Earlier this year Apt613 gave me the difficult assignment of reviewing a Brew Donkey tour. This whet my appetite for another tour and I jumped at the chance to take in the All Things Brewed tour. Being that beer, liquor and coffee were all on the itinerary, this assignment was right in my wheelhouse.
One of the stops was at Culture Kombucha, where owner-brewer Wentsi Yeung introduced us to kombucha, a drink I had never come across and still struggle to pronounce (kom-BOO-cha). Though I still struggle with the pronunciation, I drink now a lot of delicious ‘booch.
I had the chance to chat with Wentsi about kombucha and her growing business, Culture Kombucha, here’s our Q&A:
Apt613: What is kombucha?
Wentsi Yeung: Kombucha is a fermented tea made from tea and sugar and can be flavoured with different herbs, spices, fruit, etc. It’s an ancient beverage that originates back to 220 BC China and since then it has made its way to Japan, Russia, and here to North America. It’s full of probiotics, enzymes, and acids that are beneficial for gut health. Kombucha also strengthens the immune system, boosts energy, and detoxifies the body.
Tell me about local celebrity SCOBY Steve…
So a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), is the “mother” or “mushroom” that ferments the kombucha. It looks gross, kind of like a pancake that has the consistency of raw chicken (very unappealing) and takes the form of it’s brewing vessel. Every time a new batch is made, a new layer grows. I received my first SCOBY about 3 years ago in a little jar and I have grown it ever since and have even separated it a few times for new batches and given a few to friends. It might look ugly, but I have given my SCOBY the best nutrients from carefully selected ingredients and tons of love!
When did you start Culture Kombucha and what inspired you to start your own biz (what did you do prior)?
The idea first came to me in 2014 after I had just tried my first kombucha. It was love at first sip and I felt like it was something I needed to share with everyone. And what a great way to combine my interest in science, sustainable agriculture, and food security. At the time, I was working at Canadian Organic Growers (an amazing organization!) and loved my job but I felt like I needed something even more challenging. All the jobs (or lack-thereof) that I wanted needed years of experience so I decided to create the job that I wanted 🙂
Tell me about the decision to leave the old space into your new space?
Our first space was this 150 sq feet room we renovated on Wellington that we quickly outgrew in a few months and made the move to a shared kitchen. It was a great way to grow our business because of the equipment they had to offer and the space for our fermentors. A year in, we outgrew that space too with no where else to add new fermentors and felt like it was best to move on and find something bigger! Now we rent from another food company, I Crave Natural Foods. It’s a gluten and nut-free facility with incredibly strict food safety standards which is one of our main priorities. We have our own dedicated private space with tons of storage and lots of space to grow our company. Overall the new space has been a really positive experience.
Where do you envision this biz going?
We’re going to keep on growing! We want kombucha to be the norm and we’re going to keep on educating people about the many benefits of kombucha! Maybe a storefront or taproom one day!
Where can people find your fermented wares?
You can find our bottles at most local cafes, vegetarian restaurants, independent grocery and speciality stores. For kombucha on tap, check out Urban Juice Press, Natural Food Pantry Westboro, and Craft Beer Market! You can check out our website or instagram to see where we are!
What flavours are the mainstays and what seasonals are coming up?
Our mainstays are: Ginger (most popular!), Raspberry Mint and Elderberry. We have a Cherry Vanilla coming as well as a hop kombucha!
How has the local business community support been? Have you met other great entrepreneurs?
Absolutely, since starting Culture Kombucha I feel like I’ve made so many new friends with other like-minded local business owners. It’s kind of like a “we’re in this together” mentality and can really understand each other’s challenges and I couldn’t feel more appreciative of their support and friendship. (I feel like this is where you write “ #friends4lyfe #ridetillwedie #squadgoals #youknowwhoyouare “ like in your grade 12 yearbook sign off).
Another great initiative we are starting is through the Parkdale Food Centre with their garden tower project, I have partnered with Ms. Richardson’s Grade 4/5 class at Connaught School. They have this really cool tower garden where we are working together. They will grow me fresh herbs like mint, basil, and thyme (for some secret upcoming recipes), and I will pay them for their produce. We’re still working out all the logistics but essentially the money will go back to their classroom for educational tools and a portion for both them and the PFC to reinvest to purchase more garden towers. It’s a great way to teach kids about business acumen, where their food comes from, and healthy eating (I just had a salad lunch with them from greens from the tower!). We’ve had a few “business meetings” and immediately noticed that they are incredibly intelligent and enthusiastic.
What’s the ethos of Culture Kombucha?
My personal goal is to create a sustainable business that is good for the people and the planet!