Awaken Kombucha—Brewer Q&A

Based in: Vero Beach, FL
Founded: 2016
Distribution: Vero Beach, FL

Awaken Kombucha brew with Yerba Maté, but they do something else that's quite unique: They also ferment their tea in oak barrels. We've profiled a few oak barrel kombucha brewers, including LA's Elixirz kombucha (click here for our detailed interview with the founder), and we've learned that it's a very involved but rewarding process. There is something very unique about oak-barrel-brewed kombucha: It's earthy with a nice bite to it.

As Awaken's co-founder Nella points out, "The depth of flavor that the oak barrels provide cannot be matched or duplicated." Read on to learn all about Awaken and their fascinating story of entrepreneurship.

Kombucha Hunter: Could you tell us a bit about your background, and what you did prior to getting into kombucha?
 I was a Massage Therapist in Connecticut, then in 2015 we moved to Maine and then Virginia and I continued that journey until we had our son Zion. We made the leap to Florida 3 months after we had Zion where Massage Therapy was of the past and Kombucha became the main focus.
Noah: The majority of my life, I flip flopped between construction and trying to start my own business. In 2015, we decided to leave everything behind and move to the mountains of Maine, where I became a caregiver. While we lived in Virginia, I helped my father with his logging company.

KH: When did you make the transition from home brewer to commercial brewer, and what inspired the transition?
Nella: Funny as it is we were never home brewers, our friend gave us a scoby 8 years ago, but I forgot about it. Buying GT's kombucha in the stores was much easier. I fell in love with kombucha the minute I started drinking it. I've had stomach ailments since I was a little girl and kombucha was the only thing that gave me relief. I noticed a huge difference in not only my stomach but my whole body. From personal success and experience with kombucha, I knew that I had to share it with the community. 
Noah: While living in Floyd Virginia we met a local kombucha company called TBK kombucha. We formed a close bond with Brad and Kristie Jo, and they showed us some tricks of the trade. Nella and I fell in love with the process and how they were helping their customers. They took us under their wings, and we apprenticed under them until we made our move to Florida in June of 2016.
KH:  Did you start out brewing in oak barrels, and why did you decide to go with oak?
Yes, it's always been oak barrels. From the beginning it's always been our mission to brew the highest quality kombucha. We feel that the oak barrels play a crucial part (along with organic ingredients and conscious infusion) and allow for a higher microbial count (after all microbes love porous wood). The depth of flavor that the oak barrels provide cannot be matched or duplicated. From being almost 2 years in business, we have realized that each oak barrel has its own personality and gives off slight variances in taste.

KH: Do you currently offer your kombucha on tap only? And any plans to bottle?
Yes, right now we keep it only on tap because we feel like it maintains freshness and we have control over the quality. If and when the opportunity presents itself, we will consider bottling, but right now we are happy with being on tap only.

KH: What kind of teas do you use in first ferment, and do you source your second ferment ingredients locally?
It ranges from different organic black teas to organic Yerba Maté to different rooibos teas and herbal blends. We source as many ingredients as we can locally. We are all about supporting local and have many friends that own farms so we like to talk to them, see what they can provide and decide from there. Florida summers are hot and humid and sometimes it's hard sourcing local ingredients.

KH: What have been some of the biggest challenges for you in getting your business up and running?
The most difficult and awesome part about the business is the exponential growth that we are experiencing. At this point it's just Nella and I brewing, kegging, doing the deliveries, managing 5 farmers markets a week and raising a son. (Phew!) 

KH: Any advice for aspiring commercial kombucha brewers?
Noah and Nella:
  Kombucha must be a passion, something that comes from the essence of who you are. You must want to wake up and change the world one stomach at a time. Let the quality of what you do be the foundation of your company. Quality of product must be number one on your list, before expanding, before adding more flavors, before anything. Keep the love and passion at the forefront of your endeavors and you shall find success.