Sweet tea is a southern delicacy. But at Natural Juice Cafe, it’s served up a little differently.
The cafe on Limestone Parkway, coming up on five years of business in Gainesville, started selling its homemade kombucha last year. Sales have steadily increased since then and it goes through about 15 gallons each week now, which keeps co-owner Brett Copeland pretty busy.
Natural Juice Cafe
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: 2480 Limestone Parkway, Gainesville
More info: 678-928-4833 ext. 4
“People have really responded to it,” Copeland said. “We’ve been surprised by how popular it’s been.”
The process for making kombucha, a beverage of fermented sweet tea with a culture of yeast and bacteria, is pretty simple. Copeland starts by making a basic sweet tea: sugar, water and tea bags. When that’s made, some of the kombucha from the previous batch is added as an acidifier to help keep the pH-level at the right spot and keep bad bacteria from growing in the mixture.
Then the “mother” is added. It’s also known as the “scoby” which stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.” And it’s exactly what it sounds like. That’s where all the bacteria and yeast make the whole process happen.
“You put that in there and then cover it with a cheese cloth or towel,” Copeland said. “And then leave it open-fermentation, which allows it to not create alcohol.”
When it’s closed up, the mixture starts to do all the work as it begins to ferment, similar to beer. Copeland said the “mother,” with the oxygen, creates astro-bacteria which “eats up” the alcohol and creates the probiotics found in kombucha, which is why a lot of people drink it in the first place.
Copeland said the probiotics are good for gut-health, which can strengthen the immune system. He said kombucha is a good replacement for soda, too, since there’s still the satisfying fizz of a soft drink, but the sugar content is much lower because of the fermentation.
When the batch is done fermenting for seven to 10 days, Copeland pours it into a keg where it’s sealed and sits for another day or two to settle. Finally, the keg is moved to Natural Juice Cafe’s homemade “kegerator” to be served.
“We serve it up as-is,” Copeland said. “But we make a lavender lemonade, too, which we’ll add to it. So it’s like a tea and a lemonade, kind of like an Arnold Palmer, but we call it an Angel Palmer.”
That’s because one of the employees who works at Natural Juice, Angel, came up with the idea to mix the two. Around this time of year, it adds a touch of spring flavor, too.
“I think what makes ours really good is it’s fresh,” Copeland said. “It’s made here, it’s not bottled, it’s not pasteurized. It literally goes from the fermentation to the keg. So when it’s coming out of the tap, it’s got this really sweet, effervescent, lemony flavor to it.”
On its own, Copeland said it has a little bit of a vinegar flavor, but the citrus flavor stands out much more than bottled kombucha drinks.
“It’s one of those things where you’ve got to taste it,” Copeland said. “It’s hard to describe to somebody what it tastes like.”
He said customers love it, though, and as it’s grown in popularity, he’s had to keep making batches of it. There are usually a few batches in the kitchen getting ready to be added to a keg.
“As far as on tap, I think we’re the only one in North Georgia that has it,” Copeland said. “And that’s what we’ve done here, we’ve brought stuff in that you can’t find.”