Restorative beverage options are growing in popularity, and local health food shops and restaurants are keeping pace
It may be time for coconut water, apple cider vinegar and green drinks to slide to the back of the shelf—there are other healthful beverages taking center stage, and some are even locally produced. Fermented tea drink kombucha on tap and mixed into cocktails and wheatgrass wellness shots are just two of the drinks that are keeping Delaware in stride with major health tonic trends.
(And when it comes to apple cider vinegar we’re jesting, of course. ACV and its miraculous benefits will never get old.)
Baba’s Bucha: bottled, on tap, on the rocks
When the topic of kombucha comes up, area restaurant and health food shop managers get a little giddy because of two words: Baba’s Bucha.
The Phoenixville, Pa., organic kombucha nano-brewery helmed by entrepreneur Olga Sorzano focuses distribution of small-batch kombucha in kegs and bottles to local establishments, though Baba’s Bucha’s reach is spreading as far as Baltimore and Washington, D.C. With a name derived from “babushka” (it’s Russian for grandmother), Baba’s traces back to Sorzano’s childhood in Siberia, and her kombucha-brewing great-grandmother who would always have a glass jar of the tonic on hand. Sorzano grew up drinking her Baba’s kombucha on a regular basis until she arrived in the U.S. in 2000. A few years later, craving the taste of home, she began making her own brew, and in 2015 she started the company, utilizing the old-world recipe.
Baba’s bottled kombucha is widely available in the area, but a few local places—including Newark Natural Foods, Home Grown Café, Harvest Market Natural Foods and Delaware Local Food Exchange—take it to the next level by offering the beverage on tap, too.
Newark Natural Foods’ grocery manager Jeremy Tingle is impressed by how well the macro business is faring compared to leading brands like GT’s.
“People who love kombucha really love it and start getting into the subculture of it and loyally follow national brands like GT’s, so it’s interesting to see how a local company, which started out with no following, can now be very close to the sales of major brands,” says Tingle. “It speaks volumes of how people are perceiving our local economy and local merchants.”
The co-op’s Cafe 67 offers flavors on tap like pear and apple, ginger and floral. Seasonal options rotate, and customers easily go through a couple of fresh kegs each month. In the meantime, the co-op can move 20 cases—240 bottles—in a month.
“Olga was the first local kombucha person, but now we expect to see more and more. People will start asking for someone’s homemade kombucha and before you know it, it’s turning into an enterprise,” says Tingle.
There are no perceptible health differences between kombucha bottled and on tap; it’s more of a matter of convenience and cost. For customers on the run, a bottled kombucha makes sense. Otherwise, you get more for the cost for a glass or growler up to 32 ounces. Prices start at $4.29.
Even though he loves GT’s, Tingle prefers Sorzano’s Bucha to the leading brand, especially if someone is being introduced to the beverage for the first time. “Hers is way more palatable, way milder than leading brands,” he says. “Baba’s would be a perfect way to get someone into kombucha. It’s just a completely different flavor.”
And flavors abound. Harvest Market offers four rotating flavors on tap (and seven options in bottles), and CEO Bob Kleszics appreciates the drink’s fall seasonal Asian pear brew, which is ginger-heavy. Winter brews hibiscus, love potion, pear chai and strawberry shortcake were on tap at Harvest Market as of press time, with expectations of blueberry options from local orchards for the warmer months.
Meanwhile, in addition to Baltimore’s Wild Kombucha brand, Trolley Square’s Delaware Local Food Exchange touts Baba’s rosy apple (rosemary and apple) and desert rain (rooibos tea, strawberry, rosehips and cinnamon) on tap. DLFE owner Karen Igou notes that desert rain goes well with whiskey.
Or perhaps gin? Home Grown’s bar/assistant general manager Joe Renaud likes to experiment with kombucha cocktails. These typically have a liqueur base melded with seasonal fruits for $8. And good news for vegans: aquafaba is mixed in the cocktail instead of egg whites, which are traditionally used to add texture.
“I do a martini with aquafaba, kombucha, Creme Yvette liqueur and citrus forward Dogfish gin,” says Renaud. “It works well with springtime. These drinks are usually very easy for anyone to drink and enjoy. We could literally sell it and not tell people it’s kombucha and people would love it.”
Kombucha cocktails not for you? Throw it back with a shot, perhaps.
Wheatgrass shots, infused water & KeVita
Sans the alcohol, plant or herbal-based options in liquid form are available at Cafe 67. In small plastic cups, freshly-pressed “shots” of wheatgrass, turmeric, ginger or cayenne are packed with vitamins and minerals.
The most popular of these is wheatgrass. “If you’ve never tried a wheatgrass shot before, you’re going to be knocked off your ass, pretty much. It’s strong, bitter,” says Tingle. “A lot of people get their morning cup of coffee, but here, some people just need that little shot of wheatgrass for energy.”
Depending on the shot, prices range from $2.50 to $4.
Delaware Local Food Exchange offers Jacob’s Raw shots in small bottles ready to go.
Additionally, infused beverages—essentially fruits and vegetables that marinate in water for the day—also are available at Cafe 67, giving water a mild, fresher taste.
“It’s more of a flavor thing than anything,” Tingle says. “We’ll take basil leaves, oranges, mangoes, ginger, lemon, mint, whatever, cut them up, put them in the water, infuse them—it’ll taste so good.”
Kleszics from Harvest Market recommends a few other tonic options too, like KeVita and REBBL. KeVita is a sparkling probiotic drink, fermented with coconut water or reverse osmosis water. It’s light in flavor, and unlike kombucha, it’s neither tart nor vinegary. REBBL is a beverage that offers ethically-sourced whole roots, extracts, berries, barks and leaves.
Really, right now, restorative beverage options are limited only by the creative means in which they are sourced.
“For so long people have been getting their vitamins from supplements,” says Tingle. “Now we’re starting to see a trend where instead of supplementing, people are finding it from sources in their food.”