BENGALURU: Odissi dancer Ashwini Raghupathy is brewing bottles full of Kombucha tea, reviving a fad that passed decades ago.
Ashwini took a course in fermentation in Thailand, found an ‘invaluable’ SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast) in Bali and decided to brew Kombucha at home.
Many Bengalureans used to brew it in their homes and sell it to the health-conscious. Rich in anti-oxidants and beneficial bacteria, the beverage is prepared by fermenting Kombucha bacteria with black tea and sugar. It is said to help increase white cell (T-cell) count, boost the immune system, and strengthen metabolism.
The artiste runs Arpana Academy out of her residence in Vasantnagar and performs frequently at venues across the city. Now, she also brews 30 litres of the tea a week and sells 25. She charges `350 for a litre of Kombucha. Her first two batches sold out in days and orders continue to pour in.
“When I was looking up schools in Thailand that taught fermentation, I came in contact with a young woman in Pai who wanted to learn Odissi from me. She had heard about my academy but lacked the funds to fly down to Bengaluru for classes,” Ashwini narrates.
The dancer was overjoyed when she learnt that Pai, a town in Northern Thailand, had a fermentation school run by Canadian and Russian experts. So she flew to Thailand last October to teach and to be taught.
Over a week, she learnt how to ferment tea, milk and vegetables. “But the SCOBY I got from there was not too good. I had to travel to Bali for another one,” she shares.
Getting the SCOBY (“It resembles a large, flattened litchi and tastes like one as well”) through airport security was an ordeal, she admits.
“I had just shaved my head. So I told the official that I was a cancer patient and that I needed the SCOBY for my health. When that didn’t work, I tore a piece of it when he wasn’t looking and shoved it in my bag,” she says with a laugh.
Ashwini brewed Kombucha tea for herself and her family over the next six months. “Then I started selling it to people who enrolled for The No-Nonsense Health Programme that I had started a while ago. They loved it too and I thought I should put more effort into the process and make it a business,” she says.
Has she benefited from drinking the tea? Yes, she says. “Earlier, I used to feel tired and bloated all the time. Along with my low-carb, high-fat diet plan, it has worked wonders. I have lost three inches around my waist and I feel very energetic. I also used to have grey hair before. Now they are turning black,” she adds.
What about side effects? They are a possibility, she warns, pointing to a breakout of acne on her face. “Kombucha initiates a healing crisis in your body. If you feel like the symptoms are worsening, stop taking it right away. If it gets better, it just means your body is cleansing itself,” Ashwini explains.
The tea can interact with the mercury in dental fillings and cause medical complications, she cautions.
The business has brought Ashwini in touch with people with heart-wrenching stories.
“I sold a bottle of Kombucha to this woman who lost both her parents to ill health recently. And yet, she is having trouble taking better care of herself,” she shares.
“Another girl told me about her unhappy marriage, and said becoming health conscious was one of the ways in which she was dealing with it.”
Young people these days are weak and depressed and no fun to hang out with, she rues. “Most of the time, they can turn their lives around with a few lifestyle changes. Eating better is a good start,” she says.
She plans to brew 60 litres of Kombucha from this week onwards. She also plans to sell Kefir milk and fermented sauerkraut and salsa.
Ashwini is taking orders for this Sunday’s batch. Call 99011 59106.