OM champagne tea - Hiblers

JY and James Hibler with their OM Champagne tea.

Louis XIV was on to something. The 17th century Sun King may have been guilty of government overreach (that whole “L’etat, c’est moi/I am the state” thing), but he could always be counted on to break out the bubbly for special occasions — royal weddings, Christmas, New Years. Sparkling champagne was invented by Louis contemporary and French Benedictine monk, Dom Pérignon, and, from the get-go, seemed not only naturally celebratory, but it was good for gut health. It contains polyphenols that promote good bacteria necessary for healthy digestion.

All of which explains why James and JY Hibler christened their popular line of kombuchas, OM Champagne Tea. The Pound Ridge-born brand is celebrating 10 years in its Mount Kisco kitchen base. And living up to its label, it is instantly recognizable at local farm markets like John Jay Homestead for its clear champagne-shaped 750-millileter bottle and festive metallic gold foil top. And yet, the appellation is more substance than the style. 

“When we started 10 years ago, we were originally describing our new kombucha as a healthy energy drink,” recalled Mr. Hibler, “but then a customer at the Pound Ridge Farm Market said, ‘Oh, don’t say that!’ because energy drinks at the time were being called out as dangerous on account of high caffeine content.” 

OM kombucha is a naturally decaffeinated fermented tea and also naturally effervescent. So, after tasting the slightly sweet, dry, low-calorie sparkling drink, the same customer came up with another suggestion. “Well, why not call it ‘champagne tea?’” Mr. Hibler said he “raced to the internet” to see if the name was already registered, and fortunately it was still available. 

As for the well-being factor, the founding couple both corroborate its health-inducing powers and wellness benefits. “We rarely get sick,” said Mr. Hibler, “but I can attest to one particular experience where I was at a pizza shop in New Jersey. I ordered two slices and after the first I felt a sharp pain in my abdomen. Luckily, I had a bottle of our ginger Champagne tea in my backpack. I opened a bottle, drank it down and the pain went away immediately.” His stomach quickly settled by kombucha’s digestive enzymes, Mr. Hibler happily ate the other slice and was on his way. “Besides the taste, that’s what kombucha is known for: repopulating your natural gut flora,” he said.

With health and wellness increasing concerns, the couple is not surprised to see more and more people in the habit of drinking kombucha every day. “Now when shoppers are strolling around the farm markets,” noted Mr. Hibler, “we see it’s an essential item in their basket.” Kombucha is, in fact, one of the fastest-growing segments of the beverages market.

And unlike with the fizzy wine, you’re safe to drive with OM Champagne. While it’s fermented, there’s so little alcohol, it’s considered non-alcoholic. And, in fact, with its probiotics and electrolytes, some say it’s pretty effective as a hangover remedy. A 750-millileter bottle of OM champagne tea costs $38 — a bargain for bubbly. 

OM, pronounced with the long “O” sound, was chosen in part because of its associations with the mantra used in meditation, according to the brands founders. “When you write the word ‘kombucha,’ OM comes after the K,” explained Mr. Hibler. “And then there’s the word ‘omoni,’ the Korean word for mother,” he continued, “and kombucha also contains the mother culture.” Ms. Hibler is of Korean descent. The company’s logo design incorporates the original Sanskrit word, “Om,” as a link to kombucha’s origins in Northern China, which was once ancient Korea. “Our logo acknowledges that history,” Mr. Hibler noted.  

While he brews and bottles the kombucha, his wife handles most aspects of the business, including booking and managing their stalls at various markets. They concentrate on selling at markets within a 75-mile radius. In addition to their regular gig at John Jay Homestead, these include the Sam Bridge Farm Market in Greenwich, Connecticut, and various farm markets in New Jersey near their home in Passaic County. The Hiblers have five children: daughter, Rainer, 22, and sons Leni, 20, August, 16, Seach, 14, and River, 12.  “The four boys help set up the markets,” said Mr. Hibler. “People know us as a Farmers Market Family. They jump in to sell, assist customers, and help with tastings. It’s been a wonderful environment for them to learn to speak intelligently and effectively about health and wellness,” he says. OM also does a thriving online business.

As her father tells it, Rainer deserves some credit for starting the kombucha business. At age 9, she was making jewelry and wanted to sell it at the Pound Ridge Farm Market when they were still living there. “I was making kombucha at home,” said Mr. Hibler, “and said I can sell it alongside Rainer’s jewelry. We were right there every Sunday in summers outside Joan Silbersher’s Antiques and Tools Shop on Westchester Avenue is Scotts Corners, where Kahlo is now located.” Rainer continues to sell her jewelry to this day, and in 2013, her father left his position in the financial world for full-time kombucha-making.

Although some experts date kombucha drinking to China’s Qin Dynasty in the 4th century B.C., its popularity in the U.S. began to soar in the early 21st century. For the Hiblers, it was love at first sip, in 2008. “It was a quintessential California story,” said Mr. Hibler. “We were living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, homeschooling our children and having just home-birthed our fourth, when a wildfire forced us to evacuate. We spent the night with a friend who served a delicious naturally fizzy mango kombucha.” 

For the Hiblers, that first fizz never went flat.

Ten years in, OM has expanded to 12 flavors with all natural and organic ingredients, including Mango Red Shiso and Grapefruit Matcha. The line also features Chaga, a powerful anti-inflammatory, and for the holidays, Cinnamon Stick and Ren Faire (“because of it’s delicious medieval cinnamon taste,” said Mr. Hibler). For its 10th anniversary, the business has launched a new flavor, Elderflower, which the co-owner said is a new customer favorite.

“The main ingredient in the champagne tea, of course, is water,” he explained, “but we only use pharmaceutical-grade water. I deionize the water to zero parts per million, so there’s no fluoride, no chlorine, no heavy metals, no organic solids — just pure water.” 

For their best-selling Ginger Turmeric product, OM uses fresh red turmeric from Hawaii. “It’s a special variety that has a very tropical flavor and the highest amount of curcumin of any turmeric, the active anti-inflammatory ingredient health care experts are recommending,” Mr. Hibler said. The turmeric is sourced from a farmer who has been growing it on the Big Island since the 1970s.

Mr. Hibler said the business has come to rely on farmers markets as valuable test markets “because of the interaction with thousands of customers and getting their immediate feedback when they taste our Champagne tea,” he said. And, like real champagne, OM seems to put customers sampling the products are ease. “Farm markets, whether indoors or out are like the new town square,” he said. “We come to talk and learn all about everyone’s health and families, and all the issues important to us.” 

Last year on Mother’s Day, OM launched its Golden Butter, a 6-year aged turmeric spread that contains mother Kombucha culture, which is a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast  similar to mother of vinegar. The product has been selling out every week. Mr. Hibler extolled the benefits of turmeric, saying, “It makes your blood flow better, elevates your mood, helps you sleep, and is a tremendous anti-inflammatory.” Plus, he added, the spread tastes great on a bagel.

For the next few weeks leading up to New Year’s, the Hiblers have been anticipating strong online sales. They are stocking up on gift bags as so many of their customers take OM Champagne tea to their friends. For non-drinkers or designated drivers, it’s a fresh new way to toast the New Year. 

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Joyce Corrigan, a features contributor, has held senior positions in magazine publishing including co-editor at ELLE, New York correspondent for Conde Nast Traveller, deputy editor at the Sunday Times Magazine UK and editor-at-large at Marie Claire.

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