Astoria brewery going Beyond Kombucha
by Heather Senison
Jan 04, 2012 | 6728 views | 0 0 comments | 64 64 recommendations | email to a friend | print

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Deep in a basement behind a paid parking lot near the corner of 41st Street and 34th Avenue, the Long Island City/Astoria border houses its own mad alchemist – and he brews Kombucha.

Kombucha is a fermented, naturally carbonated, nutritional tea that contains .8 percent to 1.5 percent alcohol by volume. The brewing of Kombucha dates back as far as the Chinese Qin Dynasty in 220 B.C.

Beyond Kombucha, founded by Spiro Theofilatos in 2010, is the first state liquor-licensed Kombucha brewery on the East Coast. The company applied for its liquor license after the federal government cracked down on Kombucha companies across the country last June, Theofilatos said.

“We faced it head on,” he said of the federal recall.

Theofilatos and his project coordinator, Liz Parsekian, produce a range of roughly six or seven Kombucha's at a time, including a couple of new teas per season.

In December, the company released its first Kombucha ale, called a Mava Roka, which contains 6.5 to 7 percent alcohol by volume. Theofilatos said it takes about a month and a half to produce a batch, and the Queens Kickshaw, a local Astoria bar that launched the ale on December 15, sold its supply in less than a month.

Theofilatos became interested in teas when he started taking Kung Fu at the age of 12, he said.

“Tea is a passion for me, I really think it's fascinating,” he said.

Kombucha is made with water, tea and sugar. It is fermented with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, also known as a SCOBY. The tea is steeped in boiling water, allowed to cool, and then put in a glass jar or oak barrel with a SCOBY and fermented for one to two weeks – Theofilatos prefers nine days. Like a yogurt, the pro-biotics in Kombucha make it a living organism.

“It starts out really sweet and it comes out on the brink of sweet and sour,” he said, “that's when it's finished.

“You have to time it extremely well, that's what the expertise is,” Theofilatos added. “Production is really what the skill is here.”

Among the company's flavors is a Vanilla Rooibos, an African Tea rich in anti-oxidents, iron and magnesium. Currently, Theofilatos is developing a flavor for Valentine's Day, which will also be his feature for the spring season.

Beyond Kombucha also produces a Yerba Maté, a bitter tea unless fermented with sugar, that Theofilatos said can replace coffee as an energizer, in addition to being loaded with vitamins and minerals.

All Kombucha is loaded with pro-biotics, enzymes, minerals and vitamins. For example, it is so rich in Vitamin B that vegetarians drink it as a meat substitute, he said.

“If you have a stomach ache, drink a bottle of Kombucha, it's going to go away,” Theofilatos said.

But he said the most important aspect of his Kombucha is the flavor.

“I don't focus on the health benefits, I want it to taste good,” he said.

Another focus of the company is to work with local businesses, such as the Kickshaw, that share a desire for sustainability.

“We're really excited to be joining companies that we like,” said Parsekian, who began as a volunteer for Theofilatos after drinking his tea everyday after work at the Queens Farm Museum last summer.

“We're really inspired to be a very thoughtful company,” she said, “whether it's composting, solar panels or biodeisel - because we believe it's possible to be successful and sustainable.”

Brewing tea in his family-owned building on 41st Street, which houses one of the city's only rooftop solar panel farms, coincides with Theofilatos' desire for sustainability.

In addition to being a music engineer before founding Beyond Kombucha, Theofilatos was the director of waste oil collections for Tri-State Biodeisel Inc., during which time he built the company's waste-oil collection service and signed a contract with Yankee Stadium.

“Every drop of waste cooking oil generated by Yankee Stadium was turned into biodeisel fuel,” he said.

In the future, Theofilatos said he hopes to open its own cafe, where the walls will be lined with oak barrels and neighbors bring growlers to refill periodically.

I'd like to see different kinds of tea in every one,” Theofilatos said. “I'd like to see people come in and say, 'which ones are ready?'”

Beyond Kombucha is available locally at the Vitality and Health in Astoria, Food Sellars & Co. in Long Island City, Café Bar in Astoria and Mundo in Astoria.

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