Kombucha, a fizzy sweet-and-sour drink made with tea, has been around for nearly 2,000 years. It was first brewed in China and then spread to Japan and Russia, and became popular in Europe in the early 20th century. Sales in the United States are on the rise because of its reputation as a health and energy drink.
For local business owner Emily Mellgard, her company, Fieldstone Kombucha, began as a personal passion project.
“I was introduced to the fabulous beverage that is kombucha by a friend of mine,” said Mellgard. “She made it on her kitchen counter and drank it with her family for its immune system-boosting properties. Kombucha was love at first taste for me, there in her kitchen.
“When I returned home, I bought some in the store, took an eager gulp, and nearly spit it out. Whereas my first taste of kombucha had been light, effervescent, slightly sweet and smokey, this store-bought bottle was nearly vinegar and carbonated to taste like soda, which masked whatever flavors there may have been. I decided then that I would make my own kombucha because I wanted to drink the good stuff.”
Mellgard’s passion became a business when demand for it among family and friends outgrew what she could produce in her own kitchen and out of her own pocket. She found that other people wanted an alternative to what they found on the grocery store shelves as well. But, getting a new business up and running is a daunting task, and she knew she’d need help and guidance.
“While the ultimate responsibility of the business is mine, a host of mentors, family, and friends have made it possible to build. I do not have an entrepreneurial or business background, so when I decided to build my kombucha-making into a business, I spoke with other local business owners and beverage producers,” she said. “When I launched the business and increased production, my mother, who had been my chief taste-tester, came on as my informal assistant brewer. My Dad and fiancé are always willing to help me build a new tool or piece of equipment, and to make trips with me to collect materials. I couldn’t do it without them.”
Mellgard also credits the EforAll mentoring organization. As part of the 2020 Summer Business Accelerator program, she ended up winning first place in the end-of-program presentations.
“The program was essentially a super-condensed, incredibly practical, business certificate. The program, and particularly my team of mentors, helped me professionalize my business, bring in structures, and plan for the future.”
There are only three ingredients in kombucha at its base: tea, sugar and a kombucha culture (existing kombucha). Within those three ingredients, she said, is an entire world of experimentation, individuality, and fun.
“You can use a myriad of different teas (though avoid teas flavored with essential oils, as they can hinder the process). Many kombucha brewers use black, green, or a combination of the two. I use a black and white tea combination for most of my kombucha. I prefer the taste to green tea.”
The fermentation process is similar to that of beer or wine making. The sugar feeds the fermentation process (like barley in beer, and natural sugars in grape juice for wine). Most of it is consumed by the yeast during the primary fermentation. The third ingredient is kombucha. Like yogurt, kombucha is a culturing fermentation. This means a culture of existing end products is needed to introduce the microorganisms (yeast and bacteria) that work through the new tea, consuming and altering it into kombucha.
The potential benefits of kombucha are said to vary from help with digestion and ridding the body of toxins to boosting the immune system and helping with weight loss. There have been claims that kombucha helps with, or even cures, everything from cancer to diabetes. There is currently no scientific findings to support this, advocates claim kombucha is still a delicious and healthy supplement for a healthy body.
“As a kombucha brewer and business owner, I need to be very careful of the claims I make about my kombucha,” said Mellgard. “What is established science is that raw kombucha is a good source of probiotics and can help maintain a healthy immune system.”
Mellgard sources many of her ingredients from local farms and seasonally rotates flavors to take advantage of the most delicious and freshest ingredients in the fields. She grows as many ingredients as she can, such as beets and many of the herbs and even started a berry orchard this year to grow blueberries, raspberries, elderberries and goji berries. The tea and sugar are sourced organically.
“My flavors are also inspired by New England farms and produce,” she said. “Each year I’ve expanded the flavoring. It’s one of my favorite parts of the business.”
The spring line up at Fieldstone Kombucha includes Garden Blush (strawberry rhubarb), Crimson Dawn (earthy beet), Farm Dreams (spicy ginger), and Golden Hour (turmeric with ginger). Summer brings Baby Bandit (blueberries, raspberries, and thyme), Botanical (the whole herb garden), Summer Nights (smoke and lavender), and Snow Birds (red currant and mint). Autumn brings Traditions (spiced apple), Harvest Moon (pumpkin), Bog Witch (cranberry rosemary), and Firefly (cranberry with hot peppers).
Mellgard began selling kombucha in mid-December 2019. When the pandemic shut everything down in March, she was active in only one farmers market and had lost her market to gyms and yoga studios.
“COVID-19 caused a major pivot in my plans,” she recalled. “I introduced home deliveries and signed up for local delivery services like What’s Good and Farm Fresh RI to keep me going. It was a difficult year, even when I had nothing to compare it to. Without previous years’ sales records to show a drop in revenue, I was ineligible for assistance programs. The business was able to remain viable though thanks to loyal customers and increased interest in local food and drink, and products that boost the immune system.”
As restrictions ease, more people are returning to farmer’s markets, and now that Mellgard has her wholesale license, she’s getting the kombucha into local stores, restaurants, and cafes as they reopen. She is planning a summer full of markets and sales to yoga studios.
“Business is definitely picking up. It’s going to be a very exciting year,” she said.
In fact, she’s hiring for farmers markets and brewing assistance. She’s also looking for any businesses in the Cape and Plymouth area that might be interested in offering the kombucha. They can email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to spreading word about her business, she’s also planning her September wedding.
“Planning a wedding and building an expanding business in the twilight of the pandemic makes for an interesting work life balance,” she said. “Sitting on the back porch at the end of the day with a kombucha cocktail always helps!”
For more information about Fieldstone Kombucha call 508-642-5214; email
Emily@FieldstoneKombuchaCo.com or visit fieldstonekombuchaco.com