On Aug. 7, Boochman Kombucha opened a tiny taproom in a former computer repair store on University Avenue in West Berkeley, becoming the first dedicated kombucha bar in the Bay Area. It’s a little hard to believe, with the fizzy, fermented beverage on the ascendant. These days, you can find bottles — sometimes whole refrigerator cases full — of kombucha in almost every grocery store, as well as on tap at a growing number of cafés, restaurants and even co-working spaces. Even Boochman co-founder Denisse Padilla said she and the three business partners were surprised when they realized they’d be opening the first local kombucha bar.
“One day, we had been drinking kombucha at home and thought, it would be nice if there was a kombucha bar,” Padilla said. “We Googled and saw ones in Chicago, Los Angeles, Hawaii and wondered, ‘Why don’t we have one here in the Bay Area?’”
Boochman Kombucha was founded in 2018. The business was started by four friends made up of two sets of siblings. Joining Padilla (age 34) is her brother Jose Padilla (31) and brothers Mustafa (31) and Numan Karabiyik (29). Numan is the kombucha brewer, who the company is named for and whose silhouette stands in front of the Campanile on their logo — he’s their “boochman.”
“In the kombucha industry, a nickname for kombucha is ‘booch,” Padilla explained. Eventually, the three friends started referring to Numan as their boochman. “It became, ‘You’re our boochman because you’re brewing it for us.’”
Numan graduated from culinary school in Turkey, and about four years ago, when he was living in the Bay Area, Denisse asked him if he’d flavor her homemade kombucha. At the time, she was making a batch with a black tea base using a SCOBY (short for “Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast,” the gelatinous, spongey living mother that makes kombucha) she had purchased online, but she decided to ask the budding chef to add the flavorings. Numan added fresh fruits and herbs to the fermented tea, trying new combinations of flavors that weren’t available from store brands. At first, they just shared Numan’s creations amongst friends and family, but they soon realized they had a business on their hands.
Boochman Kombucha started with a booth at the Friday Old Oakland farmers market in October 2018. Now, the business sells at nine farmers markets, including Temescal and Diablo Valley in the East Bay. It can also be found on tap at Ocean View Brew Works in Albany and The Station in Berkeley. Boochman makes its beverages out of two commissary kitchens, one in Berkeley and another Pinole. The founders got the former space on University in February last year with plans to open the taproom there, but it’s taken more than a year to open to the public. According to Padilla, the process was challenging because kombucha is still relatively new in the food permitting world.
“Kombucha is very new and it’s a bacteria, so it’s been really hard with the health department. The paperwork with the state has been a learning process for them. They needed the knowledge of what kombucha is and the benefits of it,” Padilla said. “Now, a lot more people are knowledgeable, but we have to get the kombucha tested for the alcohol level. The testing is done at labs, at multiple labs.”
All kombucha has some amount of alcohol in it. Alcohol is a by-product of the fermentation process. While some kombucha can have as much as 3% alcohol, Boochman flavors hover around 0.01% to .5%
Boochman Kombucha’s low alcohol content is important to all four founders, who are all teetotalers. The Karabiyiks do not imbibe for religious reasons (they are Muslim); Denisse Padilla said she gave up alcohol six years ago, and her brother just never picked up drinking. Since they all live a dry lifestyle, they were interested in opening a taproom for others like them. All ages are welcome at the Boochman Kombucha taproom.
“We don’t go out to bars because there’s nothing really to drink besides water or soda, and we don’t drink soda,” Padilla said. “Our goal was to make people like kombucha enough to let go of soda and other sugary drinks.”
In fact, people who try Boochman kombuchas will notice two things — they’re not very “vinegary” in flavor and they’re far less sweet than most other brands. Aside from wanting to steer consumers away from sugary drinks, Boochman kombuchas are more muted in sweetness because chef Karabiyik prefers savory over sweet.
It takes about a month for Boochman to brew a batch of kombucha. After three weeks of fermentation, the tea is flavored with fresh produce and herbs (rather than extracts and juices), a process that takes another week. Each flavor is fermented in a 5-gallon glass vessel, then flavored in a 5-gallon stainless steel keg. Padilla said this is why Boochman Kombucha has a fresh, rather than vinegar, flavor. Many small-batch kombucha brewers claim to be microbrewers because they start the fermentation in 5-gallon jars, but do the flavoring process in 300-gallon tanks, she said. By using 5-gallon containers throughout the whole process, Boochman is able to control its quality better.
Boochman Kombucha uses mostly organic produce sourced from local farmers market vendors, based on what’s available during the current season. So right now, Boochman offers Strawberry Hops (a good choice for IPA lovers), Currant with Clove (the most popular flavor this season; it reminded us of clove cigarettes), Lavender with Hibiscus and Lemongrass (very floral), Ginger with Sage (the “gateway kombucha,” says Karabiyik), Tamarind (Karabiyik’s favorite, a nod to tamarindo agua frescas, a special request from Denisse and Jose’s father), Cherry Eucalyptus (a bit medicinal) and Peach Lemon Verbena (our favorite that we tasted from this batch). In about a month, Boochman will offer a beverage made with prickly pear and by September, Boochman’s bestseller, Persimmon Rose.
At the taproom, Boochman offers six to 10 rotating flavors by the glass ($4.75) and by the growler ($12.25). But aside from showcasing their kombucha, another reason the founders wanted the bar was it allows them to be more sustainable. Along with kombucha, the taproom has a small food menu that allows them to re-use some of the produce from their kombucha. So the soaked clove-tinged currants, for example, are removed from the kegs after brewing is complete, then dried and made into currant biscotti. And the spent ginger root is incorporated into a dairy-free ginger chocolate mousse. Karabiyik said although the used fruits and vegetables sometimes have a more muted taste, he coaxes out flavors through drying (as in the case of the currants) or adding supplementary ingredients; they also add probiotic properties to the food, a result of a week-long kombucha bath. But more importantly, using what would normally be composted allows the company to get closer to its zero-waste goal.
While the taproom gets its footing, it will serve two food items four days a week (Wednesday through Saturday), but Karabiyik hopes to eventually expand the menu to five or six food options, which combine flavors from his Middle Eastern culture with East Asian influences. All the food will have some sort of fermented ingredient in them. On our visit, the menu included vegetarian mantou sliders with housemade pickles ($11.25) and housemade hummus with pita bread ($5.25). The sliders are a Turkish-inflected take on Chinese steamed buns, filled with miso-flavored lentils and bulgur wheat. The hummus also contains the same housemade miso, giving it a more funky, sour-tart profile.
The taproom is very cozy (read: miniscule), as the kombucha production area takes up most of the storefront. While there are only two small tables inside, an outdoor patio seats about 20. There’s also a window at the taproom, where visitors “can see all the mothers brewing,” Padilla said.
“We did that so people can see what it looks like. We get asked that a lot.”
Boochman Kombucha taproom is open 3-9 p.m., Monday through Tuesday (no kitchen service); 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; closed Sunday. Check the Boochman Kombucha’s website for its farmers market schedule.