Sierra Bullock was living in Mill Valley, California (a place she laughingly calls the land of granola people, being an admitted ‘granola person’ herself) when she started brewing kombucha in 2005 in a most unexpected way, that began with rushing her son Paris to the pediatrician. It began in a Whole Foods (because where else would a story about kombucha begin?), where Bullock noticed a bottle of GT Dave’s Kombucha and became curious about this strange elixir she had never heard of. She bought a bottle and after taking a few sips, her two year old grabbed the fizzy drink from her and guzzled it all down. Alarmed, she immediately called her pediatrician and asked if Paris would be okay. Bullock was reassured by her doctor that Paris would be fine, and was invited to come in to further that reassurance. In the office, Bullock was told that kombucha was actually one of the best things that she could give Paris. Their doctor took them to the kitchen, ripped off a piece of her own kombucha SCOBY (an acronym standing for ‘Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeasts’) brewing in a jar, tossed it into a ziplock bag, poured in some kombucha, scribbled instructions, and handed it over to Bullock with the advise to start brewing the drink.
Kombucha is essentially fermented tea that is drunk for its health benefits, most obviously probiotics, but according to Bullock, it also contains digestive enzymes, B vitamins, and vitamin C. (She also can confirm this because she had Starr’s Brew kombuchas tested in a food lab.) Because it is fermented, it does contain a small amount of alcohol but that amount is too small to be a concern and it’s safe to be consumed by children, Bullock tells us.
From brewing the SCOBYs in California, she brought two back to Boracay in 2009 where she had a job consulting as a Health and Wellness Consultant for Mandala Spa & Villas (she has a Master’s degree from Hawthorn University in Holistic Nutrition) and teaching Kundalini Yoga, declaring that at that point she and her family have learned to consume kombucha almost like water. The family spent 6 months in the Philippines and the rest of the year in California (where she worked as a Nutrition Consultant and Kundalini Yoga teacher), until they finally decided to settle down in Laguna in 2013.
After settling down, Bullock decided that she wanted to brew kombucha for selling since they were overflowing with the drink, but struggled with the idea of brewing it with black or green tea (its usual base) that does not grow locally. Sourcing locally was of the utmost importance to her since she wanted to support local farmers and did not want her company to have a huge carbon footprint thanks to shipping teas over to the country. One day she was at Malipayon Farms, a biodynamic farm owned by couple Pinky and Gejo Jimenez, and Pinky offers her a bag of holy basil. Surprised by its familiar smell, Bullock realizes that it is the same plant from which she would drink tulsi tea back in California. With the refreshing and fragrant tulsi as the ‘OG’ flavor of Starr’s Brew, Bullock began experimenting with other local herbal teas to create her line of local-only kombucha brews.
She began to sell the tulsi kombucha under Starr’s Brew (aptly named after her son, whose middle name is Starr) at the Legazpi Organic Market (where she still sells every Sunday), where she was able to meet like-minded individuals who either supplied her with or connected her to suppliers of her other herbal flavors. One such supplier is Bea Misa-Crisostomo from Ritual (an advocate of zero-waste), who offered to Bullock the shells of cacao nibs from her partner farmers to create a cacao tea. Part and parcel of her own personal desire to reduce Starr’s Brew’s carbon footprint, Bullock invites those interested in her kombuchas to come by the Legazpi Market with a refillable glass bottle (swing-tops are ideal) and stock up from their Bucha Bar, which offers kombucha on tap.
While she now has a small kombucha brewery, Bullock continues to teach Kundalini Yoga. In fact, her personal practice influences her policies with the Starr’s Brew employees. She requires that they all drink 100ml of kombucha in the day and in the evening for their own health and because as employees of the brand, they should be familiar with the product. A strong believer in the concept of prana (or life force), she has mantras playing in the brewery all day. She also has a tank drum at the brewery that is tuned to 432Hz (or the frequency of the universe), which her employees are encouraged to play to uplift their spirit whenever they are feeling down. They are also each asked to play the tank drum once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
The kombuchas continually ferment in the bottles after you purchase them to Bullock advises that you transfer them into the fridge immediately and that you consume the kombucha within 3 months of purchasing to prevent bottle-popping accidents. Because of this continual fermentation, the flavors also mature over time but not too significantly.
Beyond the investment in your personal health, and the delicious enjoyment you get from a bottle of the cold, bubbly brew, Bullock tells us, “There’s so much power behind your peso. When you buy a bottle of kombucha, you’re supporting our team, you’re supporting their families, you’re supporting Gejo’s farmers and all the children they’re feeding. So yes, kombucha is a product that we’re selling but what goes beyond for me is local awareness (what happens when you support and buy local), and helping people to be empowered with [how] they can make a difference with how they spend their peso.”
Starr’s Brew a Laguna-based local kombucha brewing company that uses exclusively locally grown tea to create their brews.