Kombucha businesses have been popping up around Oregon and flourishing in Portland, Bend and Eugene. This ancient fermented drink is earning new fans as it gains popularity in a state well-known for its breweries. The sales numbers show that more people are drinking kombucha, but there are many people who still don’t know what the drink is.
The shelves of Oregon grocery stores are filling with glass bottles sporting the names of recently founded kombucha businesses. Sales are taking off but many people still don’t know what the unusual beverage is. Jason Wellman, a sales representative from Brew Dr. Kombucha gives his explanation.
Wellman: “It is a fermented tea. People have been drinking it for thousands of years and because it is a fermented tea, it is very high in your B vitamins and B vitamins help your body metabolize energy. Because of its fermentation, it is probiotic, a live drink, and you’re going to get all the probiotics that you would get from yogurt.”
Many people believe the fermentation is caused by a mushroom, but in fact, it’s created with the help of a SCOBY – a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. It’s a soft disk that grows on top of the tea and sugar used to make kombucha. The yeasts feed on the sugar and the beverage ferments.
Wellman says his sales have doubled since he started selling the product two years ago. Curtis Shimmin from Kore Kombucha has seen a similar trend but he says it’s a tough industry to succeed in.
Shimmin: “It’s a very cutthroat, difficult business. There’s a lot of players and you got to pretty much have some excellent distribution if you want to grow at all, and we’ve been lucky.”
More people are giving kombucha a try and some are even acquiring a taste for it.
Cargill: “My name is Bryan Cargill and I will be trying the Superberry flavor. I mean at first it smelled kind of like a wine but then you try it and it’s more smooth than anything.”
Vincent: “Hi, my name’s Bri Vincent and I’m trying Superberry kombucha. There’s no flavor and it tastes like ferment. It’s like, kind of rotten fermenty.”
The healthy probiotics and enzymes are a draw for many regular drinkers. Although not much research is done on the health benefits of kombucha, Casey Mast, a registered dietitian at Cascade Health Solutions says there’s no denying the probiotics it packs are good for you.
Mast: “A lot of people don’t realize the good bacteria and the need for good bacteria in our gut and realizing that if that’s depleted, then we’re going to have a lot of issues.”
Mast says despite the many healthy properties of kombucha, it can be dangerous if not brewed properly.
Mast: “The main risk to watch out for when brewing it on your own is mold because it is a breeding ground for lots and lots of bacteria and the yeast that mold can grow as well and if you see any sort of mold to throw everything out.”
Justin Ross makes his own kombucha. He decided to brew because he liked the taste and couldn’t deny the affordability of brewing it at home.
Ross: “It’s really really really inexpensive. The whole cost, after you buy a few gallon large jars, dispensers, you know whatever you want to brew in, it’s sugar and tea. So, it’s really cheap stuff.”
Vendors and home brewers are creating kombucha batches in various flavors. Some people are taking even the beverage to another level and making their own spin-offs. Wellman from Brew Dr. says he’s selling to some very creative businesses.
Wellman: “There’s an account that mixes in like herbal elixirs and sells it. We have another account that makes kombucha floats and they mix it with ice cream and frozen yogurt. We have a few accounts that mix it with alcohol and make different kinds of kombucha cocktails.”
Oregon’s kombucha businesses reflect a national trend in sales. According to SPINS, a firm that monitors point-of-sale scanned products, U.S. kombucha sales over the last year brought in more than $123 million, a 31 percent increase from the year before.