A decade ago, Rana Lehmer-Chang was a cash-strapped recent law school graduate who started making her own kombucha in the sluggish economy. As it turned out, Lehmer-Chang had a natural knack for making kombucha, which she watched her mom brew growing up. Soon, she started selling her kombucha at farmers markets and in bottles.
Since then, House Kombucha has grown and grown, and its kombucha is available in bottles and kegs in stores and cafes all over the Bay Area. But Lehmer-Chang’s vision was always to open a zero-waste kombucha cafe. Last Saturday, her dream came true with the grand opening of the House Kombucha taproom in partnership with People’s Cafe in Berkeley.
People’s Cafe, at 61 Shattuck Square, now offers eight varieties of kombucha on tap. The rotating flavors served are exclusive to the cafe. Current options include winterberry pie, blueberry litchi, coconut peach ginger, strawberry lavender, and jasmine grape. There’s even a CBD kombucha. Customers can order kombucha by the pint ($4.95 for regular, $5.95 for CBD) or by the growler ($12 for regular, $16 for CBD).
Lehmer-Chang envisions People’s Cafe as an alternative to a bar, where people can socialize over kombucha rather than alcoholic beverages. She’s a member of the Bahá’í faith — which prohibits the consumption of alcohol — and believes kombucha is a healthy, probiotic-filled alternative. (Note that kombucha does, however, contain a small amount — less than 0.5 percent — of alcohol.) It also fills a niche that can’t be filled by coffee, which many don’t like to drink late at night due to its caffeine content. Lehmer-Chang’s kombucha is relatively low in caffeine, particularly her white tea varieties.
To facilitate kombucha’s role as a non-alcoholic social beverage, People’s Cafe is now open until 8 p.m. Lehmer-Chang said the cafe may extend hours depending on demand. She’s also increased the menu to include vegan ramen at an introductory price of $8.95, with a shoyu-based broth and toppings like black garlic oil, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, tofu, and spinach. Also on offer is zero-waste boba, available in black or green tea varieties and served in glass jars with metal straws.
Lehmer-Chang also plans to host social events at the cafe. In the works are a Thanksgiving vegan prix fixe menu and an annual kombucha making contest; she’d also like to host monthly interfaith song circles.
Meanwhile, Lehmer-Chang also plans to use the cafe as a testing ground for her upcoming zero-waste grocery store, Eternal Foods. She plans to offer non-perishable products in reusable containers, including olive oil and maple syrup. She also currently has a side project, Eternal Catering, which offers zero-waste catering services (including vegan ramen) at a mid-range price.