Michael Zonfrilli, Bambucha Kombucha, Vista, CA
Q: When did you first discover kombucha?
A: After college I spent a couple years living in southern Oregon on a commune called the Magic Forest Farm. This was in the 1990s before there was a bottle of commercial kombucha on the shelf, so the drum of fermenting tea was a total mystery to me. We didn’t flavor or do secondary fermentation, but just ladled it into cups to drink with our vegan dinners. Years later, working as a chef, my sous chef brought me a bottle of GT’s Trilogy. It blew my head off! I started growing my first modern day SCOBY a week later.
Q: Why did you start your own kombucha company?
A: When teaching at a culinary school in San Diego, I would tell my students that being a chef is great, but in my “next life” I would want to make one product perfectly and sell it. I am fortunate that I was able to find that product in kombucha and quickly realized that I could take flavor pairings inspired from different world cuisines and infuse them into this hippie juice we had been making on the farm many years ago.
Q: What is your favorite flavor of kombucha?
A: GT’s Divine Grape. We decided not to make our own grape flavor, because why mess with perfection!
Q: What is your former/current other life or career?
A: Everything I had learned as a professional chef translated perfectly into commercial kombucha brewing. Fermentation, ingredient sourcing and purchasing, classic flavor pairings, sanitation and food safety, high volume production, knowledge of the hospitality industry and enough connections to get those first kegs out the door. Having a trained palate also helped in balancing taste, flavor, acidity and sweetness which is so important in making a kombucha that has a mainstream appeal.
Q: What is a saying that you live by?
A: Make it nice or make it twice.