Introducing Miin, and her husband Niel. If a box of Cadbury favourites were filled with people, mine would have these two in it. They’re living near Melbourne, running a business called Dr Chan’s Feeling Good Ferments. If you asked me to name a small business run with heart, soul and complete integrity, this would be it.
Over 24 hours of adventuring in rural Victoria we caught up recently, taking in Melliodora (of permaculture fame) for a veg box, a home cooked dinner, engaging conversation over hours of hand bottling into the witching hours, and a day of delivering their signature “Feeling Good Tibicos” health drink to organic stores all over Melbourne.
After rooming together at boarding school Miin and I lost touch, she went to Melbourne and studied medicine, and I didn’t know what became of her until Facebook in 2007. I was impressed by the worldly woman writing to me. After completing her Medicine degree she had shunned convention, choosing travel over a career in Western medicine.
Along the way, Miin met Niel, and together they travelled all over. Beginning with a Permaculture and Sustainability Design Course in Thailand, they continued on to Cambodia, India, Niel’s homeland South Africa, and later, an epic trip in a van from one end of America to the other.
Miin wrote to me when they decided to marry and come to Australia. So it was that “Miel” lived with us in Manjimup for several weeks, kicking around ideas about where to live, what to do in life, whilst cooking up some of the best food I’d ever eaten. Suffice to say I didn’t want them to leave!
Before too long, it was Melbourne calling. Miin felt drawn back to a place she’d known, abuzz with culture, and old friends. A job she applied for fell through, but by then it was decided; they were going to drive across Australia.
While staying with us they had been enjoying our water kefir, a home fermented drink full of probiotics. Miin asked to take some culture with her. They nursed it across the Nullabor, place of ‘no tree’, worried it would spill and the culture would be lost! But “the little family” made it to Melbourne safely, and made a new home.
Soon enough, Dr Chan’s Feeling Good Ferments was born, from a handful of culture, hauled across across Australia in a glass jar. That single shared handful has become hundreds and hundreds of “tibicos” cultures, grown in dozens of large glass jars in Miin’s production room.
Tibicos is another name for water kefir grains, also known as Japanese water crystals. Whatever the name, they fizz with life, and, when brewed correctly, make a healthy, delicious and refreshing drink. Miin’s tastes far better than any of the kefir I ever brewed, and if I could walk down the street and buy one of hers now… I would!
Each brewing jar is drained by hand, every bottle is filled by hand, and labelled by hand. The culture is fed by her special recipe – you guessed it, using her hands – and each drink given a seasonal flavour, according to what’s, ahem, on hand. I guess you could safely say this drink is handcrafted, eh?
For deliveries, Miin and Niel use milk crates to transport the bottles, rather than cardboard boxes. They prefer to stack the shelves of health stores themselves, so they can take away the milk crates for next time. It’s long hours, lots of driving, and hard work. Tending live cultures is much like having animals or small people – you can’t go away, you need to be there to care for them, 24/7.
Looking forward, Miin and Niel don’t plan to scale up, believing that brewing traditional, small batches in glass gives greater control over quality.
I tell Miin from time to time that my fantasy future for her and Niel doesn’t change. I want her to come back and live with us! But even if my dear Dr Chan and her marvellous cultures don’t return to Western Australia, they’ll always be here in my heart.
Dr Chan’s Feeling Good Tibicos drinks retailed in organic and health food stores around Melbourne until 2018 when the decision was made to close their labour intensive small business.
Follow Miin over at Dr Chan’s. Dr. Miin Chan (MBBS, BMedSc), PhD researcher is obsessed with all things microbial, from gut health to fermented foods; food systems from regenerative agriculture to food literacy and gastronomy; and all for fun, factual science communication.