Craving the probiotic drink kombucha that she brewed in her home in Melbourne, Georgia Murphy started dabbling with creating the drink in her Phnom Penh kitchen. A year ago, she launched Tangy Turtle. Words by Marissa Carruthers; photography by Enric Català.

What is kombucha?

Kombucha is a type of fermented tea, where friendly bacteria and yeasts are combined with the tea to produce a low-sugar drink that is loaded with probiotics and natural acids that are great for gut health and improving immunity.

How is it made?

You start with black or green tea, boil it and add sugar, which is essential to the fermentation process. We source our green tea from Mondulkiri and black tea from Sri Lanka as it’s not grown here. Next, the SCOBY [symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast], or culture, is added, which is full of yeast and bacteria. The SCOBY then eats the sugar and ferments the tea, which creates probiotics and the natural acids that transform the tea from sweet to sour. The next stage is to bottle the tea in an airtight jar and add the flavour. This is when it becomes fizzy and ready to drink.

How long does a batch take to make?

We brew in two phases, with a first and second fermentation stage. The initial phase, which is where the SCOBY is added, takes seven to eight days.

The second phase involves the flavouring, which takes about one day. After this, the ingredients are removed and the drink is left to ferment and carbonate over a couple of days until the sweet and sour taste is well balanced.

What are the health benefits?

It helps improve the gut by adding good bacteria and contains anti-oxidants and vitamins. I started making it here because I was worried about my gut health. In Cambodia, you are exposed to different types of pathogens and bad bacteria so it’s good to supplement that with good bacteria. It’s also high in polyphenols and antioxidants that help prevent cellular damage and reduce liver toxicity. Other fermented foods are good for this as well.

When did you start making it?

It was about five years ago when I lived in Melbourne. My housemate at the time came back from a fermentation workshop and brought back the SCOBY. We started making it in the kitchen there. In Cambodia, I bought SCOBY from an American guy who was making it here just to make for myself. I ended up making so much because the culture grows and grows every time you make a new batch. I give the extra to my friends and they said it was really good and suggested I sell it. I thought why not? It would be fun to start a business.

How is it being a business owner?

I never imagined I’d start my own business here but wanted to try something different. I wasn’t afraid to fail, I just wanted to see what would happen. We started in April 2017 and now I have a small production facility in Toul Tom Poung and employ three fulltime staff – two Cambodian men and one woman. I can’t do it by myself any more.

What flavours do you make?

We have raspberry lime, lemongrass ginger and cinnamon. I originally started using cinnamon and lemongrass because I had them at home and really liked them, so experimented with those flavours. I was doing some research online and came across raspberry and lime and thought it sounded nice, kind of like a twist on the raspberry lemonade soft drink we all liked as a kid.

How often should it be drunk?

It’s really a long-term thing and I’d recommend drinking a glass a day. The benefit really comes from drinking it regularly rather than every now and again. We offer free home delivery, so people can buy three large bottles ($12) weekly or fortnightly. The smaller bottles are available in Phnom Penh at Lot 369, Eleven One Kitchen, Natural Garden, Phnom Climb, Crumbs, Backyard Café, The Flix and Vibe. In Siem Reap, it is stocked in Vibe and Moringa.

Is this a new concept for Cambodia?

For sure. Most Cambodians haven’t heard of it before. It might be bit sour for locals’ tastes initially but once they get used to it they seem to like it. Cambodia has a lot of fermented food so it’s not a completely foreign concept, it’s just in this particular form they haven’t come across before.

Why Tangy Turtle?

It took a long time to come up with a name. I decided I wanted to have an animal logo and was researching the symbolism for different animals. It turns out the turtle is a symbol for health and longevity in both ancient Chinese and native American culture. The ‘tangy’ represents the taste.

What are your plans for the future?

I’d love to keep expanding to more venues in Phnom Penh and around Cambodia. Maybe one day I can export but let’s see. From April, I officially started to sponsor Animal Mama, with 10 percent of all sales going to their rescue, rehabilitation and adoption programmes, so I’m excited to be supporting them into the future.