Capital Kombucha Brews Up D.c.'s First Probiotic Tea (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Transcripts

Capital Kombucha Brews Up D.C.'s First Probiotic Tea

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:08
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and this week we are bringing you our annual "Down the Hatch" show where we dish about cuisine in the national capital region. In just about we'll hit the Ocean City boardwalk and here why a member of a famous seafood family is opening a vegan restaurant. But first...

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:26
All right, so here we are in Northeast D.C. the NoMa neighborhood.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:30
We'll take a little stroll...

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:31
Walking on L Street turning up Congress...

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:33
To what's being called...

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:34
There it is.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:35
…Washington's first food incubator.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:38
Coming up to Union Kitchen.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:40
Roughly two dozen startup companies operate inside the 7,300 square foot warehouse and among is a new beverage business...

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:46
Hello.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:47
...cofounded by this guy.

MR. ANDREAS SCHNEIDER

00:00:48
I'm Andreas.

SHEIR

00:00:49
Nice to meet you.

SCHNEIDER

00:00:49
Nice to meet you too.

SHEIR

00:00:51
Are you drinking Kombucha?

SCHNEIDER

00:00:52
No, I'm drinking coffee. We're going to be drinking a lot of Kombucha over the next couple of hours.

SHEIR

00:00:57
Kombucha is a 2,000 year old drink made from fermented sweetened tea and Andreas Snyder opened D.C.'s very first Kombucha brewery, Capital Kombucha, with two of his buddies from business school at George Washington University.

SHEIR

00:01:10
The guys just graduated this summer.

SCHNEIDER

00:01:12
I figured we'd start just by giving you a tour of the place.

SHEIR

00:01:15
That would be great.

SCHNEIDER

00:01:16
Kind of see it and then...

SHEIR

00:01:17
Snyder walks me through the various workspaces inside Union Kitchen including his own.

SCHNEIDER

00:01:21
This is our area so the fermentations happening inside these tents.

SHEIR

00:01:25
The tents are actually miniature greenhouses covered with blue zip-up rain tarps to block out the light.

SHEIR

00:01:32
So what's happening in there?

SCHNEIDER

00:01:33
Okay, you want to take a peek in?

SHEIR

00:01:34
I don't want to screw up the light situation.

SCHNEIDER

00:01:37
We can peek in just for a minute.

SHEIR

00:01:40
Inside each tent are rows of white plastic barrels each containing sweetened tea with an added Kombucha culture or "mother" as it's called.

SHEIR

00:01:48
Wow it's warm in there.

SCHNEIDER

00:01:49
Yes, they like it around 80, 90 degrees.

SHEIR

00:01:51
As the "mother culture" digests the sugar in the tea a "baby culture" is produced also known by the acronym SCOBY, that's spelled "S"...

SCHNEIDER

00:01:59
Symbiotic...

SHEIR

00:02:00
"C"...

SCHNEIDER

00:02:00
...depending on who you talk to, colony, collection or community.

SHEIR

00:02:04
"O"...

SCHNEIDER

00:02:04
...of...

SHEIR

00:02:05
B-Y.

SCHNEIDER

00:02:05
...bacteria and yeast.

SHEIR

00:02:06
As fermentation continues the SCOBY grows. Eventually you tap the liquid retaining some of it for your subsequent batch of Kombucha. Now, for a long time in the United States Kombucha was primarily a home-brewed thing. But over the past decade or so it's gone more mainstream. So now you can find it in all sorts of flavors.

SCHNEIDER

00:02:24
Up until now we've sold four, the basil lemon grass, the mango chili, the ginger and the mint lime.

SHEIR

00:02:28
Kombucha is known for its effervescent quality, its probiotic properties and as Andreas Snyder knows all too well, it's sometimes funky taste.

SCHNEIDER

00:02:39
I grew up in upstate New York on a small organic farm. It was on the farm that I first learned about Kombucha, so my dad introduced me to it. During the summers he'll spend like hours on the track making hay, like, it's hot and he gets thirsty. Then one summer he'd transitioned to Kombucha. So I came home from college and he's like, you've got to try this stuff.

SHEIR

00:02:59
What was your initial reaction when you tasted it?

SCHNEIDER

00:03:01
"This stuff tastes awful." I'm like, "this is really horrible and I don't like it."

SHEIR

00:03:07
And that's the thing, Snyder says. Like wine, beer and yogurt, Kombucha is, of course, fermented so it can sometimes have this sharp, sour taste and smell. But after Snyder tried this curious concoction he began meeting people who'd say gulp it down to recover from a tough workout or to detox the morning after throwing a few sheets to the wind.

SCHNEIDER

00:03:27
And so I was like this is a really interesting product if my dad's into it, if these friends who, you know, go out all the time are into it. There's something here, it's obviously speaking to people and if the only thing holding it back is that the taste is a little weird maybe I can figure out how to make it taste better.

SHEIR

00:03:42
So in 2011 Snyder teamed up with GW classmates John Lee and Dan Liebermann (sp?) and they began experimenting with different flavor varieties, fermentation times and carbonation levels.

SHEIR

00:03:53
Clearly you're using your MBA savvy because it's a new business but there's a lot of science and chemistry, biology even it seems.

SCHNEIDER

00:03:59
Yes, the MBA skills we're probably using the most are adaptability and problem solving but it's definitely not just number crunching which I think is what we like about it. We've had to, you know, interview chemists and biologists to learn how this fermentation stuff works and through a lot of practice and a lot of research, a lot of trial and error, we think we're getting good at it.

SHEIR

00:04:19
They also seem to be getting more popular. You can now buy Capital Kombucha at nearly 60 stores around the region and just this week the guys added new flavors to their repertoire, Coconut Water, Cucumber Melon, Cherry Blossom, Peach and Strawberry.

SHEIR

00:04:33
I love that you're using local strawberries.

SCHNEIDER

00:04:36
Yes, absolutely. We do all of our ingredient sourcing through D.C. Central Kitchen. In addition to the soup kitchen and reintegration and job training they also run a produce whole-selling business and we want to keep our money in the community and love working with them and love their relationships they've built with local growers.

SHEIR

00:04:54
Speaking of local, Andreas Schneider prides Capital Kombucha for being one of the first kombucha breweries on the east coast.

SCHNEIDER

00:05:01
The two largest kombucha producers in the country right now are both based out of L.A. and the people who drink it tend to be younger, active, in to healthy food, into experimenting kind of unique tastes, exploring food.

SCHNEIDER

00:05:15
And it got me thinking, if something can catch on with all these people, let's see if these folks live in D.C. and they do. I mean, we're a young city, one of the youngest cities in the country. We're one of the healthiest cities in the country consistently and so we kind of thought there's no reason why there can't be a local brewery here and there really should be.

SHEIR

00:05:31
Schneider says he and his partners hope to eventually distribute Capital Kombucha across the country. They're also widening their product line, starting with mint-lime kombucha sorbet, made in partnership with local gelateria Dolcezza. During my visit to Union Kitchen I get a sneak peek and taste.

SCHNEIDER

00:05:49
This is actually the initial batch we produced with them and that's part of our plan to make sure people have kombucha at and after every meal of their day. Put it in a smoothie, protein shake after gym.

SHEIR

00:06:01
What can't you do with Kombucha? Maybe put it in cereal.

SCHNEIDER

00:06:05
I'm not, you know, never say never.

SHEIR

00:06:09
Capital Kombucha will release that new Kombucha sorbet in just a few days during Eat Local First week. You can find more information plus a cocktail recipe for a Kombucha Dark and Stormy by visiting our website, metroconnection.org.
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