Searching for Kombucha in Berkeley, California
Berkeley is a short ride on the BART subway or drive across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco. The home of the University of California, there are over 42,000 students in town during term-time.
It’s been ground zero for California Cuisine ever since Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse back in 1971. The emphasis on fresh ingredients, sustainability and local supply networks has carried over into a vibrant and rapidly expanding ‘booch scene.
Following the Kombucha to the People class last Saturday we visited some of the unique locations in Berkeley that serve kombucha. These are in addition to the Whole Foods and Safeway markets with coolers filled with brands from across the country.
Located at 61 Shattuck Square the People’s Cafe is a convenient hang-out for students who need a place to sip ‘booch while they study. They now carry House Kombucha on draft, brewed in nearby San Leandro, which we profiled in January. The House Kombucha taproom launched Oct. 18.
The taproom is actually more of a self-service kombucha bar. They offer generous free samples. The eight taps rotate weekly, and customers can pour their own in zero-waste metal beakers or re-fill growlers with flavors such as Lavender Lemonade, Sun Blossom, Peach Hemp and Vanilla Sassaparilla. The display of three jars of SCOBYs creates an authentic farm-to-table ambience. (Any true kombucha konnoisseur would find these intriguing, others maybe not so?)
MeloMelo Kava Bar
A 10-minute stroll down University Ave from the People’s Cafe is the unique (only in Berkeley…and Suva?) MeloMelo Kava Bar at 1701 University Ave. This is another student hang-out, but perhaps not for those with a paper due.
Kava is a South Pacific drink known to be mildly psychoactive. Drink options include various blends of the mellowing kava beverage served with fruit add-ins, plus an on-tap CBD beverage and, of course, kombucha. The kava and CBD drinks relax the mind and body and induce a sense of calm and euphoria, making them ideal to reduce stress and anxiety.
They carry various brands of kombucha on tap, including Marin Kombucha, Mothers Know Best and more.
Three Stone Hearth
Along another couple of blocks is the Three Stone Hearth community supported kitchen and workers collective at 1581 University Avenue. They have limited opening hours: Wednesday, 4:00-7:30 pm; Thursday, Friday & Saturday 9:30 am-5:30 pm.
They brew a few regular flavors of kombucha (grape, hibiscus, ginger lime, and nettle) which change depending on the season. A recent favorite was shiso nectarine kombucha, and customers also loved watermelon basil, citrus yerba santa, grapefruit sage, and rosemary pear jun.
Their ‘booch is hand-crafted in small batches from a selection of organic gunpowder green tea, white tea and even “Earl Grey green tea”. They try to use local herbs and fruits from small farms, including some that are locally foraged (like yerba santa).
Anyone interested in home-brewing can pick up a pint jar with SCOBY and starter liquid for just $4.00.
Boochman Tap Room
We’ve previously reviewed the Boochman Taproom, at 915 University Ave, close to the I-80 freeway.
A recent review in Oakland Magazine highlights their commitment to sustainability:
The soaring-ceilinged Berkeley space with its gleaming rows of growlers, glasses, and taps features a view of the kitchen where Numan crafts microbrews, starting with Turkish black and Chinese oolong teas — both organic, the latter from Livermore brand Prince of Peace — and finishing with fresh seasonal flavorings such as nettle, verbena, lavender, and ginger, “which is legitimately peeled, sliced, and diced by us,” Padilla said. “These aren’t extracts.” Popular flavor blends include ginger sage, currant clove, apricot turmeric, strawberry hops, and cold-weather adventures juniper mint and pumpkin spice. “Because we try to be as sustainable as possible,” spent flavorings filtered from finished batches are repurposed in-house into innovative edibles such as yogurt-apricot parfaits, currant biscotti, Japanese-style pickles, and yuzu mayo.
The Cultured Pickle Shop
Hidden away from the bustle of central Berkeley, The Cultured Pickle Shop at 800 Bancroft Way (at Fifth Street) is a Mecca for fermented foods. The shop has been providing sauerkraut, condiments, seasonings, tsukemono, kimchi and other lacto-fermented pickles, as well as kombucha, for over two decades. They sell on site as well as from booths at the Tuesday and Saturday Berkeley farmers markets.
The space is very much a working kitchen, where glass vats of ‘booch in various states of ferment sit on shelves along the walls.
The range of flavors includes Ginger Turmeric; Ginger Rooibos; Ginger Nettle; Wheatgrass Nettle; Lime Celery Mint and Beet Meyer Lemon. They’ve also brewed an Autumn Pumpkin-Rooiboos flavor described as “a warm caramel union of rich, earthy, red Rooibos tea and deep golden Fairytale pumpkin.”
Many of their ferments use just 15% green tea as a starter and then add herbs. The Lemon Bee-Pollen Basil was beautifully balanced, crisp and refreshing.
Their blog describes how they preserved spring-time cherry blossom (known in Japan as Sakura No Shiozuke) to create a seasonal kombucha:
The next morning, while plucking blossoms for an infusion we would ferment with a kombucha SCOBY, I put aside many of the tight pink buds and the vibrant and sturdy newly opened blossoms. I salted and pressed them for three days. Such an incongruous treatment of these delicate structures. On the third day, I drained off the modicum of brine that had developed and mixed the blossoms with a small amount of the pear-sake vinegar. They sat in the fridge for a week. I then laid them out to dry on a rack for a day. A moment of textural give. A hint of spring. Floral then gone. A touch of acid on the tongue.
Berkeley Bowl Markets
The Berkeley Bowl Markets must be seen to be believed. There are seemingly miles of aisles of fresh produce, bulk foods, gourmet delights and, of course, kombucha. The two locations (at 920 Heinz Ave and 2020 Oregon St) carry a wide selection of bottled and draft kombucha on tap. The larger store is Berkeley Bowl West, near the Bay, where a cafe serves GTs from two taps. Inside the store, 32oz and 64oz growlers can be filled from eight rotating taps. The cooler holds an incredible number of local and national brands* :
- Better Booch
- Big Easy Bucha
- House Kombucha
- It’s Alive Kombucha
- Kombucha Town
- Lev’s Kombucha
- Live Kombucha
- Marin Kombucha
- Moss Beach Kombucha
- Revive Kombucha
- Rowdy Mermaid
- Whalebird Kombucha
(*Search our Worldwide Directory for brand details.)
The hard kombucha and jun were in other areas of the store.
Anyone visiting the San Francisco Bay Area owes it to themselves to take an afternoon to explore the burgeoning Berkeley ‘booch scene. True to its counter-culture roots, Berkeley is home to brewers offering unique flavors, sustainably produced and delivered with a wide range of complimentary fermented foods.
The Berkeley three farmers markets held year-round are another way to experience the food and kombucha of the East Bay.