There’s a new drink in town, a fizzy, fermented beverage that, unlike those other fizzy, fermented beverages, comes in a variety of fresh flavours and is packed with health benefits. It’s called kombucha tea. Already big among alternative-health aficionados in East Asia and the West, this probiotic brew is now surging in popularity in Bangkok, thanks in large part to a gamechanging couple, their renovated shophouse, and the brand they transplanted from the Big Apple, Pure Luck.
“We founded Pure Luck in New York about a year before we even started making kombucha. Back then, we were all about new ideas and green roofs, and we still are. With experience, our ideas have evolved,” says Tibb Phungtham, the jokingly dubbed “big boss” and partner to “small boss” Brett Casper.
After relocating to Bangkok, the two refurbished a flat near Hua Lamphong, burnishing the walls to give their home raw beauty, turning its roof into an organic vegetable garden, and adding a greenhouse. In these new digs they set up a home-brew operation to provide the local population with their favourite drink. In short order, their brand has bloomed like tea leaves around a healthy urban living concept.
The benefits of kombucha vary from brand to brand. At a basic level, this naturally effervescent drink provides the same benefits as any tea: it’s an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory; it has anti-microbial and anti-cancer properties; it boosts immunity, metabolism, and mood; it’s rich in amino acids, B vitamins, beneficial acids, and probiotics; and, crucially, it’s a natural remedy for hangovers. It has noticeable tang, a sort of sour kick that elevates the taste, whether poured over ice or mixed with fresh beer.
Pure Luck offers eleven flavours, from raspberry mangosteen to hot ginger, achieved through blends of dried herbs, teas, and botanicals: no juices or flavours are ever added during the brewing process. “We simply brew tea, ferment it, and put it in a bottle,” explains Phungtham.
While kombucha has provided a foundation for the brand, Casper and Phungtham have even greater ambitions for Pure Luck. “Taking aim at urban toxicity and our mass food production systems has always been one of our main goals,” says Phungtham. “It’s amazing that people will recognize a corporate logo, but not the leaf of a tomato. When you start taking kombucha seriously, it sets you on a journey of discovery, one not only of our own microbiology, but also of larger scale symbiotic systems, or lack thereof, in capitalist society. We want to connect people with their food, help them understand that what you put in your body is just as important the environment that you live in.”
As the brand continues to develop, so too do the products. Already Casper and Phungtham have largescale projects in the works, and new flavours will soon crack the line-up of established styles. Currently, Pure Luck kombucha tea is available at a handful of health food stores (Baimiang Healthy Store, Oleaf Organic, and Radiance Whole Foods), artisanal markets (the Spring & Summer Epicurean Markets), and for home delivery, as well, on orders of 24 bottles or more. At SoulBar on Charoen Krung Road, the tangy brew is served in a slightly different form, blended with draft Leo to create the legendary Spring, Summer, and Autumn beers, the versatility of the tea on delicious display.
Although to the uninitiated, kombucha can sound exotic, peculiar, or perhaps a little too holistic, there’s no reason to be intimidated by it. This funky tea is light and refreshing, chockfull of active enzymes, and representative of a balanced relationship with the natural world. “Pure Luck is more than just kombucha,” says Phungtham. “We are a lifestyle brand, a way of living.”