.Farm to Bottle

Living Swell serves up all-local, all-organic kombucha

What is it with Santa Cruz and kombucha? The fizzy, fermented tea that seems to have transcended from hippie style beverage into hip way of life. Walk into any local cafe, yoga studio, or farmer’s market, and you’ll likely see shelves lined with colorful bottles, or served up pint-sized on draft.

For starters, our commitment to organic, sustainable living aligns perfectly with the ethos of kombucha. With an abundance of organic farms, co-ops, and farmers markets, Santa Cruz provides the perfect environment for sourcing the high-quality, organic ingredients needed to brew the perfect batch of kombucha.

Does the dream live up to the reality? Is kombucha all it’s cracked up to be? The answer, as I recently learned, depends upon your goals.

First, a bit of background on the drink in question. Thought to originate in China or Japan, kombucha is made by adding specific strains of bacteria, yeast and sugar to black or green tea and then allowing it to ferment for a week or more.

The eventual result is a liquid containing health compounds like vinegar, B vitamins and many other types of acids, including amino acids.

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So far so good, but a conversation with Sophie Slosberg from Living Swell Kombucha—the local brewer honored in Good Times’ Best of Santa Cruz County issue multiple years running—reveals that there’s more to the story. Living Swell is a small-batch “farm to bottle” company founded in 2021 by Slosberg and partner Summer Torrez, two Santa Cruz moms with previous careers in occupational therapy and law.

This shift from the office to a garage-based home brewery sounds stark, but the pandemic created a powerful craving for connection and community that was hard to ignore.

The co-founders, who are also neighbors, launched the business “in the hopes of bringing people together through a delicious and nourishing beverage, literally strengthening our community from the inside out.”

I caught up with Slosberg recently at the Pleasure Point Sip and Stroll, where she was pouring Living Swell’s Blue Crush Blend, flavored with Santa Rosa plum, blueberries and lavender. It was light and refreshing, less sweet than some of the commercial brands. Curious, I got right to the point: What makes Living Swell so good?

Without throwing anyone under the bus, I learned how local ingredients, fresh fruit and herbs make for a far different taste than “store bought” brands. And more surprisingly, most larger producers use an average of 5% to 20% real kombucha, which is then mixed with sweet tea, sugar or juice.

Living Swell, on the other hand, is made with 100% kombucha—an important difference for those seeking the health benefits this drink is known for.

In their quest to source local produce, Slosberg and Torrez get a chance to work with farmers directly.

With so many kombucha brands on the market, it’s hard to stand out. As a regular presence at Live Oak and Cabrillo farmers markets, Living Swell helps customers make the connection between local growers and the blends they serve up fresh from the tap as part of their commitment to low-waste, sustainable business practices.

For Slosberg and Torrez, the farmers markets are a constant source of creativity. They say the fun is in shooting ideas back and forth, making test batches for family and friends, and then finagling the recipe until it tastes great.

They stay inspired based on the seasons, and the produce. As we part ways, Slosberg wonders out loud about a root veggie at peak flavor right now: “Carrots, what can we do with carrots?” No doubt another visit to Living Swell at the weekend market will supply the answer to that question.

Learn more at livingswellkombucha.com.

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