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Kombucha companies using locally grown fruits for flavoring

Two kombucha brewing companies operating in southeast Minnesota look to source their flavors locally.

Kombucha bottles.jpg
Bottles of Kowabucha Kombucha, a company owned by Matt Jewison and Mark Martincek of Rochester.
Noah Fish / Agweek
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There's a demand from consumers in southeast Minnesota for locally-made kombucha, which is a mixture of tea fermented with strains of bacteria, yeast and sugar. Two companies are cashing in on that demand, and utilizing products made by local farms in the process.

What is kombucha?

According to the Mayo Clinic, kombucha is a "liquid that has vinegar, B vitamins and many other types of acids, including amino acid."

“Supporters claim that kombucha tea helps prevent and treat health conditions, from blood pressure to cancer," reads the definition by Mayo Clinic. "A small amount of research suggests that kombucha tea may give benefits similar to probiotic supplements. For example, some research suggests kombucha tea may support a healthy immune system and prevent constipation.”

Kowabucha Kombucha

Matt Jewison and Mark Martincek are the owners and operators of Kowabucha Kombucha, which they started by selling at the Rochester Farmers Market as a cottage food producer. Currently, the two have plans to start a commercial kombucha brewing company to make the fermented tea to sell locally in coffee shops, restaurants and breweries.

Mark Martincek said his path to kombucha started with him suffering from stomach pains as a child.

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"Growing up, I had a lot of stomach issues," he said. "Just having debilitating stomach aches for years and years, and I would end up curled up in a ball in bed for a couple hours at a time."

After living in Las Vegas, Nevada, for most of his life, Martincek moved to Rochester at the age of 13, where he was seen at Mayo for this stomach issues.

"They figured out what they could do for (the condition), even though there is no cure," he said of Mayo doctors. They removed a third of his colon, which was to reduce the likelihood of major blood loss. The surgery did not resolve his stomach pains, he said.

Martincek said when he was around 20, he randomly came across kombucha at a grocery store and decided to give it a try.

"I remember I was having a really bad stomachache that morning, and it went away after 20 minutes," he said after drinking the kombucha. "I didn't know if it was a coincidence, but I just felt really good after I drank it. And so then, every day for like, the next couple of weeks, I went and I bought a kombucha and every day was another day I went without stomach ache."

Jewison had been trying to make kombucha for a few years before he met Martincek on a snowboarding trip in Duluth.

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They became friends quickly, and Jewison said Martincek helped him make his kombucha better. They spent the next couple years brewing kombucha at their respective homes and becoming closer friends.

"And then one day, I was just hanging out and I texted Mark with this idea of like, hey, nobody in Rochester is brewing kombucha, and at this point, we'd both been brewing for quite some time," he said. "The passion is there and we both love it, so we're like, why not? If we can make some kombucha and sell it to some people and have a local kombucha and people enjoy it."

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The pair now brews about 40 gallons of kombucha a month, and is looking to scale up production once construction is finished.

Sourcing flavors locally

Kowabucha Kombucha relies on local farms to flavor its kombucha beverages.

"Anything we can," said Jewison of what ingredients they source from local farms. "That's the thing with being a small, local place for kombucha — we want to get everything from here. We don't want to use extracts. We don't use stuff like that."

Jewison said they source ingredients such as blueberries, mint, watermelon, cucumbers and more from the Rochester Farmers Market.

"We use grapes from Firefly Berries here in Rochester," he said. "They've been great, and hopefully down the road, we can keep sourcing from them as we build this space out."

He said when they approach farms to source from, most of the time the producers are curious as to what kombucha is, and how their products will be used in it.

"That's the fun thing, is if we get something from somebody, we will usually bring them a bottle of kombucha and say hey, this is your product in our product," he said. "And the people who know kombucha or like kombucha are ecstatic."

John the Baptist Beverage Company

John the Baptist Beverage Company is another kombucha brewing business located about an hour outside of Rochester in Lake City, Minnesota. The company is operated by Paul and Sara Freid.

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"Everybody can drink kombucha," said Sara Freid.

John the Baptist Beverage Company sells kombucha once a month in the winter.

"We were planning on not doing it during the winter, but so many people said, we would come out to buy it," said Freid of the kombucha. "There's a demand for it."

Freid said that kombucha is a good alternative to unhealthy drinks such as soda, and something different than water or other carbonated beverages.

"We drink a lot of water out here, but it's different than water, and it's something that has that those probiotics in there," said Freid. "If we, or if somebody has a stomachache or whatever, we can have some kombucha vinegar, or some kombucha, and it will kind of help that stomach out."

The Lake City company uses fairtrade organic ingredients for its tea and sugar and gets its flavoring locally.

"We do all of our flavors locally, so we aren't going to do mangoes unless we can grow mangoes in this greenhouse," said Freid. "We do lots of herbs that we can grow here, and then we do fruit that we can find around — lots of neighbors have given us fruit or we've bought fruit from them."

She said for flavoring kombucha they've used grapes, strawberries, raspberries, pears, plums, redcurrants, blackcurrants and more.

"Whatever we can find around here, we will try a flavor with it," she said.

Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He's also the host of the Agweek Podcast. He covers a wide range of farmers and agribusinesses throughout Minnesota and surrounding states. He can be reached at nfish@agweek.com

He reports out of Rochester, MN, where he lives with his wife, Kara, and their polite cat, Zena. He grew up in La Crosse, WI, and enjoys the talent from his home state like the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers and Grammy award-winning musicians Justin Vernon and Al Jarreau.
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