December 15, 2010 | 01:23 PM
810 Kokomo Rd. #136, Haiku
It seems like every year, there’s a new latest and greatest health food: acai berries, pomegranate juice, the list goes on. Could this year’s title go to Kombucha, the ancient Chinese beverage known modestly as the Immortal Elixir?
Made from fermented, sweetened tea, Kombucha contains large quantities of B-vitamins, antioxidants and glucaric acids. Add in probiotics and it’s no wonder the drink is getting widespread recognition.
Chris Burke, owner of Maui Kombucha Café & Lounge, gives a confident nod to the growing phenomenon. His hidden gem of a cafe is located in Haiku, at the back of the Haiku Town Center, where parking is ample. When you walk in, grab a seat at the bar, where you’ll be greeted by a friendly staff offering free Kombucha samples. Once you’re ready to buy, you can get it by the cup for $4 or by the gallon for $25. The cozy eatery also serves elixirs, raw foods and a cold-pressed toddy made from organic vanilla beans. Their raw desserts, ranging from $4-$6, are getting buzz as some of the best on the island.
After guzzling down a few Kombucha shots, I asked Chris to share some of his secrets with me.
What is Kombucha, and why should people drink it?
Kombucha is a lightly sparkling tea made with beneficial bacteria and yeast. The relationship between the bacteria and yeast is symbiotic, resulting in the production of high-powered antioxidants and probiotics—live cultures used to improve digestion. It works with your body to boost its natural ability to fight sickness and disease.
Tell us about Maui Kombucha Café and Lounge.
We are a vegan bar offering a wide range of organic Kombucha drinks, raw food and desserts, and coffee. We’re really proud of our raw desserts, like the Tahitian key lime pie, banana creme dream, and chai cacoa swirl pie. We use only local ingredients and the majority of our food and drink is handmade and processed in our kitchen. Our teas are of the finest grade, black and white, blended with super foods and hydrosols, a water soluble pure plant essence used for cutting edge flavoring.
What flavors do you offer?
We have lots of flavors—over 20. The original, base flavor is Hawaiian ginger, a white tea Kombucha brewed with fresh-pressed ginger juice. Others include lilikoi enlightenment, Lahaina mango, blueberry fusion, lychee levitation and ginger concord. We also offer specialty flavors which are infused with hydrosols. Our most popular blends are ginger turmeric, sacred Earth and taste of India.
What inspired you to open Maui Kombucha?
I’ve always been a big fan of Kombucha. I started making it for myself in 2002. When I shared it with my friends they would say, “Wow, this is the best Kombucha I’ve ever had!” I began to get orders by the gallon, first from friends, then a large part of the local community. I decided then it was time to open a storefront. One of my best customers was Jenn Swatzke, who I now have the honor of calling my business partner and friend. Like me, Jenn has an extensive background as a raw food chef. She brings so much creativity and passion to our business. It truly is a dance of co-creation.
How do you differentiate yourself from the popular retail brands?
Funny enough, we’ve actually had some of the big Kombucha companies visit our cafe to try out our drinks. We are a good ol’ mom and pop shop. Unlike the popular brands, we do not brew thousands of gallons at a time. We make small, fresh batches, no more than 12 gallons. We use premium organic ingredients with unique flavorings and combinations. There’s just more love per batch.
Any plans for expansion?
There is a possibility for that in the near future. For now, we’re just enjoying the community. We started throwing monthly dinner club parties at our cafe, featuring DJs and live music, outdoor seating, and a three-course dinner menu with unlimited Kombucha. They’ve been a lot of fun to host. Our next one will be in January 2011; come check it out. Tickets are $16 in advance, $22 at the door.