In recent years, kombucha has been steadily gaining popularity in many western countries among health-conscious individuals. The origins of this centuries-old fermented beverage remain shrouded in mystery, and the beverage is believed to provide a wide-range of health benefits.
Chill Kombucha founder, Diana Park, first discovered kombucha in 2008 when she relocated to South Korea.
Under the pressure to conform to Korean definition of “beautiful”, the young Korean American struggled with body image, jumping from one fad diet to the next, until she finally decided to confront her unhealthy relationship with food.
After a cathartic experience at a detox meditation retreat, Diana began to develop a holistic approach to her diet. This is when kombucha, a source of gut-friendly probiotics, entered her life and became a healthy obsession.
We sit down with Diana to learn about the journey that led her to become an entrepreneur in Vietnam helping others to form a healthy relationship with food.
What caused your body image issues?
When I first moved to Seoul, in my early twenties, I was neither thin nor slim. I never had body issues before, but Seoul has a very specific concept of beauty and every day I was reminded that I didn’t fit into the beauty standards.
As a result, my body image suffered. I was going from one extreme fad diet to the next. I regularly lost and gained 10 kgs within a matter of weeks, yo-yoing between complete starvation and periods of unrestrained, indulgent eating.
During one brutal stretch, I gained 30 kilograms. Each day, my sense of self-worth rose and fell with my constantly shifting weight.
At my lowest, I felt broken emotionally and mentally.
Eventually, you found the strength to break the vicious circle. How did that happen?
Through a recommendation of a friend, I went to a detox meditation retreat. I realized through my experience there that I needed to develop a relationship with food that not only promoted my physical health but also my mental and emotional well-being.
After the retreat, I began researching foods that would accomplish just that. Since I have a background in medicine, I began pouring over medical literature on how our bodies metabolize fermented foods and how these foods boost our immune system, regulate our sleep cycles and stabilize our moods. All by altering the bacteria in our stomachs. Just like that, I was a convert.
Why did you single out kombucha as the “ultimate health” drink?
At first I was simply enjoying the taste and the benefits. Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage, so it has a very refreshing, effervescent taste. As for the benefits, it delivers one of the most powerful combinations of gut-boosting bacteria. I noticed that regularly drinking the brew improved my mood, focus and overall well-being.
Is that when the business plan for Chill Kombucha was born?
Not in the beginning. At first, I was brewing my own kombucha as an alternative to the overwhelmingly sugary and over-caffeinated versions that I found in grocery stores.
In 2018, when I moved to Saigon for a medical project, I kept up my brewing. As I began to evangelize the benefits of kombucha and shared my concoctions with my friends in Saigon, I knew I was onto something.
Friends, friends of friends, colleagues and neighbors couldn’t get enough of my brews. They asked for larger and larger quantities. Realizing the potential to deliver and share kombucha beyond my immediate social circle, I launched Chill Kombucha in late 2019.
What’s the secret behind your brew’s popularity?
Quality ingredients and a highly scientific approach. I collaborated with an accredited lab to test for and ensure that each bottle of Chill Kombucha has the optimal amount of healthy, live cultures.
I draw on my experience in medicine and time spent learning how to make kombucha from craft brewers in Williamsburg, New York. I have been focused on combining the highest quality ingredients with a highly scientific brewing process.
Does kombucha have a strong following in Vietnam?
The kombucha trend is slowly catching on in Vietnam, but most are still unaware of what it is and what type of health benefits it offers. Chill’s mission is to share the highest quality, artisanal craft kombucha with all of Saigon.
Tea is popular in Vietnam and Chill’s brews are loaded with vitamins, essential minerals and living probiotics. They never contain preservatives and are 100% gluten-free. We only use the freshest ingredients. It’s a delicious low-calorie alternative to beer, wine, soda and coffee.
How do you give back to the community?
Chill endeavors to be a sustainable enterprise. It is socially and environmentally conscious, committed to delivering premium products ethically and responsibly. We make every effort to reuse, renew and recycle our bottles to reduce waste in the environment.
Later this year, Chill will launch its Empty Bottle Recycling Program (EBRP) to encourage people to drop off their empty bottles at partner locations by rewarding them with voucher credits.
Chill has also partnered with Harvest Baking, a social impact F&B concept, to become one of our brewing locations. Together we train and employ people with disabilities.
Chill believes the benefits of training the disabled are multiplicative – not only due to the reduced financial and emotional burden on them individually but also on their families.
What’s your message to the young Vietnamese struggling with body image?
The brand represents my journey of personal growth over the last thirteen years, one of self-acceptance. I know kombucha isn’t a magical elixir, but it’s a really healthy alternative to alcohol, soda and coffee.
My hope is that others will drink it and it’ll start a chain reaction of other healthy choices. I know from experience, making healthy choices is so important to your self-acceptance and self-image.
I want to take what I’ve learned and apply the knowledge to my products and to how I run my company. I want to empower people to be the best versions of themselves. That’s what Chill Kombucha is all about.