Kombucha is a fermented, bubbly sweet tea drink that’s millennia old, but only fairly recently became a “thing.” Cultures in Asia and Russia that have been drinking the beverage for thousands of years each had a different name for it. “Kombucha,” Christopher Turner told me, is a name made up by a couple of hippies in California in the 1990s.
Turner has done his kombucha research. He’s been drinking it for eight years, and when the former chef decided he wanted to make a foray into the world of food product entrepreneurialism, the idea to create kombucha came to him as an epiphany in the shower.
Zofi Kombucha will launch in March 2016. The name is homage to his first daughter, Sofia, who should be making her way into the world any day now. It is a shelf-stable, non-alcoholic beverage, whereas most kombuchas are not.
CNN recently published a story entitled “Can you get drunk off kombucha tea?” A key ingredient in kombucha production is a combination of yeast and bacteria that ferments; when that combines with tea and sugar, a small amount of alcohol can be produced.
Producers are allowed to create kombucha that is .5 percent alcohol by volume, but no more. The problem is, unless you keep the kombucha continuously refrigerated, the bacteria and the yeast can continue to make alcohol. Anecdotally, Turner has heard of kombuchas that have been sold at 2 percent alcohol off the shelf.
But not Zofi Kombucha. Long before the article — which also says the feds are considering relegating kombuchas to liquor stores — Turner planned to produce an alcohol-free beverage. He has just passed 10 years of sobriety, and no amount of alcohol is acceptable to him.
He likens Zofi Kombucha to a “mocktail” and is aiming for the restaurant industry over retail. Turner laments the few choices for non-alcoholic beverages at restaurants, and he wanted to create a beverage that felt as special as a cocktail. Kombucha is tough for restaurants to carry because of the fact that other kombuchas need to be cold-stored, and in the restaurant industry, cold storage space is at a premium.
Kombucha is widely promoted as a health drink. It has amino acids, which have anti-depressant, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities. It also has an abundance of B vitamins. Part of its health benefits comes from it being a product of fermentation. “Fermentation makes things more bio-available, like kimchi versus cabbage,” Turner said. “All that fiber is broken down.”
Turner said he’s not marketing it as a health drink, unlike many kombuchas. But he believes that “the body can heal itself if you give it the right ingredients.”
Turner is a graduate of Johnson & Wales culinary program in North Miami. He also spent four years in the Air Force working as security police. He spent many years in kitchens in South Florida, New York and New Orleans. But he found when he finally got sober he “wasn’t a good employee.” So for the past five years, he has been an entrepreneur, helping as a consultant to restauranteurs who are opening new restaurants.
He has bootstrapped Zofi Kombucha and is only seeking minimal investments. Turner spoke to a player in the beverage industry in town who founded a company and lost control of it because of investors. Turner doesn’t want that to happen with Zofi.
Zofi is coming together on a shoestring budget, but he’s no longer crafting prototypes in his kitchen. He already has two clients with multiple restaurants each. He’s been in contact with his old network of chefs and restaurant owners in Florida, and he’s in talks with a couple of Las Vegas casinos that are interested in carrying the beverage.
Three reporters taste-tested both the original flavor — Luv Potion 1, which is a black tea — and the second flavor — Luv Potion 9, strawberry, lemon and vanilla — and we all liked them both to varying degrees. Most of us preferred the 9.
Potion 1 has a very light taste, sweet and a little tart. Turner said that someone compared it to champagne, and I agree, it’s very, very bubbly. Potion 9 was very strawberry, but the addition of the unexpected vanilla was a nice touch.
We all agreed that we would drink it again, but we weren’t sure that we’d grab it off of a shelf. None of us had ever had kombucha before, so we may not yet have a palate for the unusual beverage.
Turner plans on having a big party for the launch of the beverage in March. We’ll keep you posted.