Yes Is a Forward Word, It Moves Us Into the Future.

Yes is a forward word. And this profound word comes to us from ceramicist and herbalist Yiyi Mendoza. In 2017, she and her husband, Adam Elabd, moved to Troy, New York and harnessed their collective two decades of expertise on herbs and fermentation and started Yesfolk—producers and purveyors of probiotic fermented beverages, which are now available at The Standard, East Village. What’s cool about their work, is that they’ve been very intentional in observing and adopting the best practices and aesthetic qualities of adjacent industries (like natural wine and cider) to create a kombucha that is made unlike any other. The following conversation is a condensed interview with Adam and Yiyi.

So much of what makes your product distinctive is your headquarters in Troy, NY. Can you say more about your life and community there?

Well, Troy is part of what’s known as the Tri-City area. There is Albany, which is the state capital, of course, and then also Troy and Schenectady. They each have their own vibe. Troy, where our brewery is located, is the smallest and most concentrated. It’s also where you see a renaissance happening.  The downtown is just a four/five block radius, but a lot of the people who are doing the best “fill in the blank” are in Troy. The best coffee, brewery, natural wine shop, bar... it’s young small business owners who are supportive and collaborative. Because there is so much quality craft in the area, some people call Troy the Brooklyn of upstate. (Laughing) But we don’t.

Good thinking to leave Brooklyn out of it. Tell us more about Troy. What brought you there? 

We thought about moving to a lot of places, to Mexico or Joshua Tree, but my (Adam’s) parents are in Upstate New York, so we came here. We ended up staying and started our brewery. My wife Yiyi is a potter and ceramicist. She and I have been herbalists for almost a decade now, and started fermenting shortly after. We moved here in 2016, started doing pop-ups and realized there was a need for high quality fermented food and beverages, other than beer or cider.

And you’re a family-owned business, can you tell us about what that experience has been for you all. 

Yeah, so, after doing a few pop-ups we contacted Yiyi’s brothers, Frank and Javi. They moved out in March of 2017, started helping with pop-ups and eventually we found a home for our brewery. The four of us have worked together on creating, making and sharing. Another cool thing is that our brewery in Troy is located in a church, it was The Church of St. Paul. There are 16 artists that permanently have studios in the building. It’s used for events; it’s a very creative and tight community.

Yes is a forward word, it moves us into the future. It’s also about saying yes to the opportunities of life. That is kind of what microbiology is all about.

Copy. So, a question about the name. Yesfolk. Is that just like, Yes folk? Like y’all just say yes to everything?
(Editor's Note: Up until this point, Yiyi has been pretty quiet. They’re driving from Troy into Manhattan, to deliver kegs and cans to their accounts, but this question, it’s clear, is hers to answer.)

Well the name originated from a concept of trying to put together the spirit of old and new. Folk refers to folk traditions and keeping them around. Yes is a forward word, it moves us into the future. It’s also about saying yes to the opportunities of life. That is kind of what microbiology is all about. You're presented with an opportunity.

Lots of people nationwide are making and drinking kombucha. What makes Yesfolk different?

On a local level, there isn't anyone doing what we’re doing. We are super low intervention in our fermentation practices. We self-distribute meaning we personally deliver everything we sell. We’re not building on kombucha norms or conventions as much as we are taking inspiration from people in natural wine, beer and cider.

That’s interesting. In what ways?

In terms of aesthetic, communication, world view, the how we’re making it and why, the tools and attention to detail, but also the quality and sourcing of ingredients. Many people don’t know that tea is the base of kombucha. We bring tea to the forefront with single origin tea kombucha. Tea-centered kombucha and oak-based fermentation are things that are important to us.

Oak is arguably the most reactive vessel. It is also very porous and has a memory that can never be fully erased.

It seems pretty unusual to make kombucha in an oak barrel, is it not?

We wanted to use a natural material, like glass, wood or clay. Glass in particular is a beautiful material to work with, but it is dangerous in larger sizes. We started researching and asking friends who were distillers and brewers and found some cooperages in the area. They're in the Adirondacks within 100 miles of where we are. As far as working with oak, that took a lot of experimentation, because as far as we know there’s only 3-4 other breweries making kombucha in oak.

That’s very cool. Did it have any effects?

We found that oak had some surprising effects. Oak is arguably the most reactive vessel. It is also very porous and has a memory that can never be fully erased. It's daunting because there's less of a margin for error, but if you get it right, then you build a relationship with it.

Your cans are really elegant. Can you tell us about them?

When we started we were only kegging and our kombucha was only available on draft. We decided to use cans instead of bottles as we started to understand the ecological impact of glass versus cans, and the effect on the liquid and how it’s preserved. At the time there were only two or three kombucha breweries, that we knew of, that were canning. So yes, we gain a lot more by looking outward into other categories.

Well it’s clear the kombucha has been really well received. What comes next?

Right now, we’re getting pretty close to putting our kombucha vinegars out. We realized if we aged them in our (oak) vessels, we happened upon this vinegar with complexity and nuance and depth, but that is also soft and round. We have been sharing it with our friends and customers who have been excited about it. There’s other things in the dream stages that we can’t wait to share as well. Fermentation is magic.

Yesfolk Tonics products are available at The Standard, East Village.


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