Brewing Up a Love for Kombucha

Heart Beet Organics introducing many Islanders to ancient fermented tea beverage

I have arrived at the epicentre of the Island’s kombucha revolution, located at Heart Beet Organics in Darlington, PEI. The women behind the operation, Verena Varga and Amy Smith, have invited me to their cozy farmstead to learn more about their latest fermentation endeavours.

As Varga serves me a glass of their most popular flavour, ginger, my eyes are drawn to an intriguing wall filled with jars, bowls and tanks of all sizes. She walks me through the process of how tea leaves are transformed into market-ready kombucha. Their passion for this tasty drink is evident from their production set-up and the enthusiasm with which they share the ins and outs of creating the finished product.

Varga and Smith are familiar faces at the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market where they began selling fresh, organic produce a few years ago. The duo’s more recent entry into the world of ferments was a natural, though unanticipated extension of their farming venture and its values, which are rooted in health. With an abundance of vegetables in the fall harvest season and customers seeking nutritious, local food options throughout the year, Varga and Smith began exploring ways to preserve vegetables as value-added products.

photo credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

Already familiar with fermenting foods for their own kitchen, the pair began developing kimchis, fermented goods and sauerkrauts for their market stall. Their ferments proved extremely popular and by times Heart Beet couldn’t keep up with the demand. “We are absolutely thrilled at the response from Islanders, especially when we just began,” said Smith.

Kombucha was an obvious next fermenting foray, and has proven to be a big hit. “The combination of offering something unique to the Market, the health profile of fermenting, and the fermenting process itself led us to the production we have today. It was a natural choice,” Smith said. The kombuchas they sell are flavored with Heart Beet grown produce, such as ginger or lavender, where possible or sourced from other local, organic farmers. Their values around local food, quality produce, and seasonal eating means their kombucha offerings may shift week to week and include flavours such as Blueberry Lemon, Strawberry, Rhubarb, and Apple Spice. Ginger remains a staple each week.

Heart Beet’s kombucha fans are a loyal group, with a vast majority of weekly sales being from repeat customers. Perhaps, in part, it’s the improved digestion that many customers have reported to Smith and Varga that keeps them coming back for more. Kombucha is full of natural probiotics, as are most fermented foods. From a naturopathic health perspective, kombucha is a wonderful pop or alcohol alternative, especially for those trying to limit their sugar intake in 2017.

With a strong customer base and proven product that complements their farm business, Heart Beet is exploring opportunities to expand distribution of its kombuchas retailers and eating establishments across the Island. Most recently, Varga was selected as a finalist in the Food Xcel program, which helps aspiring food entrepreneurs develop their food idea and compete for a grand prize worth $30,000. Regardless of the competition’s outcome, the duo plans to forge ahead with their kombucha development.

photo credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty