Photo: Jeffrey Gleason

Kombucha Demystified

As people continue to prioritize health and wellness and make those things accessible to all, options for positive additions to your healthy lifestyle are popping up everywhere. But just because you see something more, that doesn’t suddenly translate into common knowledge about the product’s benefits.

Take kombucha, for example. Despite existing for so long, this fizzy, fermented tea has had a nonstop audience for almost a decade. It’s gone from a craft concoction to something you can buy in generic brand form at your local grocery store. But all kombuchas aren’t created equal and knowing why fermented foods like it are essential to your diet can remove the mystery behind why this drink has experienced such staying power.

To remove the mystery behind this type of tea, we spoke to several local kombucha producers about the best parts of the product, what they do differently and where to find the best of the best brews.


Blue Ridge Bucha
Todd Schrecengost, Director of Marketing

On Tap: Are extra ingredients ever added to kombucha for health benefits?
Todd Schrecengost: We brew our kombucha with a variety of certified organic and fair-trade herbs, spices, and fruit extracts to create an authentically delicious product. Ingredients like elderflowers, berries, ginger root, etc. offer our customers variety in choosing which flavors are right for them.

OT: What does Blue Ridge Bucha do that sets it apart from other local producers?
TS: Our business is built on a refillable bottle model. We’ve asked our customers to buy glassware to fill and then refill with our product in order to eliminate wastefulness from single-use packaging. This has helped us save 933,750 bottles to date and counting. We also donate a portion of our sales to local nonprofit partners. On April 12, we will release a collaboration flavor in partnership with REI, with 100 percent of proceeds donated to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

OT: How often do you advise people to drink kombucha, and what is an ideal serving?
TS: There is no recommended intake for kombucha. As with anything you drink or eat, be conscious of how your body feels afterward and adjust accordingly.

You can find Blue Ridge Bucha at their newly opened, full-service taproom located at 1809 E. Main St. Waynesboro, VA. Visit www.blueridgebucha.com for a full list of area retailers selling their products and for more information on their collaboration with REI out in early April.


HEX Ferments
Meaghan and Shane Carpenter, Founders

On Tap: Can you share some background on HEX Ferments?
Meaghan Carpenter: We make four main varieties that we wholesale, a seasonal variety that changes every few months, and in our shop, we make three to four super small batches that highlight local herbs and spices from the farms we work with. We are the home of the original pea flower kombucha, which is a bright purple kombucha. We are the very first to have made a caffeine-free kombucha, which is our butterfly lime.
Shane Carpenter: We’re pretty unique in the way we package our kombucha, too. We do a bottle exchange program, so our goal is to stay out of the one-time use space. In our packaging process, we don’t ferment or package in plastic, which a lot of people do. We can see why they might – it’s lighter and cheaper – but toxicity issues with fermented foods prevent us from taking that shortcut.

OT: What encouragement would you give to someone who’s not fully on board with incorporating fermented foods into their diet?
MC: I just encourage them to try a little bit. From what we have noticed, your body is craving it. There’s a deficit in your body for these lactic acid bacterias. If you start consuming it, your body’s going to tell you that you need more of it.
SC: If you enjoy increased immunity [and] increased sustained energy, there’s a whole study about increased serotonin and diverse microbiomes making you happy. That’s a pretty good deal.

HEX Ferments’ brick-and-mortar store can be found at 529 E. Belvedere Ave. Baltimore, MD. They are also at the Dupont Circle FRESHFARM farmers market every Sunday. Visit www.hexferments.com for a full list of area retailers selling their products.


MTO Kombucha
Meagan Donica, General Manager

On Tap: What does the kombucha-making process look like at MTO Kombucha?
Meagan Donica: The kombucha-making process is as simple as making a batch of sweet tea, adding your starter SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) and liquid, and waiting. At MTOK, we call the waiting period babysitting because we are constantly checking the growth, development and health of our new SCOBYs. We also test pH and taste test throughout the entire cycle. We ferment only small batches of kombucha, but hundreds at a time. This keeps the kombucha pure and the cultures strong and healthy.

OT: Where does the alcohol in kombucha come from? Can you actually get a buzz from it?
MD: When fermented correctly, a kombucha brewer can produce a kombucha tea that has little to no, or trace amounts of, alcohol. The legal limit is 0.5 percent. Most people associate the euphoric sensation they experience after drinking real kombucha with getting a buzz; however, that is not alcohol but simply the good bacteria working hard to cleanse your system of toxins, leaving you feeling calm and clearheaded.

OT: What makes MTO Kombucha unique?
MD: We stay local and only serve the DMV area within a 65-mile radius of our kombuchery and tasting room. We do our own distribution. We are the only made-to-order kombucha in the world. We only partner with other local small businesses.

MTO Kombucha can be found at 7124 Farm Station Rd. Vint Hill Farms, VA. You can also place orders through their online store for direct delivery at www.mtokombucha.com. Call 540-364-2639 to find the location stocking MTO nearest you.


Wild Kombucha
Sid Sharma, Co-founder

On Tap: How do you decide what flavors to produce at Wild Kombucha?
Sid Sharma: One thing we focus on a lot is trying to produce unique flavors that aren’t really found in the market, but also contain a familiar taste or palate [of] flavors people may have already had. Our mission at Wild Kombucha is to make the product more approachable, and to offer a healthy alternative to our community.

OT: Why make kombucha part of your everyday diet?
SS: Based on how we consume foods in today’s society – processed foods like flour, and people taking medications like antibiotics –good flora that live in your gut can get flushed out. So fermented foods like kombucha help replenish that flora, which then can aid in digestion [and] boost metabolism. It’s been shown to boost the immune system as well.

OT: Why do you think people have reservations about drinking kombucha, and how would you combat that?
SS: People tend to be skeptical about things they don’t know about. As you’re introduced to [kombucha] in more than one avenue, you become more comfortable with it. I think the types of stores that sell our product are a testament to that. People now see kombucha multiple times a day, and once it becomes commonplace, people become less skeptical.

Wild Kombucha’s newly opened taproom and production facility is located at 4820 Seton Dr. Suite L, Baltimore, MD. Visit www.mobtownfermentation.com for a full list of area retailers selling their products.

 

M.K. Koszycki

M.K.'s entire life revolves around music, whether it be scouring Twitter for the band of the moment or catching a live show at one of DC's many venues. When she's not at a gig, find her hanging out with her golden retriever, drinking beer with friends or re-watching Twin Peaks for the hundredth time.