The first time Jeremy mentioned grabbing a kombucha on his lunch break, I had to ask him several times to repeat the word before he could proceed in telling me how delightful it was. It was totally foreign to me, but he was in love with it, and has been trying to get me on the kombucha bandwagon in the months since.
Interestingly, his mention of this beverage came at a time in which I’d been trying to better my drinking habits – cutting down on soda and fancy coffee drinks, upping my water intake, and making sure that anything else I sip on contains some kind of added nutritional value rather than simply sugar and artificial ingredients. And you guys, making that transition is hard! It seems like just about everything is filled with absurd amounts of sugar, artificial sweetener, colorings, or other ingredients with no real nutritional value. And, let’s face it: after a time, healthier drinking can get boring.
Finally taking Jeremy’s advice and giving kombucha a try was a major turning point. It gives me that added flavor kick and energy boost I crave from soda and coffee, without the sugar crash and headache an hour or two later. And as it turns out, it has a ton of health benefits and a rather interesting history, too!
We sat down with Robert Johnson of the Fort Wayne based Crossroads Kombucha – which can be found on the shelves of Three Rivers Co-op, Health Food Shoppe, Teds Market, Joseph’s Herbs & Vitamins, and on the new food truck, Head2Hock – to learn more about this tasty and nutritional tea concoction that health coaches and wellness experts swear by.
An interview with Robert Johnson, owner
So, what exactly is kombucha?
“Kombucha is an ancient health drink [which is made] using fermented tea as its base ingredient. As far as we know, it originated in the far east at least 2,000 years ago. Japan, Korea, and China have their own versions of it, and several eastern European nations have their own variations as well. It gained traction on the west coast – primarily California – in the 1990s, and has slowly made its way across the country as the health food craze has taken off over the last few years.”
What are some of the health benefits that may come from incorporating this drink into our diets?
“Kombucha is a probiotic-rich drink, so it’s naturally great for gut health and digestion. It’s also high in antioxidants, gives a natural energy boost, and many say it increases mental focus due to the nutrients found within. For myself, it even stopped some arthritis [and] tendonitis pain I had in my wrists for two or three years due to the natural glucosamines found within the drink.”
Learn more about the health benefits of kombucha here.
How did you get into kombucha and what inspired you to start Crossroads Kombucha?
“My wife and I stumbled across kombucha a couple of years ago. Although we loved the idea – a naturally bubbly flavored tea that’s also healthy for you – we were sort of put off by the strong, almost vinegar taste. We kept drinking it though, as it made us feel wonderful and helped us in our quest to ditch soft drinks for good. Still, there was something a little off-putting with the taste, so we decided to try our hand at the process, focusing on our own palettes and what we wanted to get from each serving. After some trial and error, we created a base recipe that worked for us and realized we had something special. After keeping it to ourselves for a while, we tested some bottles out with friends and co-workers. To our surprise, it was a hit from the start — we sold 60 bottles within our first three hours of making it available to them.
So then came the dilemma: how far do we pursue it? We rolled the dice, made it an official business, and chose a name (recommended by a friend) that represented where we live – Indiana being “The Crossroads of America.” We started out delivering to homes, workplaces, and parking lots with the intent to do the Fort Wayne farmers’ markets once the spring of 2016 arrived. We decided to take another chance and pitched our product to some local retail stores, just to see what the interest would be for the future. We ended up adding six locations within the first couple of months as a baby business, so we decided to stick to the retail route instead of the farmers’ market circuit.”
What’s process like in producing your kombucha – from coming up with a flavor idea to getting it on the shelf?
“Each 16 oz. bottle takes around two weeks to produce. There’s a period where we ferment the tea and a shorter period where we flavor it. What sets us apart from many other brands is what kind of tea we use as our base. Instead of going with the typical black tea found in many national brands, we use a combination of green tea and matcha powder. This tends to give our flavors a purer, cleaner taste according to many of our loyal customers. We also flavor with real fruit and herbs instead of ‘real fruit juice’ as is the most common route among national brands.
As far as flavor combinations go, we prefer to stick with fruit that’s readily available in the region for at least six months out of the year. We like to combine unique flavors to offer something different than the run of the mill obvious choices. Much of the inspiration for these choices came from our years living in Southeast Asia and the cuisine you find in that part of the world. We think they’re pretty good!”
What has the experience been like, starting this business in Fort Wayne? How has the city responded?
“We really couldn’t be any more pleased. Fort Wayne is such a locally-focused and health-conscious city – which also happens to be in the middle of farmland – so the process of building Crossroads Kombucha has been fairly simple. From day one, we were received with open arms and excitement by the customers who found us by word of mouth and the businesses who’ve chosen to carry us. I don’t think there’s ever been a difficult patch along the way, barring store shortages as we were growing from week to week.”
Speaking of stores – where can we find your product now, and what are your plans for the future?
“As of today, we’re in various locations across six cities in Northeast Indiana. We plan on adding to this number greatly once spring 2017 arrives. Within Fort Wayne, we can be found at Three Rivers Co-op, Health Food Shoppe, Teds Market, Joseph’s Herbs & Vitamins, and on the new food truck, Head2Hock.
We think [the future] looks great! We’re growing steadily, mostly due to word of mouth, and one of our 2017 goals is to push further outside of Fort Wayne as growth permits. We’d still love to partner with one or two local restaurants, but our big focus this year will be expanding outward.”
For those who are brand new to the world of kombucha – what Crossroads Kombucha flavors would you recommend?
“Most newcomers start with one of our three bestsellers: Strawberry Basil, Blueberry Sage, or Blackberry Mint. Those are great places to start!”
And for those craving a bolder, more unique taste?
“One of my own favorites happens to be Apricot Ginger, which is on hiatus now until June or so. It has quite a unique taste – sweet and tangy with a great spicy kick at the end. We should be reintroducing Cinnamon Peach by February as well, which is another unique choice.”
How often would you recommend drinking kombucha? A serving a day? More?
“For newcomers, I tend to recommend no more than half a bottle (8 oz.) per day. Being a probiotic drink with green tea, matcha powder, and real fruit, a whole bottle might run through you pretty quickly. As you drink kombucha more, a bottle per day is a great addition to any diet.”
How can those interested stay connected and up-to-date with Crossroads Kombucha?
We’ve been sipping on some of Crossroads Kombucha’s offerings over the past couple of weeks and cannot say enough about how excellent their product is! It’s been a bit difficult for me to find a kombucha I love because I’m not a fan of the bitter, vinegary taste that many of them contain. I don’t get that from a single one of the Crossroads Kombucha options I’ve tried. They taste smooth and clean, and the pairing of ingredients ensures they’re bursting with flavor!
Here are some of our favorites:
Are you a kombucha fan? We’d love to hear what your favorite flavors are!
Crossroads Kombucha can be found at Three Rivers Co-op, Health Food Shoppe, Teds Market, Joseph’s Herbs & Vitamins, and Head2Hock. Stay up-to-date with their latest happenings over on Facebook and Instagram!
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