Sisters Shifa and Thorayya Mears have been brewing fermented tea drinks for friends and family for the last couple of years. Here Thorayya explains how they had a ‘flash of inspiration’ and launched a kombucha delivery service in lockdown
Born from alternative parents who were always involved in community and politics, we grew up as a double act who always had each other’s backs.
We have both worn many hats. Myself as an outdoor pursuit instructor, shiatsu therapist and artist. And Shifa as an English teacher, massage therapist and reflexologist. Between us we have lived in Germany, Australia, Scotland, Mexico, Dubai, Spain and South Africa, but our hearts remain true to Norfolk and after many travels and occupations we find ourselves reunited here in Norwich and decided to reignite the double act as we’ve always brought out the best in each other.
The idea of Oici Kombucha came about when we were sitting together on a journey back from a friend’s 40th birthday and reflecting on the passing of time. This was especially relevant to us, as I had come through two years of cancer treatment, and both of us had reached the milestone age of 40 ourselves. We were repeating to each other things we had said many times: Let’s create a business which is a force for good and that we believe in; make something with a vision for the future and for our children; do something we will be proud of; empower ourselves financially; and make a business that has a positive contribution to the environment and is sustainable. Suddenly we felt that we must seize the day and start immediately, and in a flash of inspiration we decided to make a kombucha business. Having been brewing kombucha for friends and family for a couple of years it felt like a natural solution that was right there in front of us all along! The next week we were brewing bigger batches and testing for flavours, and the rest is history!
I was a full time mum to two small kids and keeping my hand in with my art at every opportunity. Shifa was practicing reflexology and also taking care of her children.
Our lockdown experience was very busy. We were developing our business idea, beginning a home delivery service and dealing with lots of homebound children!
Oichi is a name we made up, later to discover that it is child talk for delicious in Japanese, which is actually where the name kombucha itself comes from! Which is a happy coincidence.
Kombucha is a fermented tea which has been used for millennia as a health tonic and a delicious drink, it is slightly tart and sweet and naturally effervescent. It is gaining popularity at the moment especially for its health benefits.
We try to keep our flavours and ingredients as seasonal and local as possible. In early summer we foraged elderflowers form the hedgerows around our workshop to create a delicious elderflower kombucha. Part of our philosophy is to use the highest quality local and seasonal ingredients we can find, including growing as many of our ingredients ourselves in our kitchen garden. Our vision is to use a percentage of the profits to create wildflower areas and plant trees here in Norfolk.
Of course we’d like to mention SCOBY, she is the source of our inspiration! SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast and is what causes the tea to ferment into this delicious effervescent drink full of good bacteria and enzymes. Our SCOBY started out the size of saucer and now is the size of a flattened beach ball about 5cm thick, as well as being the mother of half a dozen more SCOBY’s. She is ever giving and is an example of nature’s generosity and abundance. We name our SCOBY’s after the strong and inspirational women in our family. Which makes for some very weird conversations: ‘Ricky’s a bit tangy today, but Sylvia’s got great fizz!’
We started putting an uplifting quote on our labels during lockdown, just to cheer everyone up and put a smile on our customer faces. They were handwritten so it got to the point where it was just too labour intensive. But hopefully we can find a way to incorporate the idea into our new labels.
It was very exciting doing our first delivery, but also nerve wracking, hoping people would enjoy the drink as much as we do. We really want to promote sustainability so the refill service is very close to our hearts.
We deliver to NR1-8 but hope to deliver further afield in the near future especially as we’ve had interest from people all over Norfolk and beyond. We’re also planning to be stocking local cafes and pubs soon. Long term, we’d love to have a tap house where customers can come to enjoy our kombucha. We can also be found at the Norwich Free Market each month and are looking into other markets, too
Combining family and business can be tricky, but we also enjoy it and our children love getting involved, especially in the foraging and tasting sessions!
Fermented foods are really good for your gut health! As well as our daily dose of kombucha we make our own sour dough and sauerkraut, as a mix of fermented foods increases the benefits to our guts. We intend to do workshops teaching the kombucha making process so as many people as possible can benefit from it.
We’ve always been health conscious. We come from a background of eating brown rice and lentils at a time when it certainly wasn’t in fashion! Processed foods were a ‘no-no’ in our household when we were young. We’ve relaxed a lot with our own children, but healthy practices for the body, mind and soul are definitely part of our daily lives.
Here are five good reasons to drink our kombucha: it’s delicious, healthy, fresh, local and a great alternative to alcoholic and sugary drinks.
Oichi Kombucha is in the process of scaling up and moving premises and will start delivering again on September 28. https://www.instagram.com/oichi_kombucha/