The term “kombucha” commonly refers to a fermented beverage produced from a mixture of steeped tea and sugar, combined with a culture of yeast strains and bacteria. There are some kombucha products that have fruit juice or other flavours added during production.
Note that the combination of sugar and yeast triggers fermentation, which may produce a kombucha with an alcohol content of 0.5 percent or more alcohol by volume. In the United States, Kombucha is more or less classified as beer but depending on the method of production it could be classified as a wine.
This is a primary difference which will entail the type of license/permit to apply for, what labelling laws you must follow and whether you will pay excise tax as a beer or wine business, especially when selling your homemade Kombucha at farmers market.
Under federal law, if the alcohol content of kombucha is 0.5 percent or more alcohol by volume, at any time during production, when bottled, or at any time after bottling, the kombucha is an alcohol beverage and is subject to TTB regulations.
To sell your Kombucha at a farmer’s market, a Government Warning statement needs to be on every label. The product is also expected to go through the three-tier system. TTB formula approval is required.
A TTB label approval is not required in most cases, because almost all kombuchas lack the malt and hops typically required for anything to be deemed a “malt beverage.” Instead, the kombucha usually needs to comply with FDA (not TTB) labelling rules to be sold at a farmers market.
When looking to sell kombucha at farmers market, to protect yourself from regulatory action, it’s advisable you produce Kombucha that does not exceed 0.5 percent alcohol by volume at any time during production, storage, transport or retail sale. However, note that the only reliable way to confirm that your product has less than 0.5 percent alcohol is to test it.
Consider testing your finished product at the time of bottling as well as the unpasteurized bottled product after weeks of storage. You may also have to limit the time of sale at Farmers market if the alcohol content rises above 0.5 percent.
In addition, if at any time during the production, storage, or sale, your kombucha exceeds 0.5 percent you will be subject to TTB regulation, regardless of whether you dilute the product prior to sale. Howbeit, for safety and regulatory compliance, the acidity of your product should always be measured.
The measure of acidity is called pH and the most dependable method to measure pH is using a calibrated pH meter. There are inexpensive (less than $100) pH meters that are reliable and accurate. Also, for accurate measurement using a pH meter, it is imperative to follow the pH meter manufacturer instructions for use and calibration.
Steps to Sell Kombucha at Farmers Market in the United States
Kombucha law can be quite tricky in the United States. This fermented tea beverage has been around for thousands of years, but it does not attract too much governmental attention until around 2015. Here are steps to Consider When looking to sell your Kombucha at Farmers Market.
- Decide where you are going to produce your product. Would you produce them out of your inspected home kitchen? Or out of an inspected community or commercial kitchen?
- Familiarize yourself with the regulatory process of starting a Food business in your start. It’s advisable you State Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for more information.
- Test your kombucha for alcohol content. It is advisable that you measure samples over the entire shelf life of your Kombucha to ensure that the alcohol content never Exceeds 0.5 percent.
- Validate your fermentation process through an expert in fermentation processes. In some cases, this may be a process authority.
- Complete and submit the correct application that pertains to where you will be producing your kombucha (Application for Home Food Processing Operation or Application for a Commercial Kitchen Food Processing Operation).
- After you submit your application, your State Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services will contact you with further questions and/or to schedule an inspection when you application is considered complete.
- Comply with all regulatory and labelling requirements as stated by your State Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services.
- Choose your ideal farmer’s market, meet all other farmer’s market requirements, and start sell.
Basic Guidelines for Safely Producing Kombucha Meant to be sold at Farmers Market
Kombucha is produced leveraging a two-step fermentation process. In the first step, the yeast in the SCOBY ferments the added sugar and forms alcohol and carbon dioxide. In the second step, the bacteria in the SCOBY ferment the alcohol to produce vinegar (acetic acid).
Production practices and fermentation conditions will influence the percentage of alcohol and vinegar in the final product. Nonetheless, always have these few guidelines in mind when producing Kombucha in the United States.
- Make sure that hot water (>165°F) is used to steep the tea.
- Use cleaned and sanitized containers and utensils at all steps.
- Ferment in a non-metallic food grade container.
- Ensure that the SCOBY used in your fermentation comes from a reliable or certified source. It is highly advisable that you acquire your SCOBY commercially for first use. Do not pass SCOBY cultures from one person to another.
- Ferment in the presence of air, but remember to keep fermenting tea covered with a clean cheesecloth or coffee filter secured using a rubber band.
- Monitor the pH with a calibrated pH meter during fermentation to ensure the product gets to ≤4.2. To prevent the product from getting dangerously acidic, the pH should be no lower than 2.5.
- After 7-10 days, refrigerate the Kombucha with a tight fitting lid. Refrigeration helps to prevent mold growth and the tight fitting lid allows carbon dioxide to build up.
- Filter or remove the SCOBY using cleaned and sanitized equipment.
- Pasteurize product. Pasteurization will kill the culture in the remaining SCOBY fragments and prevent further alcohol, carbon dioxide or vinegar production. This process will produce a shelf stable product that does not require refrigeration. Steps Include:
- Confirm pH is <4.0.
- Heat kombucha to 180°F and bottle immediately
- Cap bottle
- Hold bottle for 30 seconds
- Invert bottle onto its cap and hold for another 30 seconds
- Allow to cool.
- Product that is not pasteurized should be held at refrigeration and sold as a refrigerated product. Refrigeration limits alcohol and excessive acid production.
There are so many steps that have not been included here because they differ from state to state. The tips above, nonetheless, are applicable in every state to some degree. The details are something that you must research thoroughly when you set out to open your brewery. In addition, do not forget to get financial, legal or other expert advice whenever you are not sure about the requirements. This can help you avoid costly errors.