Keen to familiarise yourself with kombucha? James Barker, founder of Kuppa Kombucha explains how to drink it and outlines why it’s a whole lot better for you than the average fizzy drink.
If you’re sick of reaching for the same old sugary soft drinks and getting that all-too familiar sugar crash when the buzz wears off, then kombucha, a sparkling probiotic tea that’s low in calories and sugar, could be the answer to your woes. The probiotics are good for your gut while the antioxidants from the tea support liver function.
The kombucha scene is starting to take off in Hong Kong, with several start-ups, including Kuppa Kombucha, starting to make a name for themselves. Brewed and canned in Kwun Tong, Kuppa produces three flavours – Original, Lychee Ginger and Strawberry Szechuan Pepper – each of which are probiotic, boasts less than 25 calories and is sugar-free. Available all over Hong Kong at stores including Marketplace, The Bottle Shop and Green Common, Kuppa’s cans have also found their way into many of the city’s restaurants and bars, not only as a stand-alone drink but also as a cocktail ingredient at locations including Darkside at the Rosewood Hong Kong and Argo at the Four Seasons. You can also get your Kuppa Kombucha fix at several dining outlets, including The Hive, Chickpea, Saladstop! and Knead.
For the unenlightened among us, what exactly is kombucha?
It’s a fermented tea mixed with sugar and yeast and can be flavoured with fruit, herbs and spices. The yeast eats the sugar and a small amount of alcohol is produced. We use [plant-based] sweetener stevia, as it’s healthier than sugar. It doesn’t react with the yeast, so our product is alcohol-free.
Some kombucha has around 0.5 per cent alcohol. Why did you decide to leave it out?
We want to be an inclusive brand that’s local, healthy and approachable. One of the reasons that we do this is that we work with international hotels, which have guests from all walks of life and religion. If they see a soft drink, then it has to be zero per cent alcohol.
What inspired you to get started?
We set up during Covid and initially began reaching out to local tea companies. We’ve got China on our doorstep, plus India, Taiwan and Japan, so there’s access to a lot of great tea and we’ve found some great tea producers to work with. They’ve created new tea blends for us, so all our flavours are unique.
Tell us about your product range
The Original recipe is green tea with jasmine, which is aimed at people who’ve had kombucha before. Then we have Lychee and Ginger, a fruit-forward option made with oolong tea that’s targeted at those who have never had kombucha before and don’t want something too funky… it’s currently our best seller. The third is Strawberry and Szechuan peppercorn; with green tea as its base it features strawberry, hibiscus, and red Szechuan peppercorns, so it’s a little bit different. The cocktail bars and independent restaurants like this product a lot.
Will there be more flavours added to the range?
Yes, we’re launching a fourth one, Mango and Passionfruit, in the new year. We looked at what’s worked the best, and it’s our fruit flavour and oolong tea, so we’ve gone with that again. Kombucha is still new in Hong Kong, so, we need flavours that people can relate to.
What are the health benefits of drinking kombucha?
It contains naturally occurring acids from fermentation and has similar health benefits to drinking a high-quality green tea, as we use natural, raw ingredients in our products.
Tell us about the cocktail bars you’ve been working with
Some have been voted in the World’s 50 Best Bars, like Darkside and Argo, so it’s great to be working alongside industry legends and setting trends around what cocktails people are drinking. We’re available in around 50 bars and 50 supermarkets in Hong Kong right now, and this continues to grow. The bars are a big part of the business, and it was always our intention to serve that market.
How do you like to drink your kombucha?
It should be nice and cold, straight out of the fridge. If you’re using it as a mixer with spirits, then pour a nice measure of spirits into a highball glass and try our original kombucha with vodka or gin. The Lychee & Ginger works well with rum, while the strawberry flavour mixes nicely with tequila.
Who drinks kombucha and what food can you pair it with?
I hope it can become more accessible, and that people can see that it’s not just for yoga-goers and vegans. As for what to pair it with, it doesn’t have to be healthy food: you can enjoy it with a burger, too.
How has kombucha been received in Hong Kong so far?
It’s a relatively new product category, so it’s about educating people why they should drink this over leading soft drinks in view of the health benefits and so on. A lot of Hong Kongers are quite into healthy drinks and understand tea very well as a product, so kombucha is the middle ground. It’s probiotic, healthy and tea-based, but it’s about understanding what it is before trying it. There’s still time before it reaches its full potential.
Can kombucha become a regional trend?
Yes, I think there’s so much untapped potential. Our products are just in Hong Kong now, but we think they could do well in Singapore and Taiwan. Our vision is to expand regionally over the next two to three years with a slow and steady approach.
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