SHAH ALAM, Feb 11 — Is kombucha the new kefir?
Fermented superfoods have been on the rise in recent years, with kefir leading the way. Kombuchas, however, are not as well known in Malaysia.
Boon Loke, founder of Scoby Farm, a homegrown purveyor of organic kombuchas, hopes to change that.
Operating from Taman Desa Subang in Shah Alam, Boon (as he’s fondly known) brews small batches of the beverage by fermenting tea using a Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast or “SCOBY”; hence the name of his company.
The resultant drink is mildly bubbly; Boon infuses Scoby Farm’s versions with fruits such as beetroot and passion fruit.
According to Boon, tea lovers will definitely love kombucha, which is supposed to have originated in north-eastern China, as it is “a good alternative to yoghurt, especially if you are lactose intolerant. When you take kombucha you will be getting the benefits of tea, such as antioxidants and probiotics to enhance your gut health at the same time.”
Hailing from Tanjong Tokong, Boon grew up in a kampung called Pepper Estate in Penang. Spending his early years surrounded by Nature led him to pursue a degree in biology majoring in conservation.
Therefore it’s surprising to hear that when he first laid eyes on a jar of kombucha at his cousin’s house, it was fear at first sight.
Boon recalls, “Kombucha in a jar is literally like something from a mad scientist’s lab, brownish strings floating in pale liquid with a layer covering the surface. I took my first sip directly from the jar, half expecting it to taste like drain water. Surprisingly it tasted good and I was then hooked. I started to experiment with flavours and blends and I never looked back.”
The novice home brewer soon delved into making kombucha at home, following his cousin’s recipe carefully. However, a formula is only a formula; Boon soon learned what it neglected to warn him about, namely the dangers of fruit flies.
“As I happily tapped my first ever batch, eager to show off kombucha to my house guests, one of them told me that something white and squirmy was floating in her drink. It was a fruit fly larvae! Apparently in my zest to brew, I forgot to secure the jar with a layer of cloth and the jar of kombucha was now a breeding ground for fruit flies.”
Not one to give up, Boon persisted despite the initial setback and was soon conducting hands-on workshops on kombucha. He says, “Some of my students requested me to brew small batches of ready-made kombucha for them because they didn’t have the time to brew it.”
Visits to supermarkets around town revealed that most of the kombucha available were imported. This gave Boon the idea to make ready-made home-made batches exclusively with local fruits and herbs to make it distinctively Malaysian.
Soon he was distributing kombucha in small batches to groceries, pharmacies, zero waste stores, yoga centres, co-working spaces and organic food shops.
These days Boon runs Scoby Farm’s workshops monthly, preferring to conduct smaller classes of 5-12 students to allow more interaction and a better learning experience. He also invests in research and development: “I am very obsessed with the taste profiles for each batch of kombucha we produce. Our latest offering is called Purple Pari-Pari, which incorporates the blue pea flower and green tea.”
There has been some hard lessons along the way as Boon admits his passion for kombucha sometimes blinds him to the reality of the marketplace. He explains, “In my rose-tinted eyes, kombucha was a unique functional drink and more people should be drinking it. There were lots of push-backs when I presented kombucha to the local market a few years ago.”
In retrospect, he understands now he failed to answer a key question: “There are so many beverage choices available; why should someone choose kombucha?” Ultimately he persevered, realising that “it takes time, and lots and lots of awareness talks and campaigns to educate the Malaysian public on the benefits of drinking kombucha.”
Moving forward, Boon has recently rebranded Scoby Farm’s Signature Kombucha beverage as Wonderbrew. The name switch coincides with a shift in its ingredients; the fruits and herbs used are now sourced from local organic farms.
“All waste from brewing is composted with the help of composting worms in a process known as vermi-composting. So when you sip a glass of Wonderbrew, it doesn’t only help with your gut health, it is now brewed with minimal carbon footprint.”
Expect to see Scoby Farm making more appearances at various events and pop up bazaars in town. Watch out for Boon in his mobile “Kegerator” providing visitors with a taste of “Booch on Tap” — making Scoby Farm possibly the first company in Malaysia to introduce fresh draft kombucha.
Naysayers may describe kombucha as nothing more than fermented tea for hippies. If what Boon has achieved thus far with Scoby Farm is anything to judge by, the sky — along with plenty of creativity, passion and grit — is the limit.