He didn’t always feel this way, though. “I can’t say I really liked it,” says Warren, recalling the first time he ever tried kombucha. “With store-bought kombucha, you can almost taste how old it is—there’s almost a dustiness to it. But I started drinking it at a time when I was doing a lot of new and healthy things, and I knew it was good for me, so I kept drinking it.”
But soon, Warren thought he might be able to make it better than the big names. So he attended a community workshop where the instructor sent everyone home with a SCOBY starter and a jar, and he quickly started experimenting. At first, it was just for himself. He’d make a gallon every so often, and then two, and then four, and then, before he knew it, demand from his friends was so high that he was hunting down empty gallon-sized plastic pickle containers from local restaurants to fill with the homemade pineapple-ginger kombucha he’d been making out of his closet—surprisingly, the ideal dark, warm environment for brewing. “People were willing to do some pretty shady stuff to get their hands on this kombucha,” he laughs. (Rest assured, his closet brewing days are over.)
The first time Warren realized that his hobby could be a legitimate source of income was when he brought 10 gallons of kombucha to Bethlehem’s first VegFest in 2011 and quickly sold out. The next year, he brought 30 gallons, and that went just as quickly. Fast forward to present day, and his vision of a thriving kombucha business has taken shape. He brews up to 90 gallons a week, which he sells in two sizes—wine bottle and a gallon jug—at five different farmers’ markets throughout the Lehigh Valley. “Most people who love kombucha want to drink some every day, and selling it by the gallon allows people to do that without paying high retail prices for individual bottles,” he explains.
After tasting Warren’s kombucha, it’s easy to see why he’s successful. It’s fresh, flavorful, just sweet enough, and not nearly as vinegary as many of the varieties you’ll find lining grocery store shelves. He uses organic black tea, green tea, and cane sugar to brew his plain kombucha base, then adds purees of local, organic fruits to create each of his nine flavors: pineapple-ginger, strawberry-rhubarb, mango, blackberry, grapefruit, hot pepper-lime, apple-turmeric, cranberry, and peach.
“I get a lot of people at farmers’ markets who tell me they hate kombucha because it’s too harsh or bitter, and then they try mine and don’t understand how it’s so good,” says Warren. “I tell them, everything in the store is old. Try to feed a kid a peach from a grocery store in February and he’ll think it’s gross, but take him to a peach orchard in August and he’ll think it’s amazing. It’s the same concept with kombucha.”
But it’s not just quality and freshness that sets Warren apart. It’s his commitment to getting kombucha into the hands of everyone who wants it. In addition to selling at farmers’ markets, he will deliver kombucha right to your door. He takes orders via Lehigh Valley Kombucha’s Facebook page, and for customers who don’t have Facebook, he sends out about a hundred individual texts listing the current week’s flavors.
“I’m sort of local through and through,” he says when asked if he has any big plans to expand to other regions. “Kombucha gives me this great excuse to interact with people I would otherwise never talk to in my community. If I can get more people in the Lehigh Valley to understand and appreciate what good kombucha is, and to patronize Lehigh Valley Kombucha, I’d be pretty content with that.”