17 May 2007

What the Chic are Swigging


Have you yet seen the tall bottles of kombucha staking their claim on large areas of shelf at Whole Foods & associated yuppie vegan stores? Do you know anyone who swears by the stuff? Have you tried it yourself, or even reached the ultimate stage of the pyramid and declared yourself addicted? Several months ago I hadn't even achieved Step One yet, and somehow I now find myself at about Step 3.5 (drink it occasionally, wish for it often). How did this happen? I started working at a chic boutique with ladies who are ahead of the pack not only in fashionable clothing, but in fashionable foods and, especially, drinks. Fashionable drinks? Seriously? Oh ho, my friends, absolutely. Every once in awhile, a new beverage comes along that makes special claims that somehow vault it not just to popular status (e.g. Vanilla Coke) but to exclusive status. It's not sold everywhere, it's not drunk by everyone, and it's very probably expensive. Before I get into the complex cult of Kombucha, let's take a little trip down memory lane (or creek, if we want to be liquid about it) and remember couture drinks of yore.

<--OK, perhaps not exactly couture. But in my first grade class, anyone whose mom let them have Yoo-Hoo in their lunchbox was TOTALLY cool. And look, it even had special claims way back when!
Voss Water came along and perhaps was an originator of the luxury beverage boom. It was really expensive, came in an impractical glass bottle, and somehow imparted major class to anyone carrying it. Was there ever even a special claim? Or just the claim--its value not to be underestimated--that it was really expensive? I know Voss is still around, but it's not a big deal anymore. And I think it's actually gotten cheaper.


I remember when VitaminWater was the new hip thing. Kind of like when Boca Burgers first came around and were so magical because they were meatlike but not meat. And now there are like 827364 kinds of veggie burgers, and you can get Bocas at Burger King. So much for cache. Same thing with VitWa. They're trying to stay cool with new VitaminEnergy, which I'm sure will be popular enough among the pseudo-health-conscious, but still not exclusive enough to qualify as a boutique bev. The way I can tell? VitWa vending machines are everywhere and it's always on sale at CVS. The kiss of death? See below:


And who could forget the recent pomegranate craze? Started off with Pom Wonderful juice that Whole Foods mommies splashed into their San Pellegrino to ward off the plague. Pom then tried to get portable with these highly impractical ("reusable!") glass Pom Teas (perhaps thinking that if it worked for Voss, why not Pom?). I think the bev-toting elite tried to embrace it, but it just didn't fly. Now that pomegranates are in everything from hand lotion to smoothies at 7-11, the glamour is gone.


Which brings us back to the modern day and the reign of kombucha. When I first started working here, the girls introduced me to it by saying "it tastes bad, but it's super good for you!" I tasted a little in a paper cup, and I actually liked the stuff. Mainly because it tastes like organic cheap champagne, and I dearly love cheap champagne. This is because it's fermented with some kind of magical culture thing--which, BTW, looks like a giant scary mushroom blob. As for health benefits, "No clinical studies have been performed that demonstrate any specific curative properties of kombucha, but anecdotal reports suggest protection against cancer and other ailments." The bottle says that the maker started marketing it after his mother cured herself of breast cancer with it. If you want to get down and dirty, here's some deets: "Advocates believe kombucha works by assisting in the phase II liver detoxification pathway, leading to efficient elimination of endogenous and exogenous bodily wastes." Delightful. In addition to lots of different acids and enzymes and stuff, kombucha "also contains vitamin groups B and C, beneficial yeasts and bacteria." Mmm, beneficial yeasts! Anyway, it comes in various colors (all organic fruit purees added to the kombucha mix) and for sure fits all the specifications for a boutique bev: cures cancer, is brand-specific (my cronies drink only this kind, Organic Raw Kombucha, rather than competitor Kombucha Wonder Drink), is only sold at froofy health shops, and empties your wallet with one blow ($3.39 each! For REALS YO!). I see this one sticking around for the long haul--it's just gotten started.

A Look To The Future:

Now, I'm not sure if everyone's seen the clearly-aimed-solely-at-women ads for new Diet Coke Plus, or if non-Angelenos are missing out (since they're still in the regional testing phase [and god knows L.A. is the obvious place to introduce such a product]). If you haven't, let me sumamrize: Coke is trying to hop on the beverages-as-health-aids wagon, perhaps trying to neutralize the utter toxicity of their product (not only is aspartame questionable, but caffeine is addictive [duh] and leaches calcium from your bones [not duh, but scary and true] AND the carbonation ALSO leaches calcium from your bones. Annnnd tons of women drink liters of it a day. In a few decades we're all going to need multiple prosthetic limbs.) So yeah, I guess I can see the reasoning in trying to add at least a little nutritional value to Diet Coke, but I'm not convinced that it'll have enough cache to be the new Kombucha. And I for one am not even going to fool myself into drinking it for health; no, no, I'll stay old school, hardcore, and drink my toxic chemicals with glee and without pretense of any benefits. Whatevs--I'm sure I'll be OK if I chase it with a little Kombucha.

Cheers!

> r r <

[Note: for an interesting overview of the beverage market, drown yourself in this report.]

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2 Comments:

Blogger leah and zulu said...

I've tried the raspberry kombucha and I must say that I'm not a fan. I liked the zingy-ness from it, but the taste was just too vinegary. On the other hand, I love the pom teas, and get them whenever they are on sale. I even reuse them as glasses. (the cap is great- you can take stuff in the car and not spill it on you)

18 May, 2007 14:56  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm gonna make my own claim: I can drink 1 bottle of Kombucha and drink three glasses of wine, two glasses of champagne, and one shot of "lemon drop" and NOT wake up with a hangover. I swear.

19 May, 2007 20:16  

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