Kombucha's A-Brewin' in Oakland Park

By Gretchen Schmidt / Photography By Alfredo Añez | July 01, 2015
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Kombuchas from Kombulicious

Thousands of years ago, Kombucha - a lightly fermented, probiotic tea - gained favor in China for its energizing qualities. Today, a chef and farmer are brewing this ancient beverage with South Florida flavors.


During his days as sous chef at the short-lived but well-regarded Brickell restaurant BoxPark in 2013, Glenn Dee was making kombucha for the kitchen crew. “We brewed it just for ourselves to drink instead of Red Bull,” he says. A year later, Dee found himself in Vermont finishing up a project, his car all packed to head back to South Florida, when he noticed that fermentation guru Sandor Katz was going to speak at the University of Vermont. Katz’ lecture got him so fired up about opening a small kombucha brewery that he couldn’t wait to get back. His first stop after the long drive home was in Oakland Park to discuss his idea with Scott Lyons of Sublicious Farms, an organic mushroom operation. Within two weeks, a business plan – and some kombucha – were bubbling. Kombulicious, a partnership between a farmer and a sous chef, was born.

KOMBUCHA CULTURE


For those who’ve never tried kombucha, it tastes mildly fizzy and tangy, with a very slight (less than .5 percent) alcohol content. It’s made from brewed tea, sugar and a starter culture called a SCOBY, an acronym for “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast,” similar to a vinegar mother. The mixture is fermented for one to four weeks, strained, perhaps flavored with fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs, then bottled and refrigerated. The result is a refreshing, not-too-sweet beverage with probiotic qualities and, according to fans, detoxifying and health-promoting benefits.

Tea Leaves
Brewing Kombucha
Covering the brew with cloth

Hobbyists can create their own home brews. But in order to brew kombucha commercially, Dee and Lyons had to set up a certified organic kitchen – a process that “actually put us down for a few months,” Lyons says – and equip themselves with the tools of the trade at the Sublicious warehouse. They bought two 80-gallon stainless steel fermentation vessels, bottles and cookers to brew the tea.

TROPICAL TASTES


Coming up with flavors was the domain of Dee, who had worked at Michelle Bernstein’s Sra. Martinez, Market 17 and Taperia Raca.”This is where I get to play,” he says. He turned to forager Chris Padin of Farm to Kitchen to bring him local tropical produce, like end-of-season fruits that are “not market pretty, but good for juicing.” Some current seasonal blends sound exotic and intriguing: Hayden mango and moringa; jackfruit and allspice; basil lime; tangerine lavender; clove/açai/pomegranate; and starfruit and star anise, a surprisingly good combination. Not so good: Cherry Chili Cacao – “It made me cry, it was so bad,” he recalls.

Dee and Lyons began setting up accounts to sell Kombulicious at coffee shops and yoga studios. They thought a getting a beer distributor would help – as a fermented beverage, kombucha does, after all, have some similarities to beer – but found no takers. They’ve already placed their products in several South Florida restaurants and markets and continue working on expanding their availability.

Brewing Kombucha
Tea Tasting
Tea Tasting

GOOD TIMING 


Nationally, kombucha is a $500 million business. In South Florida, locally made commercial brew is still relatively new, but Lyons believes sales here are on the rise, thanks to an interest in probiotics and healthy living. “Everyone is starting to be more health conscious about what they drink. They don’t only want to have water as a beverage.”

Which raises the question of the health benefits of kombucha. Some studies find little to support wide-ranging claims of aficionados, but positive customer feedback suggests otherwise. “It’s not magic, but followers say it makes them feel better,” says Dee, who says he feels less joint inflammation as a result of drinking kombucha. For Lyons, kombucha has replaced soda pop and even his afternoon coffee. “It feels good to know I am building a healthier gut. “

Dee and Lyons are gearing up for increased production in the months ahead. They’ve also become members of the Kombucha Brewers International, a commercial brewers association. They’re planting peach trees, lemongrass, watermelon, starfruit and muscadine grapes (scuppernongs) at a farm in Delray for the next season. “We will be growing as much as we can organically to bring more seasonal flavors into our kombucha,” says Lyons. “My role is making sure Glenn has everything he needs to make some really incredible kombucha,” says Lyons. “He and I see eye to eye on the importance of quality.”


{ Making a Batch of Booch }


Kombucha starts with the tea base, the “nute.” At Kombulicious, they use five organic teas [1] – black, two greens, oolong and white – and brew each separately, using huge burners. The teas are then combined and transferred to fermentation vessels [2], Florida cane sugar is added along with the SCOBY. The brew, kept at 74 degrees for 15to20 days, is covered with cloth. This batch [3], three days old, is already producing C02 – “that’s a good indicator of a healthy brew,” says Dee. They log what’s happening with each batch because of the unpredictability of kombucha: “Every batch is a snowflake.” After 15-20 days, the SCOBY gets thicker and the brew gets lighter. At about 18 days, it’s time to remove the SCOBY [4] and store it in a little kombucha and tea to await its next batch. Meanwhile, the finished product is drained off 20 gallons at a time. Flavors, generally fruit juices and herb combinations are added. The kombucha goes into bottles [5] or kegs for tasting [6] and distribution.


WHERE TO FIND KOMBULICIOUS

Bottles
Brothers Market, Sunrise and Davie
Choices Cafe, Upper East Side Miami, Near MIA, Coral Gables
Dharma Yoga, Coconut Grove
Ella, pop-up, Design District
Hot & Soul Restaurant, Oakland Park
Marando Farms, Fort Lauderdale
Myapapaya Juicery & Kitchen, Fort Lauderdale
Riverside Market, Fort Lauderdale
Sublicious Farms, Oakland Park

On Tap
Choices Cafe, Upper East Side Miami, Near MIA, Coral Gables
Falafel Bistro and Wine Bar, Coral Springs
Food In Motion, Second Fridays, Peter Feldman Park, Fort Lauderdale
Garden Gate, Pompano Beach
Marando Farms, Fort Lauderdale
Mendez Fuel, Miami

KOMBULICIOUS
kombulicious.com
4032 NE 6 Ave., Oakland Park

Article from Edible South Florida at http://ediblesouthflorida.ediblecommunities.com/drink/kombuchas-brewin-oakland-park
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