By Andy Perdue
The Tri-Cities’ first commercial kombucha brewery has been established in Kennewick.
Joshua Steensland of Kennewick has opened Steensland Family Kombucha.
Steensland, a veteran of the Marine Corps, spent the past year perfecting his kombucha recipe and now is confident enough to turn it into a commercial venture. Steensland Family Kombucha passed its Department of Agriculture inspection in late June.
Kombucha is a lightly fermented beverage brewed from sweet tea that purportedly has many health benefits. Originating in China thousands of years ago as Mandarin tea, it has gained popularity in the U.S. in recent years, particularly with people who prefer to consume fermented foods for their digestive qualities.
The first step is to brew tea – black or green – with sugar added. The concoction is then fermented by a SCOBY – a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast – which converts the sugar to very low levels of alcohol, as little as 0.2 percent by volume. By comparison, beer can be around 5 percent and a red wine can be as high as 15 percent. Kombucha often has the same alcohol content as orange juice that has been left out too long.
After the yeast converts the sugar to alcohol, the bacteria degrades it to B vitamins. The result is an unfiltered product with strands of bacteria that can help repair stomach ulcers and help with digestion.
“Although it’s very acidic, it alkalizes when consumed and restores pH balance to the body,” Steensland said.
It took him about seven months to tool the recipe to make sure to keep the alcohol levels below 0.5 percent.
“That was the most time-consuming factor was getting our bacteria-to-yeast ratio low enough in our final ferment,” he said. After he got that dialed in, getting the proper licenses to open a commercial kombucha operation was fairly simple. “If you have your recipe down, it’s just a matter of jumping through a few hoops.”
He found a simple commercial space in central Kennewick, and now is busy filling it with fermentation tanks and getting ready to gear up his local wholesale business. Flavors in the tanks now include kid-friendly apple and grape.
The past decade has been big for kombucha, with national sales hitting $400 million in 2014, according to one report. Last year, Pepsi got in on the action, buying kombucha producer KeVita for $200 million.
Steensland does not plan to open a tasting room or offer direct-to-consumer sales of his kombucha. Instead, he is working on distribution outlets and is in talks with Encore Wellness for Life — a kombucha bar in Kennewick — and the Growler Guys in south Richland. Either business would be able to fill growlers, a popular vessel for craft beers and now wines.
Eventually, he hopes to offer a bottled product, but he isn’t sure the overhead costs are commercially viable.
“We want to get our brand out there before we jump in with both feet and start buying a lot of equipment,” Steensland said.
Family is the basis for his brand. His life partner Lacey Davis helps with operations and marketing. Their children — Angel, Azalea and Gunner — are taste-testers.
While most larger kombucha operations offer up to eight different flavors, Steensland’s initial batch of teas will have up to four choices. The combinations are simple to make by adding flavors to the finished base tea, such as raspberry or strawberry — he’s even toying with a kombucha sarsaparilla, to harken back to old-time saloon days.
Track the availability of this locally made kombucha on Instagram @sfkombucha and on Facebook.