Coffee Comes Alive! Dr. Kefir and Verve Collaborate in Santa Cruz


[Photo: Liz Clayton]

In a collaboration most of us didn't even know was possible, Santa Cruz beverage artisans Dr. Kefir and Verve Coffee Roasters have introduced a new, non-dairy probiotic fermented kefir beverage brewed with Verve's Streetlevel coffee blend.

The unusual pairing was a natural extension of Dr. Kefir founder Brian Lovejoy's own drink-curiosity. "I'm an experimenter so I try to ferment everything I love," says Lovejoy. Hopefully that does not extend to family, friends and pets—but it did extend to coffee.

Dr. Kefir's line of non-dairy kefir is interesting on its own: while kefir is traditionally associated with milk-fermented, yogurtlike creations, it's the activation of the kefir starter crystals within another compatible substance that define any kefir drink. Branching away from the dairy world, Lovejoy wanted to use kefir grains to make a fermented vegan beverage that was refreshing but without the vinegary taste of kombucha. He used a particular strain of kefir grain that would consume plant-based sugars, rather than lactic sugars, to create his fermented array.

The line currently includes fruit flavors like Lemon Gingerade, Elderbery Passion, and Tangerine, and tea-based flavors like Pu'erh and Rooibos. And while those each have their own intriguing, refreshing, sparkly-yet-earthy flavor, it's safe to say you've probably never tasted anything like kefir fermented with coffee.

"I love coffee, so why not? Verve is the best coffee on the planet, so I asked them to cold brew some Streetlevel for me," said Lovejoy, who added that the fermentation culture thrived on the addition of caffeine, though required a slightly longer fermentation process.

"We don't simply add coffee for flavor after fermentation," said Lovejoy. The coffee is actually fermented in the culture. This is why the product takes on a unique taste. It's not full strength coffee, that would be too intense. We wanted something very refreshing, not overwhelming."

The Dr. Kefir "Live Fermented Coffee" beverage is of course a doubly-fermented drink: coffee itself undergoes fermentation in the early stages of processing, and as it meets the kefir particles in the coffee, comes, shall we say, alive yet again. As with re-fermenting teas, or for instance sake, the flavor effect is unique.

The resulting brew—easily the best drink I've ever had based on cold brewed coffee—is a sparkling, refreshing, tangy, coffee-flavored and supremely strange experience. One can easily distinguish the notes of fruit intrinsic to the Guatemalan coffees in the current Streetlevel blend, which are harmoniously fermented with sugars from organic California Mission figs. There's an immediate sweet aftertaste, but it's not a sweet drink per se. It is, however, addictive. It is also only available, for now, in Santa Cruz. (Luckily it comes in a preserving-friendly Grolsch-style bottle, so if you can restrain yourself, you can savor the drink a little at a time.)

Lovejoy looks forward to continuing his adventures with coffee, even beyond these beguilingly tangy creations.

"I think there is a lot that can be done with cold coffee," says the kefir doctor.

"Fermentation is just one variation. The single origin coffees are so nuanced—I'm not sure that fermentation is the best way to highlight their unique and subtle qualities. There are other possibilities that I look forward to exploring with Verve."