Kombucha, the now-mainstream probiotic beverage, is fermented from a sugary black tea solution. Now, meet jun, kombucha's green-tea-and-honey-based cousin.
A distinct culture from the one that ferments kombucha, jun probably arrived in Eugene decades ago, if not earlier, brought here from distant Asian lands and brewed in homes. More recently, it's started to show up on store shelves. And there's good reason for that: Eugene loves its bees.
"Our business model is all about sourcing as locally as possible," BNF Kombucha & Jun founder Kevin Warren said. "Having a local sweetener source was really appealing to me."
He started making jun around the same time as kombucha, in 2015, and now he's buying 600 pounds of honey at a time from Pleasant Hill apiary Humble Bee Honey.
OSO Jun, another Eugene brewer, is named for the Spanish word for bear because bears love honey, explained founder and brewer Graham Hannegan. OSO sources honey from Flying Bee Ranch in Salem. Honey cannot be certified organic unless every property in a five-mile radius is also certified organic, which is near impossible in the Willamette Valley, said OSO vice president and herbalist Lisa Korpela, so OSO Jun uses blackberry honey, because it's got the lowest pesticide content since blackberries generally aren't sprayed.
But it goes beyond sourcing local ingredients. While kombucha and jun are delicious, they're also health drinks, brewers say. Warren's BNF stands for A Billion New Friends and refers to the countless probiotics in a bottle of fermented tea. And jun brewers see their product as an even healthier alternative for people avoiding sugar or trying to improve their digestion.
Green tea is rich in antioxidants and raw, local honey is said to improve allergy symptoms by inoculating you with a small amount of local pollen. Fermenting the brewed, sweetened tea with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, known as SCOBY, specifically adapted to jun preserves those inherent properties while adding more perks, such as probiotics, and reducing the overall sugar content of the drink as the SCOBY digests it.
And that's not mentioning add-ins such as medicinal herbs, superfruit juices and spices with nutritional properties.
At OSO, the team of herbalist and brewer has been alchemical. Korpela said she sources herbs from the local biome, like roasted dandelion root, elderberry, rose hips, lemon grass and lemon balm, "really good food herbs that you can take daily." These, she said, further enhance the "adaptogenic" qualities of the jun, helping the body be resilient under stress.
And Hannegan has experimented with adding herbs at different stages of brewing and in different forms to see what produces the best results. The relatively new brewery is in what seems like a never-ending experiment as Hannegan and Korpela constantly tweak recipes and come up with new combinations.
One recent collaboration with Conger Street neighbor Entangled Biome, a maker of CBD-infused products including a honey, has resulted in a unique jun brew. The CBD honey is fermented in the first stage and whole hemp flowers are infused later on for flavor. OSO then adds lemongrass and lemon juice. The result is surprisingly pleasant — if you're someone who finds cannabis smells and tastes delicious.
Other formulations they're calling "adapt-o-jun" use adaptogenic mushrooms such as reishi, chaga and cordyceps added to a cherry oak base. Though all flavors are surprisingly drinkable, less adventurous brews include hibiscus cranberry lime and berry hops.
At BNF, you can try Warren's original jun flavor plus pear, sour blueberry or ginger turmeric. The latter two are more tart. He says his juns are generally sweeter than his kombuchas, because he adds extra honey for people who are seeking a beneficial dose of it. But, he's beginning to brew drier flavors and label them accordingly.
He's released a mushroom-infused jun, too. His uses raspberry juice paired with reishi, turkey tail and chaga. High in antioxidants, chaga is said to be good for general health. But then, drinking kombucha and jun all day, every day has been good for his health, too, Warren said.
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