written by Shirley Hancock | photos by Talia Galvin
KOMBUCHA—a fermented tea first sipped by the Chinese in the Qin Dynasty more than 2,000 years ago—is ripe with legend: Did it really give samurai warriors their swag? Was it Ghengis Khan’s on-the-road-again beverage of choice? Did it save the life of gulag-bound Alexander Solzhenitsyn? Here’s a fact: The kombucha market in the United States is exploding, poised for $600 million in sales this year, according to Inc. magazine. One of the most successful brewers is Bend’s Humm Kombucha. Cofounder Jamie Danek credits a twenty-year-old recipe, Bend culture—and “magical fairy dust.”
First, why “humm” and why all the references to fairies?
It’s about accessibility. Our goal is to have a very approachable kombucha you can find anywhere in the world from gas stations to convenience stores to large supermarkets. Humm is a word everyone knows, and it really describes the feeling and vibe of our brewery! And fairies? Well they’re magical, and the vibe around our brewery is magical.
Well, it’s no magic you’re a business success story. How did you go from $2,000 in sales your first year to a multimillion dollar company by the fifth?
First, our price. We wanted to be the most affordable kombucha on the shelf and in easy-to-find places, from Winco to Safeway to ethnic grocery stores, gas stations and convenience stores. Our flavor profile is geared toward the everyday consumer, with flavors like pomegranate-lemonade and coconut-lime. Our custom bottles are colorful and playful. We were the first to put kombucha on tap (at the Humm brewery in Bend) with thirty different mixes. And we pioneered the mini kombucha kegerator (now in more than ten Haggen grocery stores).
What exactly is kombucha and how is yours made?
Kombucha is a living health drink made by fermenting tea and sugar with the kombucha culture, known as a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). The result is a natural, energy-boosting beverage loaded with B vitamins, vitamin C, antioxidants, probiotics, and one-tenth the amount of caffeine you find in a cup of coffee and about five grams of sugar. Ours is a twenty-year-old recipe handed down to my business partner, Michelle Mitchell. We use all organic ingredients, and we source locally and regionally as much as possible.
Your team is textbook “Bend”—cyclists, runners, yoga instructors, entrepreneurs and activists. What’s it like to work at Humm Kombucha?
Our culture, like any, has been greatly influenced by the people who come together to share in a common goal. Our core values of optimism, partnership, quality and healthy business are something we all honor. The Bend spirit certainly is very much alive inside our brewery. Bend is a magical community that really supports local, eclectic ideas. We incorporate Bend in our daily work life, and a few times each week we have snowboard meetings, mountain bike meetings, hiking meetings. It’s also mandatory to take a powder day now and again.
Tell us about your growth and how you’ll use your next round of funding.
In 2009, when we started, most kombucha was expensive and just for the “oovey grooveys” and you had to hold your nose to get it down. We said, “Let’s make it more affordable, taste better, more environmental, on tap and in bulk.” Michelle and I were new to Bend, just two girls in a kitchen brewing this family recipe. We’d post flyers and drive around town, like a milkman, delivering fresh kombucha, people leaving twenty bucks under their doormat. Six months later we had a 1,200-square-foot facility. Two years ago, we decided to go nationwide. We’re thrilled to be in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, San Francisco and, by the end of the year, most of California. The second round of funding will be used for making more tea and hiring really smart people to help with this growth! But we love Bend and have no plans to move. We’re still a woman-owned business, just two girls brewing the same tea.