I had the absolute joy of interviewing the passionate and creative craft-brewers behind the 100% vegan, ethically sourced, drink of the Gods. Left field Kombucha is the first in Scotland and absolutely delicious. Never heard of it? Read on and ye shall be converted Kombucha. What, when, why? Could you tell us a bit about the history of Buch’ and it’s reputation as a health drink/elixir? Kombucha is made using tea (ours is ethically sourced and premium), water, sugar, and a fermentation culture (or ‘scoby’ as its called). Ours is craft-brewed in a similar way to beer or cider, we focus on the tea, and we don’t add flavourings. Its naturally low in sugar and very refreshing. There are many sources out there that make wide-ranging health claims, and are largely anecdotal. Kombucha, or fermented tea, is an ancient beverage. Mainly believed to have its roots in eastern Asia, it likely originated in China 2000+ years ago, and its efficacy as a remedy for a range of things led to its being held up as the ‘Elixir of Life’ and it does contain lots of great bacteria, and goes hand in hand with good gut health. You won’t find health claims on our labels, we won’t tell you it makes you immortal, but you will get a handcrafted vegan drink, which does have all that good stuff in it.
How would you describe the way that you guys got into it? To me, it’s one of those drinks that if you haven’t had it you don’t know what the fuss is about but once you try it you want to tell everyone about it!
That’s indeed how people respond to it… “I wanted to know what all the fuss was about…. *looks sceptical*, I don’t really like tea… ah, yes, its really good, really refreshing and does you good.’’ What’s not to like! We were originally we were inspired by clean eating, – we care about the natural – and at the same time, we were fed up with the lack of interesting drinks that didn’t contain a load of sugar, or a load of alcohol so we began craft-brewing and imbibing it. We take a rather different approach to our kombucha than others; we focus entirely on using premium ethically sourced teas. In that way we are a tea company first and foremost. We found it worked beautifully at any time of day, and also worked well with food (not a lot of soft drinks can claim this we don’t think. We wanted to develop something that people wouldn’t just buy because it was full of healthy probiotics (although it is) but because they were in a café and wanted a great craft drinks experience. It’s true that it can be an acquired taste, some people don’t like tea, but they love this! Some kombucha can be a tad vinegary (particularly in the home brewing environment) and contain a little scoby but these are your friends. It’s all good stuff.
How did you choose the tea that goes into your ‘buch?
We are passionate about the tea. In that sense we are primarily a tea company. That’s our usp, we don’t add fruits or flavourings to our kombucha, and instead draw on the amazing aromatics that the teas contain. We sought out and sampled many of the best ethically sourced teas for our range. We tried and tested a lot and some just didn’t cut it (we wouldn’t recommend a rooibos for example!).
How did you make the leap from tea lovers to brewers?
Geraint comes from a beer brewing background. And, we’re Celts: tea is in the blood! We still drink our Yunnan Black tea in the normal sense, as well as use it in our kombucha brewing.
For me, your product fits so well with this idealistic Scottish way of living, and is shown clear in your beautiful instagram feed: wild and natural, premium, pure ingredients… is this why you decided to make the move back here? How do you feel your brand fits with this imagery?
So glad you think so. In part yes, we wanted to be back in the wilder and quieter landscapes of Scotland as we’d been in the South East for a while, where I worked in charity. We wanted to be nearer family too as we have a young family ourselves. And, we wanted to create something that was close to our heart, about the way we live and in terms of what we appreciate. The owl motif with the leaf wing on our logo, for example, is because of the nightly visits from a barn owl outside our window. We wanted to keep the brand this way, and to also reflect the kind of ancient natural origins of kombucha, and the fresh clean characteristics.
What are the most challenging things about creating and launching a product and working with your partner?
When starting something that is quite unfamiliar in the marketplace generally you do have to rely on gut feel, as well as drawing from experience. Geraint had worked previously as a beer brewer and we both have worked in various roles outside of food and drink. But with something this new… everything from the packaging to the taste, the promotion and the delivery, it can be tricky and sometimes you have to be more reactive than proactive. [You have to] not get too hung up on that strategy you wrote. We began this on a small scale last year from our kitchen, and we have built the new brewery our two selves with help from my dad (thankfully he is retired!). We also began this business whilst expecting our second small person, so this past year and a half has not been without challenges (although often without sleep!). Working together when you share the passion about the product is brilliant. Switching off is not very easy, but then again, at least we can completely understand our respective working lives.
Where can people find Left Field at the moment?
We are in stock in independent cafes, coffee shops and teahouses, and whole food shops in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen, and the Scottish Borders and Northumberland (we try to keep our stockists page up to date on our website). These include but are not limited to: Juice Warrior (the very first to stock our kombucha back in summer 2016 on draught and now in bottle too), Pumpkin Brown, Brew Lab and Cairngorm Coffee, Pekoe Tea and Earthy Food and Hanover Health Foods in Edinburgh, to Roots, Fruits & Flowers, Primal Roast, and Juniper Herbal Dispensary in Glasgow and Heart Space Whole Foods in Dundee. We are also stocked by Greencity Wholefoods as our distributor.
Do you have any plans to extend your range, either using different teas as a base or creating food products?
Yes, we began with a range of kombucha varieties in 2016 which we sold directly from a bespoke bar at Leith/Stockbridge markets. Since putting the kombucha into bottle we have launched two varieties from that original range, a No.1 Yunnan Black and a No.4 Darjeeling Second Flush. There is a No.2 and a No.3 in the fermentation pipeline which are very different again, and use other fine teas.
What can we expect from Left Field in the next few months?
We are working on setting up our online shop so that people across the UK can buy directly from us. We are also getting our draught kombucha by keg into bars, making it the ideal refreshing drink for anyone. We want to continue to speak directly to people who enjoy our kombucha and will be popping up at various Vegan events in the future. This is all very exciting, have you got any tips for those wishing to experiment with their own fermentation? Many people are interested in making their own and you can grab a good scoby recipe online and have a go! Just make sure other people in the house know what it is so they don’t throw it out!