Shrewd botanist Peter invests in a ‘healthy’ cup of tea
A growing taste for healthier teas among consumers here and further afield has led Dr Peter Barrett, a local pioneer of fermented drinks, to invest in a new plant and additional equipment, including a canning line, that will enable him to meet the demand for his range of original beverages.
Peter, the founder and managing director of the Craft Tea Brew Company, has just set up a new plant at Drumbo, near Belfast, to increase production in response to a sharp rise in sales of his innovative drinks especially over the past year dominated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are benefiting from the growing interest here in healthier and local products with a craft identity due to the crisis,” Peter, a botanist by profession, says.
“Sales of our products especially Buchas Dog, the first locally produced kombucha, an ancient tonic which is increasingly seen as a healthy alternative to soft drinks and alcohol, are immensely encouraging and seem certain to continue to grow in both short and long terms,” he explains.
The beverage is now on sale widely in delis, health shops, cafes including a number selling kombucha from kegs and high-end hotels such as the five-star Merchant in Belfast.
A distribution network is also being finalised in the Republic of Ireland through Taste the View business in Dublin. He’s received support from Invest Northern Ireland for technology and for the development of innovative products.
Peter describes the kombucha as “a mildly fizzy, slightly sour tasting tea which is fermented from the use of a mix of healthy bacteria and yeast,” he continues. It’s not unlike sourdough fermented bread that’s also seen as a healthier option by many people here.
His decision to explore fermented beverages was influenced by his own digestive problems. “Buchas Dog kombucha is completely natural. Probiotic bacteria can help to balance the gut microbiome in humans and improve digestion. It’s not unlike apple cider vinegar enjoyed by many people for its health benefits,” he adds.
Fermented products, he continues, have soared in popularity in recent years due to the ever increasing interest and research into gut health in particular and its influence on not only digestion but also immunity, mood and even mental wellbeing.
Kombucha has been found to contain antioxidants that help to protect the body. The beverage also contains small amounts of vitamins and minerals which are produced when the yeast breaks down the sugars, including vitamin C and B, B1, B6 and B12.
In addition to the successful Buchas Dog range, the small company has also expanded its product portfolio to include The Craft Tea Cat, a sparkling tea, and Living on the Edge, a highly innovative floral tea made from hand foraged botanicals such as nettles, brambles and elderflower.
His interest in botanicals comes from his career as a botanist/agronomist. He graduated from Queen’s University in Plant Science and subsequently gained a doctorate in Agronomy in 2000. A research post with QUB’s Department of Applied Plant Science and then an agency, the pioneering Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute in Belfast followed.
Peter was there for five years before moving to a business development role throughout Europe with a sustainable soil and plant nutrition company in Brittany.
He developed other expertise in anaerobic digestion, a fermentation process that breaks down organic matter to generate renewable and sustainable energy. He subsequently set up his own consultancy here.
This knowledge of fermentation was a useful insight when he began to produce kombucha for his own consumption at home. Family and friends subsequently pressed him to develop it as a commercial product. Another influence on his thinking was time spent in health and exercise conscious California, where kombucha is widely consumed in bars, cafes and from health stores.
The tea for his kombucha, he says, is “premium quality, from a reliable source and fully traceable grower in Kenya”. “Added to the tea is my special bio culture nurtured for almost five years. The product is a true craft brew. I brew everything myself in small batches and have total control over everything,” he adds.
Peter launched the kombucha under the overall branding of Bucha’s Dog, Craft Tonic Brews because he wanted an identity that was a bit quirky, a bit of fun and to appeal in particular to younger consumers. “It’s a play on words on the saying ‘as fit as a butcher’s dog’ with Buchas an abbreviation of kombucha. Generally, kombucha drinkers are fit too! Or at least have good aspirations,” he explains.
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