A few months ago I was texting with a friend who lives in England. She asked what I was up to and I mentioned I was doing something that I can’t seem to remember, while drinking kombucha. Then she sent back three words that made my jaw drop: What. Is. Kombucha.
Excuse Me? Was she living under a rock, or had kombucha just not hit the market in her city? Good News, I found a kombucha brewery near her, so she’s up to speed.
While the U.S., and the West Coast in particular, have embraced the kombucha craze in the past few years, it originated in China around 220 B.C. Yeah, apparently the U.S. is way behind the times as far as fermented foods go. Nutritionists loooove fermented foods because they promote good bacteria in our gut. Good bacteria (sometimes called friendly flora) can aid in improving digestion, help us absorb nutrients from food, inhibit the growth of pathogens, and since about 80 percent of our immune system lives in our gut – we definitely want a plethora of good bacteria to keep us healthy. A probiotic is a living organism containing that good bacteria (creepy, right?) that is incredibly helpful for our immunity. Probiotics can be found in many foods, including kombucha!
One of my favorite local brands making this bubbly beverage is Bootstrap Kombucha. I first tried their original flavor at The Patio Express in Mission Hills, where it’s served on tap! Owner / Operator / Chief SCOBY Wrangler Susan McMillion was kind enough to chat with me about her business while I sipped on lavender green tea and oak offerings at their tasting room.
Alexa Brynne: When did you start making kombucha?
Susan McMillion: In 2013. My business partner James Farnworth and I started brewing kombucha at home, in a 5 gallon wooden barrel. Having been in the creative side of the food industry for many years, the methodology came easily to me, and James’s technical savvy gave us a great start. We were both encouraged at our results.
AB: What motivated you to turn it into a full-blown business?
SM: I was acutely aware of the increasing interest in “better-for-you” beverages, and we saw the fermented foods wave building and took the chance and dove in.
AB: Can you tell me a little bit about SCOBY?
SM: Sure! SCOBY stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. It’s self-generated. We make scoby in tanks and then house it in large jars in the back that we call a scoby hotel. Since SCOBY regenerates on its own, the original is called a mother, and creates a daughter. Then the daughter eventually regenerates and becomes a mother, and so on and so forth.
AB: I think kombucha tastes so much better on tap.
SM: If made well, draft kombucha certainly does taste fresher, because of the minimal processing! Bottling or canning requires either pasteurizing (which kills the probiotics), highly diluting the product (and adding extracts to trick the senses into experiencing flavor), or other processing that will remove all of the yeast to ensure retarding the fermentation process.
AB: Have there been any flavors that you’ve experimented with, that just didn’t turn out right?
SM: Yes, Coconut! BLECH! I couldn’t get it past my nose! I have since learned how to do it correctly, without using extracts!
AB: Any hints for what’s going to be on tap for Summer? (A spicy jalapeno or green chili one sounds pretty tasty!!)
SM: Thanks for the suggestions…we have a punchy, delicious Pineapple Jalapeño in the rotation.
AB: What advice would you give to someone who wants to try making their own kombucha at home?
SM: Research from different sources, be patient, employ your senses (taste, watch, smell), don’t be afraid, have fun with it.
That day I went home with a bottle of the Rose Green Tea version, which is unlike anything I’ve tasted before! Pick up a reusable bottle (or growler!) at their tasting room or several fun places around San Diego. Say hi to Susan’s team at Boochfest on Saturday May 18. Cheers!