The T in Your Tea

The family behind Fermented Tea Company is spreading the word about kombucha.

January 5, 2016

GleaningsIssue 16: January/February 2016
From left: Todd, Tad, Trenton, and Tracy Sallee, at their Kombucha Café on South Palo Verde and Ajo Roads.

From left: Todd, Tad, Trenton, and Tracy Sallee, at their Kombucha Café on South Palo Verde and Ajo Roads.

Fermented Tea Company is about as family-run as it gets. “We’re the Ts who sell you your tea,” says Todd Sallee. He runs the kombucha company with his wife, Tracy, and their two sons, Tad and Trenton. (Even their pets have names that begin with T.)

Kombucha is fermented tea, lightly carbonated by means of a scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), which digests white sugar and produces carbon dioxide—and the probiotic-rich, slightly sweet drink credited with curing a range of ailments.

Tracy was the one to lead the family into kombucha. “Years ago, Tad got sick, and one of the things we had to do was totally change our diet. We introduced more probiotics, and we got addicted to kombucha.” When that got expensive, Tracy figured there must be a way to make it herself. “I turned Tad’s room into a lab,” she says.

Their scoby is a hybrid of the many commercial varieties Tracy bought online, the product of months of trial and error. “It’s really vigorous and strong,” she says.

After developing a consistent recipe, Tracy approached Manish Shah, the manager of Heirloom Farmers’ Markets, to see if they might sell some of their products at the market. Shah owns Maya Tea Company, and gave the family free rein to experiment with his tea.

Today, all their teas come from Maya Tea Company. Tracy loves the tea—she oohs and ahs over every flavor. “Look, you can even see the flower petals in this one,” she says, nose nearly in the bag.

The first flavor they created was their cuatros amigos [sic], named for the blend of four teas that fill out the flavor. When Shah suggested they brew a kombucha with chai tea—difficult to ferment, because of its high oil content—they jumped on the challenge, producing their popular kombuchai flavor. “It was so flavorful and distinct,” says Tracy. “That was when we realized, we have something special here.”

They opened a kombucha café at the corner of South Palo Verde and Ajo Roads in June of 2015. Since then, they’ve built a base of regular customers who come to the café for their kombucha on tap, coffee bar, and locally baked goods. They still sell the four flavors that began the business—cuatros amigos, kombuchai, prickly pear, and green tea—and are working on a fifth, an herbal cherry blend created especially for Johnny Gibson’s Downtown Market. They brew new batches every week in four 30-gallon tanks, each marked with a colored bandana corresponding to flavor.

Todd still works full-time as a refrigeration technician; Tracy is a nurse at Tucson Medical Center. To accommodate schedules, the family swaps shifts at the café like subs in a basketball game—Trenton is in his second year at the University of Arizona; Tad graduated in 2015.

In addition to coffee and espresso drinks, the café menu includes Italian Kombucha, Kombucha Protein Shake, and a kombucha made from coffee called Joe Bucha. “We’ll ferment everything,” says Todd. In addition to their retail clients, which include Natural Grocers, Whole Foods, Aqua Vita, and the Food Conspiracy Co-op, they also sell their kombucha by the keg to local restaurants—and one bar, the Dusty Monk Pub, which offers a kombucha whiskey cocktail.

“It’s hard to keep the stuff in stock,” says Todd. “Word is getting out about kombucha,” says Tracy.

Find the Fermented Tea Company at the Sunday Heirloom Farmers’ Market at Rillito Park and the Green Valley Farmers’ Market. Bottles cost $4.25 or $16 for a four-pack. ✜

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