The first time Bill Nadalini tried kombucha, it was anything but love at first sip. “My older kung fu brother had me drink a bottle,” he remembers. “I was not a vinegar guy and I didn’t like it at all.” He committed to finishing it, though, because he’d heard such good things about the beverage. “It took me about a day to get through the one bottle.”
Though not particularly enthralled by the taste of the fermented tea, Nadalini was very impressed with what he calls the “super-profound effect” it had on his digestion. He decided to make it his goal to create a kombucha he actually wanted to drink, and having 15 years of home-brewing experience under his belt, he felt confident that his ability to brew a decent beer might carry over into the world of tea.
He set out to create a more fully fermented kombucha—closer in carbonation and taste to a dry wine. “I experimented for probably four years with varying degrees of success,” says Nadalini. “It took a couple years for my friends to even drink what I was making!” But those days are behind him now as Nadalini is the busy proprietor of Wunder-Pilz kombucha—brewing 200 gallons of the tea each week from the back of the Daily Juice Cafe.
Instead of relying on the sweet fruit juices that many makers use to produce kombucha, Nadalini creates his four drink varieties using organic, Fair Trade tea and combinations of herbs, flowers and spices. A student of a traditional system of kung fu called 7-Star Praying Mantis under Sifu Jeff Hughes, Nadalini drew inspiration for the four flavors from a Taoist martial artist and herbalist named Li Ching-Yuen who, when asked the secret to his longevity, advised: “Keep a quiet heart, sit like a tortoise, walk sprightly like a pigeon, sleep like a dog.”
“I took those different combinations…those answers,” explains Nadalini, “and found what I thought was the energetic core to those things and formulated four different teas I thought would address them.” Heart combines antioxidant-rich white tea with reishi mushroom, hibiscus and hawthorn for coronary health; Energy matches green tea with detoxifying lemon juice and circulation-boosting ginger; Strength mixes mildly energizing yerba maté with plant superpower spirulina, dandelion root for digestion and gotu kola for mental clarity; and Calm blends low-caffeine kukicha tea with the natural sedatives skullcap and mugwort for lucid dreaming.
“I’ve been a fan of herbs and Eastern medicine for a long time,” says Nadalini, “but I’m…just an amateur admirer.” After reading stacks of books and hypothesizing on what herb blends he would assign for each flavor, he went to an herbalist friend for help restructuring the combinations and quantities.
Now Wunder-Pilz (German for “kombucha,” literally translating to “miracle mushroom”) can be found on tap in 16 different places around town and at four different farmers markets a week. And Nadalini encourages his customers to reduce waste by receiving a two-dollar rebate for refilling their glass growlers.
Wunder-Pilz will be relocating to a larger brewing space this summer and won’t take on any new clients until then. “We’re working around the clock to just keep up with orders from our existing partners and want to make sure we can keep pace with those existing accounts before expanding further,” says Nadalini. “I work twelve- to fourteen-hour days now, but I’ve never been so content or felt like I was actually contributing something so worthwhile.” —Veronica Meewes
For more information visit wunder-pilz.com.