Kombucha: A New Artisan of an Age Old Craft

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A typical way to describe kombucha is to say it’s fermented mushroom tea. So when faced with a choice of a well made cappuccino or fermented mushroom tea, that voice inside your head may scream, "double cap extra foam." But Uzbekistan-born Lev Kilun will let you sample his house made kombucha on-tap while you wait for your organic espresso drink at Café Lyon in the Rockridge district of Oakland, California. Before your double cap is done brewing, you might wish you ordered the kombucha instead.

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Granted, "fermented mushroom tea" is not going to allure anyone except probiotic freaks. And thank heaven for them, because we're a lot healthier from their hard work. But Lev doesn't see kombucha as a medicine, even though his grandmother’s brew cured his hangovers as a teenager. He sees it simply a delightful drink to be enjoyed as you would a glass of wine or cup of coffee.

It looks like a fine lager as it pours down the side of the glass. (In fact the cops showed up one day when the kids from the local middle school looked like they were having their own little Oktoberfest.) The mild aroma is slightly astringent and a little yeasty like an appealing beer. Going down, it begs for a hot summer’s day: well chilled, a little tart, not very sweet and nicely carbonated.

Nostalgia and inspiration ensued in 2004 when Lev saw bottled varieties of kombucha in local markets. Unimpressed, he resolved to produce an authentic, unpasteurized, hand-crafted kombucha. Three years of tweaking the best quality Ceylon green tea and cane sugar under consistent temperature and pressure conditions yielded a formula Lev is preparing to bottle.

For now, it's on-tap in the center of his café and wine bar. He’ll gladly discuss the fermentation process with you over a glass of his latest specialty: kombucha mixed with Crème de Cassis for those Kir Royale fans. He can’t make any health claims, but for centuries, many cultures claim that kombucha restores health in endless capacities. For Lev, he is confident that when you taste his kombucha, "you just know...you just know it's right."

About the author: Leslie Pave is a freelance writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Chef-on-sabbatical, Leslie has enjoyed watching her kitchen injuries heal and is replacing them with carpal tunnel on her Bay Area food blog, Deglazed.

Café Lyon

Address: 5701 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618 (map)
Phone: 510-547-0800

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