Kombucha is now the next trendy, mainstream thing. We have seen it pop up all over grocery stores and online. But not all kombucha is created equal! I had the pleasure of speaking with GT Dave about his company, GT’s Kombucha. GT started this company when he was just 15 and he still holds on strong to his values of a quality product. Read on to learn about what makes a good kombucha, why store-bought may not be your best choice, what other products are the “next kombucha”, and the secret to looking and feeling youthful!
How Did You Start Brewing Kombucha?
I was born into a spiritual and holistic family in Los Angeles. My family believed that food could be your medicine as well as your poison. I was raised a vegetarian and was exposed to many different health foods and healthy lifestyles. Kombucha was one of those things that I was exposed to from the kindness and wisdom of my parents. They started making Kombucha in the early 90’s and like many things that my parents exposed me to, kombucha was a beautiful nature crafted offering that my parents fell in love with.
I observed their love affair with it and I was confused by it. Kombucha was one of the most bizarre things that were ever brought into my household. But it wasn't until kombucha helped my mother with her breast cancer that the universe was forcing me to give it another chance. I was inspired by my mother and inspired because at the age of 15 years old I felt the benefits as well. Those aspects inspired me to do something with it.In the early ‘90s there was no such thing as kombucha in a ready to go drink form. I felt that it was my opportunity and blessing to share this gift that had blessed my family's life. At 15 I started from nothing. No business plan, no idea, it was just I love kombucha and want to put it out there in a pure potent form.
What Was The First Brew Of Kombucha That You Ever Made?
My first impression of Kombucha was the brew that my father was making. My father would over-ferment the kombucha so it was almost pure vinegar. This is why at first I really didn’t like it. After I was encouraged to give it another chance to not only drink it, but make it on my own, I started to play with certain proportions and properties:
-Changing the vessel
-Changing the fermentation time
-Changing the temperature
Just like a plant, kombucha is like a form of agriculture. You start with your seed but it's the soil, the sunlight, the environment, the love, and the air that determines what kind of fruit or vegetable that you are going to harvest from that seed. Kombucha isn't a singular thing and it has so many different sides to its personality. Then I realized that if I can maintain the potency of the kombucha and make it more palatable, then that will be perfection. I initially just started with the basic brew ( and making sure it wasn't overwhelmingly vinegary!) That is when the introduction of additional ingredients came into play.
My first successful flavored Kombucha, which is our most popular today, is our Ginger-Ade. This is one of my most successful and proudest offerings because if you can make something delicious and functional then that is the best of both worlds. I never wanted to dilute my Kombucha or turn it into a fruit juice by adding too much juice. But I wanted to do something to enhance its personality positively while also enhancing its benefits and health attributes which is what our ginger-ade does.
Kombucha is a symbiotic culture and it's alive. So it can be influenced by the environment, the oxygen, the gratitude, and the spirituality of the household. Water IS impacted by energy (check out this study here). I firmly believe that the energy and love we put into it, even plants growing in the garden, is definitely expressed within the end product. Whether it be a plant or a batch of kombucha. -Kriben Govender
You can read more about kombucha in these blog posts as well!
Did You Use Ginger In The First Ferment Or Second Ferment?
In my experience, I have noticed that kombucha loves simplicity. Yes, a lot of very artistic and artisanal people would say “why are we using basic green and black tea? Let’s use white tea or other exotic teas.” The reality is that this sounds great and you'll initially get a good tasting batch but over time you will slowly start to kill the culture. Kombucha strives for a simple black tea base. And black tea is the same plant as green tea but it is just fermented. Fermentation creates other qualities that enhance and encourage the fermentation of kombucha.
Kombucha really should stay this way:
Organic green/black tea
A fermenting agent of some kind that has actual simple carbohydrates or sugars in it (honey, agave, fruit juice, or cane sugar) Kombucha needs fuel to grow and fuel to reproduce.
Kombucha Scoby. A physical tangible, rubberly, circular in shape, product.
You need to ferment that batch in a small size because that is when you yield the best quality. You want to ferment that batch in 5 gallons (~19L) or less and for at least 7 days. Those are the non-negotiables. After that, you have a little more room to play. You can get all of your kombucha making needs HERE. After the tea has been fully fermented, the scoby has run its course and reproduced itself, and you have kombucha- then you can layer in anything you want. We add raw ginger juice after we harvest. That initial fermentation is very much the baby in the womb. That is the most sensitive time and you don't want to mess with it.
That is the same advice that I give my consumers as well. Keep it simple. The first ferment is all about the basics of just getting a nice kombucha brew. Then you can get funky and creative with the second ferment. Then you can play around with ginger, different spices, and herbs. It is just to maintain that healthy mother culture so then you can use the daughters in subsequent batches to keep it going. If you play around with the first ferment, then there is a huge risk of failure and you will lose all of your cultures. -Kriben Govender
You can also mutate your culture because when you introduce other ingredients, believe it or not, ginger has natural suppressing qualities in it. It will suppress the fermentation because it has antibacterial qualities and an enzyme that actually competes with the initial fermentation. If you add ginger into your first ferment it will start to compromise some of the kombucha strains. The kombucha culture is made up of hundreds if not thousands of bacteria and yeast and if you add ginger after a few times your scoby will now be mutated. The portions and the ratios of the beneficial bacteria and yeast has changed so now you are dealing with a mutated culture which isn't a good thing.
I have seen this many times in my own experimentation where you try to use herbal tea and then you get this weird looking scoby. You have shifted the microbial profile of the product. Eventually, it won't be able to be recovered and go back to normal. Things like turmeric and ginger are antimicrobial and they are going to shift the bacteria and yeast in a certain way. And also, when you are adding different sugars you will be feeding different species of yeast and bacteria which is going to be different from the normal kombucha ecosystem. -Kriben Govender
What Is The Secret To Looking Youthful?
The secret is to use food as medicine. I eat to live, I don't live to eat. This means that I make a very conscious decision on:
What I put into my body in the form of food (plant-based, bright colored, and rich with antioxidants!
What I put on my body in the form of clothes, chemicals, water, and detergent
What I do with my body and mind. (The two are naturally connected.)
The amount of rest I get
The amount of water I drink
The amount of exercise I get each day
Immersing myself in nature every day (most important!)
I believe that not only is nature the greatest artist but it is also the greatest healer. Whenever I can even, if it's just a 2 day weekend, my favorite place to go is the island of Kauai, HI. It is such raw untouched nature. Hiking in an untouched rainforest I come out and I feel 10 years younger. That is the recipe for anti-aging and to be ageless.
If you look at our evolution as humans, we came from nature. People are looking for these external miraculous pills to take but I think the answer is in nature. We have become so disconnected from nature in terms of the food products that we put in our bodies, the water quality, the skincare regimen, the environmental pollution, the EMF radiation, bluelight, and the circadian mismatches. If you go into a forest, the Japanese call it forest bathing, you can connect back with nature. There is energy coming from the trees, being grounded on the earth with your bare feet, and jumping in the oceans. If you look at any of these blue zone regions there is some element of that going on in their cultures and of course, they are eating a lot more vegetables. -Kriben Govender
What Does Your Morning Routine Look Like?
I have two non-negotiables:
- 8 hours of sleep a night minimum
- Workout in the morning
When I wake up in the morning I refrain from quickly reaching for my phone and I refrain from checking emails too soon. I allow the body and the mind to wake up and to set the foundation for the day. I also listen to my body and see if I slept well and how I feel. I start off with celery juice and then have a smoothie. This is a ritual for me and it allows me to play with different ingredients. After 30 minutes, I then slowly start to check emails.
I don't respond to every email but I look for the most important ones. After this I meditate. Many people meditate before checking emails but it is almost like the emails inform the vibration of the day. I have to meditate to set my intention and prepare my mind. Meditation is a mental exercise. I then go from mental exercise to physical exercise.
I shower before the gym, and I will workout for an hour. Weightlifting, cardio, yoga, a hike, or anything that will keep my body guessing on what I am going to throw its way. I also love workouts that stimulate me mentally as well, like kickboxing. After that, I come to the office. Whatever the world is holding for me, whether it be financial, creative, or business decisions I feel like I am now ready to take it on.
What Type Of Mediation Technique Do You Use?
It varies, because to me, mediation doesn't need to be something so specific. A lot of times people are intimidated by mediation because they think they have to:
-Sit in a certain pose
-Have their hands a certain way
-Have to be chanting
It doesn't have to be like that. Mediation to me is taking a mindful moment to have a conversation with yourself whether that is how your day went or how your life is going. Which is more retrospective or looking forward and saying “this is what I want out of the day.”
When times are tough you can also have a mediation of gratitude. It is important, especially in this day in age with smartphones and social media. We have become so disconnected and pressured whether we know it or not because of this instantaneous gratification, success, results, and it’s self-imposed pressure. Through this pressure, we overlook the things that are the most meaningful:
Our loved ones
Air in our lungs
A heartbeat in our bodies
A clear head
The ability to get up
Having running water
It is important to acknowledge all these little things we take for granted on a regular basis.
Also, acknowledge mother nature and thank her for providing these things. Whether it's a squirrel you see running across the tree branch when you look out of the window, the rain, or the wind. It is important to ground yourself in nature. You have to physically and mentally ground yourself with nature.
It is almost like a hedonic adaptation. You look at the lives that most of us live, we are very blessed. There is food in the fridge, a roof over our heads, running water, and most of the people in the world are struggling to access it. When we go back and think about what we have and that we are grateful for it it just sets a beautiful tone for the rest of the day. Be grateful for your health and family. I practice this with my children every day. At dinner time we go around and each person has to say something they were grateful for today. We go around 3 times and this teaches them not to get stuck in the hedonic adaptation. What we have is incredibly special. It is great to acknowledge this and to connect with the heart as well. And be fully appreciative of what you have. -Kriben Govender
If you understand what you have been blessed with, this also gives you empathy. To be honest, I was born into this world as a white male and although I didn’t make that decision, it is a benefit that I have had in my world and in many ways it is what made me lucky. Many people were born into this world without a roof over their head, without full mental capacity, without full physical capacity, an education, and some people do not have a mother or father that they have ever met. These are all things that we take for granted. But when you stop and take the moment to thank the universe for making you healthy, the people around you, and the blessings you have, then later that day you encounter someone who doesn't have that, your heart goes out to them. You understand that they likely weren't responsible for those deficiencies but their reality is a lot different than yours.
We have the lucky lottery ticket being born at this time and this environment that we are in. And to acknowledge how blessed we are is incredibly important and it sets the frame for the rest of the day. I think gratitude invites more of that. My kids always ask “what should I say I am grateful for?” And I say to talk about something that you want more of. If you want more family time, security, and things you can’t buy, then say those things. -Kriben Govender
How Did Your Kombucha Brewing Turn Into A Commercial Enterprise?
The stars aligned. I was 15 years old, I was failing my classes, I was bullied for being a young gay male, I had no friends, and I felt as if I didn’t have a purpose. When kombucha came into the household it was something special and I recognized that early on. When I realized that people weren’t able to access it in the form that I was able to, is when I became inspired to create a product that everyone could access. In many ways, I don’t think that I chose kombucha, I think that it chose me.
This weird tasting & smelling thing called Kombucha resonated with me because at the time I felt weird and different. Together I thought we could be weird and it gave me bravery and purpose. I didn't think I was starting a business, I thought that I was chosen for a mission and I was following it. Since I was young I approached my business with heart and I still do, almost to a fault. For the first couple of years I was reluctant to any commercial growth or financial growth because I thought in many ways this would lead to me selling my soul. I had witnessed so many times where companies had chosen profit over purpose. For the first 5 years I was a “single parent” trying to white knuckle this beautiful thing called kombucha.
And then as I grew up, my brand and company grew up. I then realized and embraced the fact that this is something special and I should do anything and everything in my power to make it available to anyone who wants it. Regardless of:
Where they live
How much they make
Where they are at in their life
I should present this to them in a way that they can understand. That has become my mission and it hasn't changed to this day.
It is so pleasing to see someone stay true to the initial mission plan. I have come from a corporate background in the food industry and I have seen it many times, the chase for profits and trends and capitalizing on buzzwords. I am so pleased that you stay true to your cause.-Kriben Govender
What Are Your Feelings About The Integrity Of Kombucha?
First and foremost it is something that I am concerned and passionate about. In this world whether we know it or not, it is so common to take something that is unique and powerful and as soon as it is approaching mainstream status, we have to:
Dumb it down
You see this in milk, vegetables, and fruit. Whether it is pasteurization, filtering, or concentrating, this is all in the chase for more profit. When you make something like kombucha or kefir, something that is delicate and hand-crafted (not easily mass-produced!), you have to honor its qualities. Kombucha is like a plant, I am not making kombucha, nature is making kombucha. I am just a servant getting the ingredients in the vessel but after that it is all in nature's hands.
In the commercial world, humans always think that we are the ones creating things. When I was a child, even in the healthy household I grew up in, yoplait yoghurt was my definition of yoghurt. It breaks my heart to think that we are currently on a path that kombucha may be like a yoplait yoghurt. Where it has kombucha on the label but what is it? It is a soda that someone artificially carbonated, with vinegar or a concentrate added, a probiotic, and then called it a day?
That is not kombucha. Not to say that this product is not a good product. It is just not a kombucha product. Earlier this year, Hannah Crum, the founder of “Kombucha Brewers International”, and I embraced our love and compassion for Kombucha. We said “listen, if we don’t do something now we are going to regret it because we are so close to being on our way to kombucha losing its identity and what it stands for.” We are slowly trying to spearhead its identity. Which is an actual kombucha culture, tea, fermenting agent, and actual fermentation. Not just taking your scoby dipping it in tea and calling it a day. You need to have a transformation of ABC ingredients to XYZ ingredients.
That is the definition of fermentation. I am not saying that I know everything and my product is the best but when we make kombucha we ferment it, and once we are done fermenting it, it goes straight into the bottles. We don't pasteurize it, we don't filter it, and we don't do anything weird because we are trying to harness what nature has created. Unfortunately, in the effort to make sure these products are profitable and can be made anywhere, you are seeing these companies default to more shortcuts. They are taking a kombucha “something” (concentrate, flavor, or isolated qualities of a scoby), and they are making a drink and then they put kombucha on the label...
At the moment in Australia, we are seeing kombucha grow from the hippie space to mainstream. And you have gone from maybe a couple of producers to many producers and you are starting to see the dilution of quite a beautiful product to something that is a fizzy soft drink. They are either shortcutting the process or mislabeling the product. I am seeing that in the Kefir space as well. Milk kefir was one of the main things that got me through my anxiety and depression. Since it is such a novel product with no labeling standards and no standards of what kombucha or kefir is, there are a lot of companies out there that use starter cultures. For instance, in kombucha making you can now put spores in, pasteurize the product, and still call it kombucha. They are also using yogurt cultures (which have nothing to do with kefir!) and then calling it kefir.-Kriben Govender
I feel for the consumer who hears about kombucha, thinks it could change their life and goes and buys that product on the shelf that may not be kombucha. They are going to be disappointed. We have done research lately that says 90% of people that tried kombucha and didn't like it which means the taste or didn't feel effects, will not buy it ever again. You have one chance of making a first impression.
Consumers aren't going to have the understanding in terms of what constitutes a real kombucha product or a real kefir product. They are reading an article that says kombucha or kefir is great and I don’t have the time to make it at home so I will go to the supermarket and grab it. Then they go and get it and say “oh yes this is kefir, or this is kombucha and if i have this product I am going to get amazing health benefits.” But they are being misled. People take these studies and base them off of the real product, and the consumer thinks that they are going to get these benefits from the commercial products. That is absolutely misleading. Hanna and I sat down with people from the state government and the federal government and we discussed all of these misleading practices. We talked about having a standard of identity for these products. The dilution of the product is a big factor as well. If you are trying to reduce the amount of alcohol to meet regulatory requirements I think it should be required to state how much kombucha is actually in the product. -Kriben Govender
Alcohol Content and Kombucha?
Alcohol, like sugar, has been completely demonized. We have to realize that nature creates alcohol in some instances as a natural preservative to ward off bad bacteria. So in authentic kombucha and kefir there is a version of alcohol present but it is not the same as alcohol in a wine, beer, or spirit. Kombucha is one of the many beautiful fermented foods that our bodies need.
I am worried that these beautiful fermented foods will never see the light of day until we as a society and as a world change how we think about alcohol. In defense of the companies that are taking shortcuts, a lot of them are doing it because they want to stay away from the alcohol that is made through fermentation. We are trying to open a conversation and say “let’s not be so scared about alcohol.”
The same way that cannabis was in the USA 10 years ago and now my grandma takes a CBD gummy to help her sleep. The consciousness has changed and kombucha is no exception. We need to see that the way we have been living up until recently has made up sick, fat, and diseased. Something needs to change…
Are You Seeing Any Other Innovation That Could Be The “Next Kombucha?”
There are 4 things that I believe could be the “next kombucha”:
Medicinal mushrooms that have adaptogenic properties are incredibly important. We have a product called “Alive” which is our adaptogenic product. We use a trio of medicinal mushrooms ( reishi, chaga, and turkey tail) that we have wild-harvested in the northwest and they are the size of your head! We brew them for 9+ hours to get all of their antioxidants. It is dark like a cup of coffee. Then we pair that with premium teas, and we overlay beautiful ingredients to create a beautiful experience. It is not an adaptogenic or kombucha it is an adaptogenic AND kombucha.
Water Kefir- Both water kefir and milk kefir have kefir grains. Kefir is similar to kombucha but it has more probiotics than kombucha BUT it doesn’t have the organic acids. It is a different experience and it’s also a different fermentation. Kefir is a lacto-ferment and kombucha is an acetobacter ferment. Both are equally as great.
Fermented coconut water which is similar to kefir but you are using more of the naturally occurring wild organisms that are within the raw coconut water and the coconut meat. We have a completely vegan and raw coconut yoghurt that we bring in coconuts from Thailand, cut them open in LA, drain the water, and scoop out the thin meat to make yoghurt out of it.
- Cannabis: I think whether it is CBD for cognitive health, THC, or the other cannabinoids that have so many different benefits and purposes within our body that we are barely scratching the surface. I am hoping that it replaces the use of alcohol in a social setting. In many ways, it is going to replace a lot of pharmaceutical drugs. I think we all know that the pharmaceutical industry copies nature but in a chemical way. They do this because they want to patent things but they create a synthetic offering when the natural way is much cheaper and more readily available.
Food is medicine. It is really important that we listen to our bodies, we find what is good, and what is bad. Then we address it through nature and food and use food as medicine.
Being someone that has come from the food industry from the past 20 years I can tell you that food is either the most powerful medicine or the most toxic poison. The only problem with water kefir is that there is not as much research coming out about it. I did see a paper that they discovered a different bifidobacteria in water kefir which is a big deal. Bifidobacteria is extremely important for someone who struggles with anxiety and depression. They produce tryptophan and this is one of those precursor molecules that cascades onto serotonin (feel-good hormone) and then it cascades onto melatonin which is your sleep hormone. In our community we have seen incredible testimonials on the benefits of water kefir for IBS, mood enhancements, and psoriasis. -Kriben Govender
What Are Your Thoughts On Psilocybin Mushrooms?
To put it simply I am positively in love with psilocybin. It gave me my first “download” or profound experience. Moderation is key in anything in life. Psilocybin is a medicine that:
You can microdose
Use modest doses initially
Be in a controlled environment
Preferably surrounded by nature
Psilocybin can open your mind and it starts opening up channels of communication between different sides of your brain. I believe that it makes you smarter and more empathetic. After I use it I feel smarter and I remember everything that I experienced during that journey. This is very different compared to other drugs like molly or MDMA. Those experiences are a completely superficial experience. Then you come down afterward and you hate everything which isn't a good thing.
When I use psilocybin, it makes me more creative, more in tune with nature, and more in tune with humans. Another plant medicine that is similar is ayahuasca. It is more medicinal and I call it “spiritual surgery”. When the time is right and a person is ready, you can have a life-changing experience on something like ayahuasca. When my mother was pregnant with me she didn’t know she was pregnant and she took peyote. She was in the desert with her friends, she naturally threw up, and that's when she felt me in her belly.
I think these plant medicines make us more in touch with the world around us, and they make us more in touch with ourselves. Which is a problem right now because we are so disconnected with ourselves because we are glued to our phones or computer. That is why mental health is an issue.
We are seeing a chronic epidemic of mental health crises across the world and hopefully some of these fermented foods, psilocybin, or some of these other therapies become available in a controlled setting with a practitioner soon. I think it will be world-changing in terms of dealing with the mental health crisis. It is putting the phone away, not getting addicted to it, and using meditation and yoga. This will help you feel better and help you improve anxiety and depression. -Kriben Govender
If you pay attention to nature, she has all the answers. More than anything I can say. If you can immerse yourself in an environment where nature is the focal point, all your questions, curiosities and problems will be solved. It all comes back to nature.
Nature has this supreme, innate intelligence that we can all access.-Kriben Govender
Authentic kombucha can help and heal along with many other modalities. Remember that not all kombucha is created equal, the key to feeling youthful is to “eat to live, not live to eat”, and there are other products that you can use to improve your quality of life as well. Share this with a friend that could benefit from this information!