Kombucha hunting is an
essential party of our travels. We were shopping recently at our favorite HEB
grocery store when we came across Greenbelt
Kombucha. The beverage from this newcomer to the local scene comes is in a
can which is what caught our eye.
entrepreneurs behind the product are not new to the local food and beverage
scene. As this
story in the school newspaper reports, five co-founders, including three University
of Texas Business Grads, have been working on a series of fermented food and
beverage offerings over the past few years.
products were pickled/preserved items for Hat
Creek Burgers. That business was spun off into a separate food entity, Barrel Creek Provisions, when
we encountered them at the local Fermentation Fair. Their next ventures were
into fermented beverages — Strange Land Brewery, Texas Sake Company, and now,
Strange Land initially
offered bottle-conditioned beer before evolving into cans to provide more
stable shelf life. It appears they are following the same path with their kombucha.
Lessons learned from
beer production have been applied to the kombucha production. Evolution from
glass bottles to cans makes the product more portable for Austinites. The
kombucha is created to be accessible to everyone, with familiar flavors and a
lower price point than their competition. They are raw, vegan and utilize four
different teas for their four products. We tried two of the flavors —
Hibiscus Berry Black Tea and Blood Orange Yerba Mate. The tastes are mild and
refreshing, with minimal fizziness, and are very drinkable. They would be ideal
with a meal, as a mixer or sitting at an outdoor concert.
Appealing to the
environmentalists in Austin, the entire manufacturing process is utilizing wind
powered energy. To us, that just seems to go hand in hand with the good stuff
that kombucha does to the body.
In the world of fashion, it is common to see an old trend become new again, like mini skirts or bell-bottom jeans. When it comes to food, new trends often reflect something from the past as well. We are seeing this now with the trend of fermented foods, like kombucha, pickles and kvass.
In recent memory, the pickled items were reflective of an Eastern European heritage. Kombucha’s lineage, on the other hand, includes stops in Russia, Manchuria and Japan. And, it’s in Japan where kombucha is getting a new life after a successful run in the ‘70s.
A recent story in the Honolulu Star Advertiser talks about the success of Oizumi Kojo, Japan’s only brewer of raw kombucha. And while kombucha is most often brewed using a fungus made from mushrooms, Japan’s version uses a base made from seaweed. The Japan fermented beverage comes in 30 flavors and is available at a notable Tokyo restaurant as well as via delivery to bars and eateries that serve beverages on tap.
Continuing with the adage “everything old is new again,” Kvass is making a comeback–or perhaps it just laid low in its Eastern European roots until recently. Kvass is fermented beet juice that is making its way into mainstream supermarket shelves after spending a few years testing the waters at health food stores and the occasional “gourmet” market.
Natural Producers Insider, a trade B2B magazine, offers a white paper for those interested in fermented beet juice and its alkaline brethren which speaks to the future of this refreshing, healthy drink. Whether you are a consumer looking to expand your horizons or someone interested from a commercial perspective, the report provides interesting reading.
is on its way to coming out of the shadows and into the mainstream. From the increased
offerings in supermarkets to varieties
available on tap in restaurants and bars, as well as becoming an ingredient in
some cool, crafted cocktails — the recognition, if not consumption of the
healthy beverage, is becoming a consumer beverage of choice.
A natural outgrowth of that is people wanting to brew
their own. When we started several years ago, there were minimal options for
home brewing, including supplies, instructions, and
equipment. It was really a DIY operation. As kombucha brewing has evolved,
there are now many kits and accessories on the market to aid novice home brewers.
In addition to the many entrepreneurs selling starter kits (which include a scoby starter and tea bags), products such as a conical brewing system are geared to ensuring greater success for the more experienced home brewer. For those wanting a high-tech approach to their kombucha fermentation, companies such as Panasonic are working on contraptions such as The Ferment. The Ferment, featured at SXSW 2017, is an automated, Wi-Fi enabled brewing system. While built to ferment all matter of foods, the product provides an easy approach to brewing time-and-temp-controlled fermented beverages.
The folks behind the Pico Brew home beer-making system introduced a kombucha-brewing machine which operated in a similar fashion to its cerveza device but allowed fermentation geared toward probiotic beverages. Beyond its Kickstarter efforts for such a product, the company now sells Pico-Paks which allow consumers to make kombucha on a wide variety of the company’s machine.
As kombucha goes further into the global mainstream, with
kombucha taprooms and mega retailers adding more choices to the shelves, we
likely will see an increasing number of devices that aid in coming up with the
perfect home brew. The future is bright,
not to mention fermented.
Orlando City Kombucha has been expanding throughout the Orlando area, crafting small batch brews of kombucha with locally sourced organic products. The lightly fizzy, creative flavors are available at three farmers markets as well as an increasing number of taps in stores and restaurants.
Joshua Archer, co-founder and head brewer started brewing four years ago, making it for friends and family. The company started selling to the public in 2015. There are several regular flavors but the creative side emerges when you look at the seasonal brews. The flavors reflect the local Florida culture (mojito, mimosa, fyah) as well as the tropical nature of the state (mango and elderberry, watermelon and mint).
The current seasonal, Apple Spice is a perfect taste of the spices in an apple pie or cider. Calmbucha is a mildly flavored brew that would be THE perfect palette cleanser at a holiday (or year round) meal.
Copenhagen has emerged as a destination on the vegan food scene internationally. Given the creativity of all the food options, it is no surprise that they have also taken the next step in brewing kombucha.
Chef Rene Redzepi shares his recipes for kombucha brewed with apple juice. By using a fruit base, it results in a beverage more like wine, another fermented fruit beverage. It opens up a world of possibilities with fruit juice and expands the ability of kombucha serve as a mixer.
Hybrid beverages, such as an alcoholic kombucha, result in more shelf (or cooler) space for the beverage. Kyla Hard Kombucha is one example of this, currently available in the US in two flavors. The market response will definitely drive the ongoing creation of new, hybrid kombuchas and related beverages.
Well, it took more than a year for this video to go from taping to putting it up online.
The reason? We just completed a terrific one-day course on beginning editing (at Austin’s Precision Camera) which allowed us to cut seven minutes of footage into its best two-plus minutes.
The video was shot at Berlin’s Café Barbucha and features its owner/master brewer/wizard of all thing fermented, Ted Zagrabinski. Ted has some interesting things to say about his journey to becoming one of Germany’s (if not all of Europe’s) leading kombucha brewers.
With some basic editing skills in hand, future videos will not take a year to put up.
As we travel about the country, we are always searching for new kombucha brewers and anxiously tasting new flavor combinations. One vendor called us “kombucha hunters” which seemed to perfectly sum up our interest in kombucha — so it stuck.
Most recently our travels have been predominantly in the United States. Since we have been intrigued by kombucha for several years, we wanted to share our overview of the changes we have observed in the landscape of kombucha.
Here are our current observations:
Kombucha started in many communities with vendors at farmers markets. As these vendors grow, they get into local stores or open a taproom. Think Panacea Brewing in Wilmington, NC (thankfully, they survived the hurricane), going from two markets to a taproom. Recent visits to the Hollywood Farmers Market and Santa Monica Farmers Market were surprising in that there were no kombucha vendors at either market. What that tells us, though LA is a very progressive market, is that kombucha is part of the local lifestyle and available beyond farmers market and similar outlets. Given that it is now available at Starbucks, that trend will probably continue. That doesn’t mean new vendors won’t start at local markets. Once such market vendor is Sanctuary Kombucha, in Round Rock, TX. They sell their apothecary goods as well as food products at the Wolf Ranch Farmers Market on Saturdays in Georgetown, TX.
Geographically, as we work on updating our directory, the number of brewers is growing. The map had many gaps when we first started two years ago and some states had no vendors at all. But these market opportunities are beginning to be met. A notable example is the new brewer, BareBucha available on a truck, in Waco, TX. Also, Phoenix, AZ had no local brewer until All About the Booch opened. It is exciting to see small business people with a passion for health jump into the market. It will continue to be, in most cases, a small market product given the challenges of producing and transporting kombucha while maintaining quality.
We cannot ignore the fact that big beer vendors are seeing the benefit of adding kombucha to their beverage lineups. The purchase of Clearly Kombucha by Molson Coors is a good example where the distribution network of a beer vendor is perfect for expansion. The challenge is successfully transporting a refrigerated beverage in some parts of the country with excessive heat. Bottling kombucha in cans will help address some of the transport issues. It also will broaden the market opportunities, allowing it to go to the beach, boating and other outdoor activities where glass is forbidden.
Existing brewers are adding new blends and varieties, including drinking vinegars, shrubs, and kefirs to name a few. Live Soda, here in Austin, TX, has several offerings in its product line after starting with kombucha. GT’s has added kefirs and coconut yogurts to its offerings. The kimchi flavor kefir is a definitely unique (and delicious) flavor offering. GT’s is fueling its growth by placing local brand ambassadors promoting their products in select parts of the US.
Alcohol content continues to be an issue for kombucha brewers. Controlling the quantity of alcohol in a kombucha requires careful management of the production process. One way to deal with that is to sell hard kombucha. Kyla Kombucha is a hard kombucha with two flavors. The alcohol content is 6.5% and adds kombucha to a range of alcoholic beverage offerings. We first saw it in Southern California (of course) and then happened to be in the mothership Whole Foods location the day it launched in Texas. There will likely be more entrants in to this market opportunity. We have noted that various states label kombucha differently when they contain more alcohol. We have seen a black label for some GT’s products in Florida that specifies higher alcohol content.
Millennials, aren’t they great? They drink kombucha with their meals, as their all day beverage and seek it out on tap in restaurants. DIY kits are now readily available in natural food stores, home brewing stores and online. When we first started brewing six years ago, it took a long time to find a starter kit at Wheatsville Coop in Austin. Now, that store has three flavors of kombucha on tap. We recently purchased a starter kit for our millennial, an avid kombucha drinker. She placed the first batch on the shelf next to a Sonos speaker, just above the vintage vinyl collection. Not sure if it was the music, or the light, or the good feeling of being in Southern California — but the brew was perfect and better than any of our recent ones.
Kombucha will continue to find acceptance in the mainstream grocery store as more people become exposed to it. In many outlets, it still requires a scavenger hunt to find where it is located, although many stores are beginning to have a cooler dedicated to kombucha offerings. First Starbucks, What’s next? 7-11?
To conclude, those are our current thoughts and observations from the road as we continue our hunt. Follow our travels on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Please share with your thoughts and ideas.
Starbucks is going to start selling their own brand of kombucha, the trendy fermented tea beverage. A company spokesperson commented, “Since we’re already overcharging for burnt coffee, expensive, moldy tea didn’t seem like much of a stretch.”