Hamilton Māmā reconnects with taha Māori through fermented tea

By Mare Haimona-Riki

What started as a method to help her anxiety and depression, has developed into a thriving business for Hamilton-based māmā Amy Tihema.

She is the founder of Waikirikau - a fermented tea drink she has been creating from her home for over two years.

Tihema (Te Aitanga a Mahaki and Te Whānau a Kai) was diagnosed with depression and it was her GP that suggested that traditional rongoā might help her heal.

“I asked him, 'can I have some antidepressants?' and he wouldn't give me antidepressants, but he turned around and told me to go back to what my people have done and heal myself.”

Having been disconnected from her taha Māori for most of her life, Tihema was unsure where to turn, until she found a rongoā course which ultimately led her to fermented tea.

“My trailer has become my sanctuary, where I sit and call to them (tīpuna) to come and awhi me and support me in everything that I'm doing because I just haven't had that whānau support.”

Her production process starts with a standard tea and sugar base that is left to ferment for weeks at a time, but after that Tihema says that is where the magic happens and what differentiates her product from other Kombucha drinks.

“We use fresh ingredients in all our drinks so we will not use extracts, flavourings, tea bags, or anything like that.

“It's a living drink. It grows babies and the actual liquid is probiotics and good bacteria that helps restore your gut health,” says Tihema.