Q&A with Courtney Lorenz, owner of Cultured Ferments

Started just three years ago selling kombucha in stalls in the Midland Area Farmer’s Market and a couple in Traverse City, Courtney Lorenz of Cultured Ferments has rapidly grown to be one of the most popular, privately-owned makers of kombucha in Michigan. We caught up with the owner of this completely female-operated business, who’s jars you might recognize from around town on how she got her start, her favorite uses and how sustainably she runs the business.

Q: How did you get your start brewing kombucha?

I started about seven years ago brewing as a hobby. I had volunteered on a farm throughout college and the farm gave me a crop share as payment. One time when produce was low, they gave me the culture to brew kombucha and I made a one-gallon batch. Shortly after I was hooked!

From the business end, I was going to school to be a dietician, but the traditional food pyramid material and content just wasn’t resonating with me. I ended up switching my major to entrepreneurship and with brewing as a hobby, I finally took the plunge and put my passion to work.

Q: Can you give us a simple explanation of what it is and what to expect for those who may not have had it before?

A: Sure! Kombucha is a lightly effervescent fermented drink of sweetened tea that is created by live cultures of bacteria and yeast, commonly known as a SCOBY, which stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. Another common name for the SCOBY is “the mother”.

For taste and mouth feel, it is tart, a bit sweet and slightly bubbly.

Q: You’ve grown tremendously over the last couple of years, what’s been the biggest challenge?

A: We are completely self-funded and haven’t taken on any major financing, so one of the challenges is making sure we grow at a pace that allows us to balance cash flow and the demands of the business. Another challenge would be self-care, as running a business makes for many competing demands and can lead to not getting to enjoy downtime, friends, family, etc.

Q: Speaking of growth, how many places can you find Cultured in Midland? And in Michigan?

A: In Midland you can find us in Midland at our retail partners that include Live Oak Coffee, The Loch Coffee Company, Eastman Party Store and Nature’s Gift Organic Market as well as a few places in the Tri-Cities like Harless + Hugh Coffee in Bay City and Grains and Greens in Saginaw.

In just under three years, we’ve grown to have over 110 retail partners across Michigan, which has really been a blessing!

Q: That is a tremendous amount of growth! Can you translate that into volume for us?

A: It’s been quite drastic. We first starting brewing with three to five gallon jars and now we have 12 stainless steel tanks where can brew 2,000 gallons or 62 barrels at any given time.

We try to be as sustainable as possible as well. We compost everything we can and usually only generate one 15-gallon bag of trash each month. All of our SCOBY and other spent material goes to farmers for composting in the local Traverse City area, where we brew.

Q: What else can you do with kombucha other than just drink it plain?

A: Yes! There is so much else you can do with your kombucha! It makes a great post-workout drink and it’s a great way to cut sugar from mixed beverages. For summer, we like using it with fruit to make popsicles and you can cook with it too! We like marinating vegetables it for a bit of extra flavor and it’s especially great as a meat marinade and very good at breaking down some of the proteins in meat.

My favorite use has to be as a cocktail mixer, for so many reasons! It’s a great way to cut calories and sugar from mixed drinks and get a good balance of health benefits while you’re at it too. Some great combinations for cocktails are Cultured Botanical Bliss in a gin and tonic and Genuine Ginger goes great in a Moscow Mule!

Q: Are there any new flavors we can expect for 2018?

A: We have a new flavor coming out very shortly, it’s called Yooperberry and it is made with Michigan huckleberries, saskatoon and basil. We are really excited to launch it soon and it’s one of the most colorful of our teas yet!

Q: What’s your favorite variety currently?

A: Botanical Bliss is my current favorite. The blend of jasmine, lavender and rose are very subtle and mix well together!
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