Kombucha, pronounced kom-boo-CHA, may not be on the tip of every Chattanoogan's tongue — but Zach and Karen Atchley hope to change that.
The husband and wife make the tangy, fizzy fermented tea that's touted for its health benefits at their business, Blue Indian Kombucha, inside a storefront in Olde Town Brainerd, just east of the Missionary Ridge Tunnels.
The key to making kombucha is a SCOBY, or symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. It's a blobby, leathery, gelatinous disk that floats inside a vat of sugary tea. The SCOBY's yeast consumes sugar in the tea and produces alcohol, Zach Atchley said, and the SCOBY's bacteria consumes alcohol to produce organic acids thought to aid human digestion.
Their kombucha is lab-certified to contain less than 0.5 percent alcohol, so it's not subject to alcohol laws.
The Atchleys start by brewing a concentrated white tea to which they add organic sugar. The sugary concentrated tea is diluted with water, and it's poured into 55-gallon and 110-gallon containers — and one Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey barrel.
Covered with a cotton cloth, the SCOBY works on the sugary tea. Eventually, they drain of 5 gallons of kombucha from the big drums, so flavoring can be added and a secondary fermentation can take place.
Some of their popular kombucha flavors are blueberry ginger, blackberry sage and strawberry lime.
"We specialize in pairing fruits with herbs," Karen Atchley says.
Once it's ready, the 5-gallon batch is poured into a Cornelius keg, a cylindrical keg that commonly was used in soda fountains, until bags of syrup took the fore in the soda fountain business. The kegs go into a walk-in cooler, where they're forced carbonated to ensure that the kombucha is fizzy.
The Atchleys sell growlers to hold their kombucha, but will fill any container from their kegs, as long as the container is clean and shows its capacity.
"We will never bottle," Zach Atchley says. "We're a zero-waste company."
The Atchleys started selling their kombucha, which retails for 30 cents an ounce, in 2014 at the seasonal Brainerd Farmers Market near Grace Episcopal Church on Brainerd Road and plowed the profits back into the business. They've expanded to sell it elsewhere, including the Main Street Farmers Market held Wednesdays from 4 to 6 p.m. at 325 E. Main St., during the warmer months.
The Atchleys, who have two young daughters, started their business with an initial investment of about $2,500 and a SCOBY given to them by their midwife's assistant.
The Atchley's kombucha has caught on.
Heaven & Ale, a craft beer tasting room and growler store at 304 Cherokee Blvd., blends beer with Blue Indian Kombucha to make "beer-bucha." And Blue Indian Kombucha us available on tap at The Edney Innovation Center, a 10-story office building downtown at Market and 11th streets, as a perk for the people who work there.
Blue Indian Kombucha is named after the song "Blue Indian" by the jam band Widespread Panic. The song was the first that the couple danced to together when they dated, it was their first dance as a married couple, and the lyrics also provided the company's motto, "Keep your spirit fed."