Earthworms’ Castings

With Jean Ponzi

A (pretty easily) Acquired Taste

I thought it was a kind of cabbage soda – and I thought it was Korean. On both points, I was wrong.

In fact, it is a low-calorie, gluten-free fermented tea that originated in China 2,000 years ago. As proclaimed on the website for Companion Kombucha, St. Louis’ first brewer of this libation: “It is a raw living beverage full of beneficial probiotics and organic acids that make you feel great!”


I sampled some at a summer event. It was weird, but I liked it. I liked how I felt when I drank it. To learn more, I tapped into a local fount of kombucha knowledge, Tom Nieder. With his wife Tricia, Tom owns Companion Kombucha.

Com Kom Tom, as he is known, needed guts to brew up a business that sells a fermented premium treat for the guts of today’s processed food gobblers.

Tom says, “Everything ferments. A peach dropped from a tree will start to ferment on the ground. We used to eat a lot of fermented foods: sauerkraut, kefir, pickled foods, yogurt (the real stuff, not sugar-added, artificially flavored kinds). Processed foods lack the live, beneficial bacteria that our gut needs.

“Fermentation involves yeast eating sugar. This releases carbon dioxide, the bubbly in kombucha. It also converts sugars into alcohol. Beer and wine are fermented, but drinking alcohol has its drawbacks. Companion Kombucha’s recipe includes bacterial types that eat up the alcohols.”

This would explain why I’ve often preferred a goblet of kombucha to a glass of wine this summer. It satisfies that wine taste, with a different kind of buzz.

“Studies are showing,” Tom effervesces, “that gut health boosts our mental health. A fresh fermented beverage like kombucha restores our beneficial bacteria to get guts back on track. “ And apparently send those benefits on up to Brainland.

But what the heck does probiotic mean?

“It’s the opposite of antibiotic,” Tom explains. “It means nourishing the little living organisms we have in our gut – from stomach on down – that help digest our foods. We need bacterial biodiversity to be healthy, Plus the naturally occurring B vitamins in kombucha give us energy.”

Kombucha is made with SCOBY. That stands for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. SCOBY is a dense, rubbery pancakey thing that goes on top of every batch of kombucha Companion brews. The resulting fermentation could take a week to two months, depending on taste. Com Kom is made in 25-30 days. As a perishable (live!) product, it’s sold to be enjoyed soon after brewing.

Price-wise, kombucha compares to a good hard cider or craft beer. Not cheap, but you get what you pay for: a premium local beverage. “Made with real flavors,” Tom adds, “not factory flavorings. Our ingredients include real ginger root, organic fruit juices, real lavender flowers.”

Lavender? One day when the berry flavors were sold out, I tried and found that I do like Com Kom’s Laid Back Lavender. Tom is partial to his new pineapple flavor.
Now here’s my confession: I didn’t get into kombucha for its probiotic promise or cultural cachet. I tried it because of the bottle.

A friend left her empty kombucha container with me for recycling. It was a glass bottle with a screw-on cap. This is the ideal vessel for my own morning beverage of choice: yesterday’s coffee, stored in glass in the fridge to be enjoyed cold today. I reused my friend’s bottle, happily slurping leftover java with that refrigerated cold snap, until I dropped it on the parking lot at work. System shattered. But it was such a good one, I sought a replacement bottle.

As noted, I sampled Com Kom – and met Tom – at an event, that I left feeling refreshed and, well, just generally good.

Now I recycle the bottles, and come back for more. Some day I may try brewing my own. Com Kom Tom gives DIY classes too.

Cheers to KOMBUCHA!

Jean Ponzi checks out enviro-ideas of all kinds in her weekly Earthworms conversations, podcasting from KDHX at Earthworms.kdhXtra.org. Learn more at www.companionkombucha.com.