Bambucha Kombucha—Brewer Q&A

Based in: San Diego, CA
Founded: 2016
Distribution: San Diego, CA

Even though we've tried hundreds of different flavors of booch over the years,  we're still constantly pleasantly surprised by new discoveries. Bambucha, which launched in 2016, has definitely surprised us.

These are dynamic, but approachable flavors. Hibiscus Rose is quite dry with a nice sharp bite and lime rosey finish. There's also a touch of ginger in there, which gives it a subtle kick. With Sicilian Sunrise, the anise and fennel hit you first and then the sweetness of orange floats in. This is like a probiotic, low-sugar and far more unique alternative to your morning OJ.  Fun fact: Bamboocha means "really big" in Hawaiian slang. Read on for more fun facts in our exclusive Q&A with founder Michael Zonfrilli.

Kombucha Hunter: Tell us about how you developed your current flavors.
Michael Zonfrilli:
We were working to perfect our flavors for a year prior to going commercial. As classically trained chefs, my partner
Steven Strupp and I took inspiration from various world cuisines and time tested flavor pairings. Our Mango Masala, for example, is inspired by the Ayurvedic uses of spices in an Indian spice blend and the common use of mango in Indian cuisine. And our Sicilian Sunrise utilizes the incredible Italian pairing of fennel and orange.

KH: When did you first get the idea to start a kombucha brand, and what was the inspiration?
Michael: My first exposure to kombucha brewing was on a communal farm in southern Oregon about 25 years ago. This was before any brands had come to market, and it was just an extension of the vegetarian health foods being eaten during shared meals. We didn’t do secondary fermentation or flavor it, but just ladled it into cups and choked it down. It made us feel good, but it didn’t taste great. When I first tried a bottle of commercial kombucha years later, I got inspired to start brewing again and take everything we learned as chefs to make kombucha into the great tasting craft beverage it has the potential to be. When our flavors were tasting better than anything on the market, we decided to start the brand.

KH: The kombucha category has grown so much in the last year; how did you approach marketing your product, being a new brand?
Yes, it is unbelievable how kombucha and the whole functional beverage market is just blowing up. Our marketing so far has been pretty grass roots and we have been growing at a controlled pace as we scale up production and distribution. We are an artisanal craft producer and wanted to make sure we could maintain premium quality as our batches got bigger. Our packaging pretty much went from Vistaprint stickers on random bottles to our current design. We are very happy how they turned out, but will be tweaking design after we get through the organic certification process.

KH: What have been some challenges that you encountered as commercial kombucha brewers, and on the flipside, do you feel like you had any advantages going into this venture?
Michael: We face challenges every day! Some are inherent to business startups in general and some are kombucha-specific. We are dealing with a living tea that grows and changes based on different factors, and if not cared for properly they can get out of control pretty quickly. On the flipside, we do have a clear advantage with our combined experience in the food and beverage business. We know how to work efficiently and produce with tight controls and discipline. My partner is also a very skilled beer brewer and a lot of that translated directly to producing kombucha.

Being involved with the hotel and restaurant business for so long also gives us insight into the needs of the people and companies we are selling to. For instance, we are really pushing our customers to use our flavors in cocktails, or “boochtails” as we lovingly call them. Any way to increase revenue from our kombucha is a win for us and our customers.

KH: Any words of wisdom for home-brewers who are contemplating going commercial?
It is much more difficult than we ever thought possible! There are so many moving parts and the more you grow, so do the expenses. It really is a volume play, and to be financially successful you need to be cranking it out. As far as words of wisdom, work clean and ridiculously sanitary, keep your PH low, and make a product you believe in.