While the kombucha industry has been enjoying wholesome success in the West since the 1990s, Asian startups have just started banking on the Chinese-origin ancient drink
Steven Kehler keeps his “big momma” in the storeroom. The momma in question is a hunk of gelatinous and, well, rather gross-looking bacteria and yeast floating atop a vat of regular tea that will soon turn it into kombucha, a drink which is alive, probiotic, good for gut health and touted as a tonic for digestion, hair loss, even cancer. Kehler started brewing the effervescent and mildly alcoholic beverage after first tasting it at a local restaurant in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City. “When we (wife and him) were introduced to kombucha, we instantly inquired about making it ourselves,” says the Calgary born, who came to Vietnam, along with his wife, seven years ago to adopt a child and made the “beautiful” Ho Chi Minh City home.
Two years later, in April 2017, Kehler turned his hobby of making kombucha at home for friends and family into a startup, Steve’s!, with an investment of US$20. The brand has since grown to include six flavors, including hibiscus rosehip, passion fruit, green tea and ginger lime, with a monthly sale of 500 bottles via Facebook, website and phone. His 300ml bottle costs 50,000 VND ($2.25 USD); 500 ml, 80,000 VND ($3.75 USD); and one litre 150,000 VND ($7.00 USD). “It’s still a small business but I never had to add any additional cash, it has been self growing,” says Kehler, adding 80 per cent of his customers are foreigners. “Most of these people have tasted it in the West. They understand the importance of a health drink like kombucha.”
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