Kombucha, WTF? An interview with Adam Vanni of JARR Kombucha.
A booch-master who practises what he preaches.
Adam moved from California to London in 2015 and became one of the early pioneers in the UK’s fermented tea revolution. He’s seriously knowledgeable on all-things-kombucha and a proper plant-head so we jumped at the chance to talk about functional drinks, feeling good and his fricking awesome morning routine!
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Adam Vanni and I’m one of the founders of JARR Kombucha. I was born and raised in Los Angeles but my grandfather was Welsh so I applied for an ancestry visa in my early 20’s and moved to London in 2011. I lived in a warehouse in Hackney Wick for two years, writing and recording music while working as a cook in my friends’ café before leaving with my partner to go backpacking around Asia and South America for a year. After the trip I settled in California for a little while before moving back to London in 2015 to start JARR. Before I moved back to London I was working in LA as a music therapist for children with developmental disabilities and as a receptionist in a law firm. Random, I know.
Kombucha - what is it? What are the origins?
Kombucha was first brewed around 221 BC in China during the Qin Dynasty as a “longevity elixir.” It’s said that kombucha found its way to Japan around 414 AD and was later consumed by samurai who would carry flasks of it into battle for vitality and energy. Eventually, it was brought across the Silk Road into parts of Russia and Eastern Europe where it was common as a home-brewed soft drink until the late 1980s. It was around this time the Soviet Union collapsed and the market was flooded with Western soft drinks like Coca Cola so everyone stopped drinking the funky stuff. By this point kombucha had already worked it’s way into central and western Europe where it popped up throughout the 20th century in Italy, Germany and Switzerland. Kombucha wasn’t really popularised in the West until the late 90’s/ early 2000’s when a guy named GT Dave launched the first commercial kombucha brand in the world in Los Angeles (naturally). Now the kombucha industry worldwide is worth almost $2 billion. Who would have thought, right?
Why did you start a booch business in London? What makes yours so special?
I had been good friends with my co-founders for ages before we came up with the idea for JARR – they were actually the same friends who owned the café in Hackney Wick that I worked at for my first 2 years in London. In January 2015 when I was living in LA, they messaged saying they had a layover in Los Angeles on their way back from New Zealand to London and that they wanted to extend it and stay with me for a few days. When they arrived at my house the first thing I did was open up the fridge and offer them a bottle of kombucha, which coincidentally they had just been introduced to for the first time in Auckland a couple of weeks before. So, sitting around the kitchen table, drinking kombucha, my friend Jess half-jokingly suggested we learn how to make kombucha and we start a kombucha brewery together. And that’s exactly what we did! Two weeks later I had a flight booked and 2 months after that I arrived back to London and we started experimenting on our very first batches. The rest is history.
JARR was the first London-based kombucha brewery and we were also the first in Europe to serve on draught kombucha. In Autumn of 2015 we opened up JARR Bar, a kombucha taproom and cocktail bar inside our kombucha brewery and warehouse space in Hackney Wick. Berber & Q opened a pop-up restaurant alongside our taproom and we started inviting DJ’s to perform. Eventually, that warehouse space morphed into a nightclub called Mick’s Garage and we’ve since seen the likes of Andrew Weatherall, Hot Chip, Crazy P, Optimo and loads of amazing underground electronic artists from around the world.
As a product, JARR was never meant to be a health drink. From the branding to our tone of voice, our flavour profile and our list of stockists, we were aiming to create a premium, brewed, adult soft drink using high-quality ingredients that weren’t just something you’d find in your local health food shop. We sat down before launching the brand and wrote a wish list of stockists, which included Soho House, Harrods, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Whole Foods Market, Planet Organic, Claridges and the Dorchester just to name a few. After a couple of years, we were stocked in most of them. We hadn’t seen kombucha go beyond that health space before and that was really our main goal.
What do you do to feel good? Any healthy life hacks or rituals have you got for us? We know you’re into plants and functional ingredients, any faves?
Man, I could talk about this all day, it’s actually my true passion (I still got all the love for kombucha of course). I’ll start with my daily routine.
The very first thing I do when I wake up is four rounds of breathwork, based off the Wim Hof method, generally to a specific playlist of music. Breathwork hyper-oxygenates your blood, allowing you to feel much more alert, present and connected to yourself. I can wake up exhausted and moody but 20 minutes of this practice can make me feel like I’ve slept solidly for eight hours. I also find that throughout the day I feel a deeper sense of empathy, gratitude and openness.
I’ll then make my morning concoction of organic, unpasteurised apple cider vinegar, fresh-pressed ginger juice, turmeric powder, black pepper, cayenne and I’ll shoot that on an empty stomach. Great way to kick start your digestion!
Then, depending on how I’m feeling, I’ll follow up with a hot cup of ceremonial grade raw cacao or a cold mixture of ground guayusa leaves. I source my raw cacao from Guatemala and my favourite brand is called Keith’s Cacao – if you haven’t tried raw cacao (in paste form, not powder) you need to get on this ASAP. It contains loads of antioxidants (40 x more than blueberries), iron, magnesium and calcium so it’s great for your body. But the best part is that it makes you feel AMAZING. Proper ceremonial grade cacao contains theobromine (also found in Three Spirit Social Elixir!), a compound that energises you in a similar way to caffeine, but without the crash. More interestingly though, it contains anandamide, which is actually an endogenous cannabinoid and neurotransmitter naturally found in the human brain. When you consume it in the form of cacao, it produces feelings of euphoria and has, as some people would call it, a “heart-opening” effect. It’s a pretty epic way to start the day. Also highly recommended experiencing with a partner as it’s wonderful for connection and intimacy as well as for listening to music and any kind of movement such as dancing, and yoga.
Guayusa is another one of my favourites which you guys are already familiar with as it’s found in Three Spirit Livener! Guayusa leaves come from a type of Amazonian holly tree native to Ecuador, and it’s been used by indigenous tribes for thousands of years. The hunters of the tribe would consume guayusa in the predawn hours to refine their senses for early morning hunts. Upon returning, the entire tribe would gather and collectively consume the tea to help interpret dreams from the night before. Guayusa contains high levels of natural caffeine as well as theobromine, the same compound found in raw cacao. In addition to this, it contains L-theanine, an amino acid that promotes relaxation by calming the central nervous system. It’s also got twice as many antioxidants are green tea which means it’s not just great for your mind, but also for your whole body. I source my guayusa powder (similar to matcha in that I’m consuming the full leaf) from my friend James Elliot who runs the Guayusa Tea Co. here in London. James sources and imports super fresh guayusa directly from Ecuador and his stuff is as good as it gets. It also makes a pretty mean kombucha if you decide to ferment it.
Around lunchtime, I’ll either do an hour of Jivamukti yoga or do a long run through the Hackney Marshes with my dog, anything to get my body moving and energised so that I can be just as productive for the latter half of the afternoon.
I’ve also been passionate about indigenous plant medicines for many years, which began after reading Breaking Open the Head by Daniel Pinchbeck and subsequently choosing to spend quite a bit of time in Peru. This certainly is not a path for everyone though so I am not necessarily recommending it!
What are you doing to keep chill during lockdown? Any tips?
In addition to getting enough rest, not drinking alcohol or coffee and eating clean, I’m a big fan of very long, very hot baths with Epsom salts and lavender oil as well as regular meditation. If you’re not yet into meditation but you’re curious, download Insight Timer. It’s an awesome free app with thousands of guided meditations, visualisations, binaural beats and sleepy bedtime stories.
I’m also reading a book right now called A Liberated Mind, written by Stephen Hayes, the founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. He’s got a really powerful TED talk (which I watch regularly) on psychological flexibility, which is essentially the concept of turning towards your pain rather than running from it, hiding from it or numbing it. We give ourselves such a hard time way too often for the silliest stuff and simply turning with love and acceptance towards the things that make us hurt or make us feel uncomfortable, allows us to simply connect with our own innate sense of meaning and purpose and bring love and contribution to ourselves, the people we care about and the world around us.
How is business? Where do you see the booch industry going in the UK?
Despite taking a hit in sales due to the pandemic, we are doing ok. A lot of this was primarily in the on-trade – bars, cafes, restaurants etc. We’re sending lots of love to our friends and everyone else whose businesses (and of course health) are affected during these strange and difficult times.
In early February, before we’d heard anything about the virus, we moved all of our production to Belgium, which turned out to be a lifesaver. The new JARR brewery, built by our business partners Duvel Moortgat, is a state of the art facility and most of it is automated so everything can be run by a small team of brewers who are able to keep a safe distance from one another whilst of course wearing all of the necessary protective gear. We have seen a big spike in online sales, particularly through our own website as well as through stockists such as Dry Drinker and Farmdrop. Whole Foods Market and Planet Organic are still operating at full capacity where a lot of our volume here in the UK is driven through.
What's your favourite Three Spirit drink? We hear it goes very well with Jarr / booch!
Flavour-wise I must say I’m a big fan of the Livener. It goes especially well with JARR Original and fresh grapefruit juice. Feeling-wise it certainly gives quite the hit! The first time I tried it I was actually on a caffeine detox – after a couple of drinks I was buzzing, to say the least. Thankfully it was immediately followed by the Nightcap, which brought me almost immediately back to baseline with its blend of valerian, hops, lemon balm and ashwagandha.
Let’s be honest, as human beings it’s in our nature to be constantly trying to shift our consciousness in one way or another. Whether it’s the socially acceptable versions like binge-watching Netflix, eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, chasing likes on Instagram or getting drunk with our friends, it is emotionally and psychologically ingrained in us to seek novelty. What I love most about Three Spirit is that it’s an alcohol alternative that doesn’t shy away from this – it actually packs a punch. It gives you that desired shift in consciousness, but in a way that’s sustainable and doesn’t make you feel like shit the next day. But that’s just my two cents.
Thanks, Adam, you’re a legend!