Once the domain of hippies and diehard health foodies, kombucha is making a major impact on the world of ready-to-drink beverages. It is made with a simple fermentation process that uses tea, sugar, water and a gelatinous mushroom-like culture called a scoby. One global research firm estimates the fizzy, probiotic drink will hit close to $4.5 billion in sales this year. Major soft drink firms like Pepsi have bought into the future of this market, purchasing kombucha brewer KeVita, in Nov. 2016.

Seattle-based PicoBrew, a Kickstarter darling, cleverly seized an opportunity to add kombucha brewing to its upcoming Model C (the original Pico, the Model S, will also brew kombucha). It can be accomplished without adding any new circuitry or hardware to its new home beer brewing appliance. Custom kombucha packs, composed of tea, sugar and some form of starter, are manufactured by noted Woodinville, Wash, farm-to-fork venue Herbfarm.

Adding kombucha brewing to its new model, which has an expected September delivery, was a natural evolution for co-founder and Chief Science Officer Jim Mitchell. Mitchell is a veteran food chemist, with a wealth of knowledge in the areas of prebiotics, probiotics, and fermentation. While adding kombucha to its product line is a new feature, such ideas have been on the mind of Mitchell for years.

“Some 10 years ago, I believed in the goal that the revolution of food and beverage can actually can be more than sustenance it can be healthy,” Mitchell told the Spoon.

Making kombucha is a different and simpler process than brewing beer. It begins with brewing tea in purified water, by boiling and letting it cool to room temperature. When it reaches the boiling point, sugar is added.

Once cooled, the tea/sugar mix is put in a jar or other vessel at which point that extraterrestrial substance called a scoby is added. For optimal results, some kombucha from a previous batch is added to jump-start the fermentation process. The jar is covered with a towel and set in a cool, dark place to ferment. There are many schools of thought and variations of the final steps, but, in general, it takes about two weeks to reach proper fermentation and is ready to drink. For more information on all things kombucha, you can head over to Kombucha Network.

The Model C’s kombucha function will include the tea, sugar and some form of starter but not the scoby. Mitchell said the company has not finalized how it will lead customers to find scobys. The possibilities include linking them to companies that offer scoby starters or building a community of kombucha brewers who are often more than willing to share their starters. After each brewing session, scobys, the “mother”, multiplies and develops additional “babies”.  As a result, many home artisans accumulate large numbers of these cultures and are glad to share them.

Wisely, the PicoBrew team has decided to enter the kombucha space in baby steps. “Our aim is to introduce people to kombucha – people who would not think pf brewing their own,” Mitchell explained. “As they get to the point of using their own tea they can segue into (the full process of) home kombucha brewing themselves.”

PicoBrew’s current record-breaking Kickstarter campaign is more than 200% subscribed with $817,061 raised with an intended goal of $350,000. In addition to adding kombucha brewing, the company announced it would have a sous vide adapter available for its new appliance. According to the PicoBrew’s crowdfunding page, the new Model C will ship in August.

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Allen Weiner is an Austin-based freelance writer focusing on applications of new technology in the areas of food, media and education. In his 17-year career as a vice president and analyst with Gartner, Inc., the world’s largest IT research and advisory firm, Allen was a frequent speaker at company and industry events as well as one of the most-quoted analysts in the area of new media. With an extensive background in publishing and publishing technology, Allen is noted as the founder of The Gate (sfgate.com), the nation’s first daily newspaper on the web. Born in Philadelphia, Allen is a graduate of Muhlenberg College and Temple University.

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