Ancient Asian Elixer Fuels ‘Booch’ Boom
by Hunter Bishop
Looks like a boom in the “booch” biz is brewing.
Short for kombucha, “booch” is bubbly, fermented sweet green tea that’s been used as an elixer for thousands of years in Asia. Only recently has it become more popular in the West, and in East Hawaii,
the new “Big Island Booch Elixer Bar” can’t keep up with growing demand.
Partners Kela Cosgrave and Brendan Roberts had been selling kombucha at farmer’s markets for a year before moving into a 378-square-foot retail location across from the court house at 794 Kiluaea Ave. three months ago.
Now they’ve grown so fast they’re moving to a bigger location next to Bear’s Coffee on Keawe Street in mid-December. “We’re planning our grand opening on New Year’s Eve,” Cosgrave said.
Roberts and Cosgrave, both 30 and restaurant-industry veterans, had been experimenting with different booch brewing techniques and flavors for four years. They moved from Kona to Hilo about 18 months ago looking for their niche, put their budding interest in kombucha to work and sold their first bottle just three months later.
“Things happened very quickly for us,” said Cosgrave who continues to sell booch from booths at Uncle Roberts Hoolaulea in Kalapana on Wednesday nights, at the Hilo Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, and at the South Kona Green Market on Sunday mornings.
Along with their special blends of kombucha, the Booch Bar serves fresh coconut water, kava, Hawaiian mamaki tea and raw fermented noni juice shots. Right now there’s no space for food, but that will be introduced in the new location, along with cold-pressed juices and smoothies – “real smoothies” – she promised.
The booch is brewed in kegs and served on tap at the bar as well as to customers who bring their own containers for take-out. They started out bottling it themselves but found that too impractical. They have reusable containers for sale, however.
Cosgrave and Roberts mix their kombucha with other raw, organic, local ingredients to make 10 different, colorfully flavored concoctions such as Blue-Green (Spirulina) Dream, Elderberry Lavender Love, Coconut Chai Green and the most popular, Super Ginger Turmeric Tonic.
“It’s been pretty incredible,” she said. “We haven’t really been able to keep up with the demand. We have 700 gallons brewing at the moment.”
It’s not just the bar sales fueling the boom, Cosgrave said. Their accounts include restaurants such as Cafe Pesto, Lucy’s and Lava Java, and natural food outlets. She also noted that last month La Hiki Ola Kava Bar opened in Pahoa, also offering 10 flavors of kombucha.
Cosgrave said she’s happy to be in a business that promotes a healthier lifestyle. A waitress for 15 years, she started feeling remorse over serving customers alcohol and foods she considered bad for them. Now, like in herself, she’s seeing a shift in attitude toward healthier living through the foods people eat.
“I’d never addressed before how I felt being the server of alcohol,” she said. “I’m seeing a complete change in my customers.”
Her belief in the positive benefits of kombucha only fortifies the transformation she sees in herself and others. “The living enzymes send a rush of vitamins to your brain,” she said. “It’s a very uplifting feeling.”
The Big Island Booch Elixer Bar is open daily, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Call 238-8493.