A gelatinous colony of bacteria and yeast creates a growing business

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — Just as yoga and meditation have gone mainstream, so have ideas and products surrounding health, wellness and eating healthy.

Enter kombucha.

What's kombucha, you ask?

In the simplest terms, kombucha is fermented tea. It's tangy and feels bubbly when sipped. Kombucha comes in several different flavors.

"When it starts to get a little right on the sour, kind of ferment-y flavor, you can add some fruit or some vegetable juice," said David Boortz, the owner of 203 Kombucha. "Or in the case of jasmine, just leave it as is and it's done. And we process it similar to how you process beer."

Boortz opened his kombucha bar last week in Palmer. The name is in honor of the 203 colonist families that originally settled in the Palmer area.

To make kombucha, a brewer needs what's often referred to as "the mother."

The mother is kind of a gross looking glop. At 203 Kombucha, it's a 20-pound pancake-looking gelatinous colony of bacteria and yeast that grows over the surface. It's official name is SCOBY, which is an acronym for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast, which is basically what it is.

The mother is added to tea and then sits, processing the bacteria for several days.

Boortz, a nuclear engineer from California, quit his job and slowly made his way north to Alaska, camping with his dog along the way. He eventually settled down in a dry cabin in Soldotna and began substitute teaching. Boortz says he started making batches of kombucha for his fellow teachers, which was the seed of his business idea.

203 Kombucha looks like a brewery. There are reclaimed pieces that Boortz and a friend found around town that create the hip-looking interior.

He sells six different regular flavors with a seventh rotating flavor. On tap this week were jasmine, citrus and a rhubarb drink among others.

Boortz says he expects to use rose hips and berries in his blends during the summer season.

Kombucha is a growing trend.

Even major companies like Red Bull and Honest Tea (of which Coca-Cola owns 40 percent) have begun distributing their own brands, according to the New York Times.

Many people start making kombucha at home, and then, if it works out, it can turn into a business.

That's what happened in the case of Shirley Young, who created a jalapeno and lime flavored kombucha that she and her husband sell, along with other flavors like cran-grape and lemongrass mint ginger.

"The more that we were doing it, people would come over and see that we were doing it and ask for it and love it," Young said. "So then we just kind of kept growing the amount that we were doing at once."

That start was the birth of her business: 574 Booch. (If you were born in Alaska before 2011 your Social Security number most likely started with 574). Based in Anchorage, Young sells her kombucha through Facebook.

Boortz, meanwhile, hopes to grow his business to include food, maybe breakfast. He envisions having bands in the summertime outside of 203 Kombucha, and possibly food trucks.

"I brought back my SCOBY from San Francisco in the airplane, tucked into my little bag, and grew it and started making the kombucha in my cabin, and going to school with it giving it to the teachers. And, they liked it," Boortz said. "It just seemed like a glaringly obvious you should make more of this and people will probably drink it."



 
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