ROCHESTER - About five years ago, Matthew Jewison didn't even know what kombucha was. The same went for Mark Martincek, who discovered kombucha — a fermented tea brewed for weeks at a time — about seven years ago.
The duo grew from kombucha fans to zealots over the years, making their own flavors and giving out samples to friends and family. Now they're ready to take their passion to the next level by opening Rochester's first commercial kombucha brewery.
"As somebody who's a huge fan of kombucha, I thought that that'd be something that a town this size kind of deserves," Jewison said.
They plan to renovate a 1,500-square-foot space next to the Anytime Fitness that Jewison owns at 4181 31st Av. NW. into Kowabucha Kombucha. If all goes well, the brewery will be up by the end of the year and its kombucha will be available at local shops by next summer.
Like many others, Jewison and Martincek sought out kombucha for health-related reasons. Both tried it for help with stomach issues and got hooked.
It's a common tale for kombucha lovers. The drink, thought to have originated in China centuries ago, gained popularity in the United States in the 1990s. Many kombucha fans have gone from brewing their own at home to successful commercial operations, and market analysts at Technavio estimate kombucha will become a $3.6 billion global industry by 2026.
Kombucha is brewed with tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast, and left to ferment for more than a week at a time. Brewers add juices and flavors during a second round of fermentation.
Proponents swear by its health benefits; kombucha's ingredients are probiotic, meaning it encourages healthy gut cells if the drink is properly brewed. Yet few studies have been done to confirm kombucha's effects, and Mayo Clinic researchers say homebrewed kombucha can be harmful if brewed in a contaminated space, resulting in upset stomachs, allergic reactions and even infections.
That's one of the reasons why Jewison and Martincek take care when brewing their own kombucha. They met four years ago while snowboarding at Spirit Mountain in Duluth, and Martincek showed Jewison ways to improve his brewing.
They started selling their own kombucha last December, naming it Kowabucha Kombucha and securing a cottage license to sell their flavors at the Rochester Farmers Market this spring.
Jewison and Martincek soon found they couldn't keep up with demand. At most they can brew 20 gallons every two weeks, but it keeps selling out.
"We have an awesome following," Martincek said. "People have come to us once at the farmers market and then they've never stopped."
That's when Jewison thought of the extra space near the gym. There, the two plan to ramp up production to 50 gallons every two weeks.
Kowabucha Kombucha will formally launch with four flavors, though the two suspect their red cactus pear will continue to be their bestseller. They have high hopes for the business, ranging from installing a seasonal tap to working with local businesses on custom flavors and even hosting kombucha brewing classes.
"You could do just about anything with kombucha," Martincek said. "You could make snacks out of the yeast culture, in an edible form like fruit leather or gummy snacks. There's so much you can do with it, and I love that part about it."