the fizz hits your lips and bubbles down into your throat, the complexity of flavour, and the way the taste lingers in your mouth for a while after swallowing – all of this and more is what makes Louise’s kombucha intriguing. So you take another sip. And another.

What is intriguing – and arguably quite rare – about Louise herself, is her genuine commitment to the cause. And that cause isn’t world domination – yet (although she does have stockists aplenty over here, and is also being courted by a supermarket chain in Europe…). Her cause, as mentioned, is simply her love for the product itself. Although commercial wins are obviously great, Louise explains that she’s frankly much more excited by interacting with people and experimenting with the brewing process, which she wants to learn even more about before scaling up further. She notes that there is no one ‘right’ way to make kombucha, and offers lots of advice on using seasonal ingredients (she also does kombucha masterclasses, so keep an eye out for her name).

The foraging techniques she learned from her mother whilst growing up in the Hebrides have stayed with her. She tells us that although the flavours she bottles for sale are relatively mainstream, she’s also experimented with countless other ingredients that she’s sourced through foraging. And if she were to expand LA Brewery into new territories in the future, she would do so with the ultimate goal of educating – rather than colonising – each market. One way this might play out, she says, is to find people in each country that are interested in kombucha (or at least open to it) – and then encourage them to make it with their own local seasonal ingredients. And this could all potentially be guided and funded by her company.

She has plenty of exciting ideas brewing (sorry). Most of them I’m not at liberty to share, but watch this space. In the meantime, if you’re interested in trying Louise’s kombucha, you can find the list of stockists on the LA Brewery website.

In the three hours we spent together, Louise never once claimed that kombucha is for everyone. She didn’t gleefully squeal, “You’re going to love it!” as she poured the first tasters, nor did she sanctimoniously list off the health benefits of having a diet rich in good bacteria.

She acknowledged that it’s different. She gave us her story. And she said, “Just try it.”

I’d encourage you to do the same.

NB. Also goes well with vodka.















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