Farmers Market Profile: Todd Sallee of Fermented Tea Company

Todd Sallee and his family, all owners of the Fermented Tea Company (FTC), went through a lifestyle change when they discovered kombucha.

Kombucha, for those not familiar, is fermented tea. Or, more specifically, as the FTC website states, “it is a drink made by transferring sugar and caffeine to a probiotic rich drink by lowering the pH, ending with incredibly low sugar and caffeine amounts.”

The Sallee family learned how to make kombucha and started growing a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), a primary component to the beverage. After several failed attempts, they found success and decided to head to the farmers markets to share their creation. Pairing up with Manish Shah of Maya Tea Company, FTC created its first kombucha and the partnership has lasted.

“Our first batch was called Tres Amigos,” said Sallee. “We added jasmine tea so now it is sold as Cuatros Amigos.”

When deciding what other products to use to create the kombucha, Sallee placed a great importance on staying local.

“We needed to make a decision on sugar,” Sallee said. “White sugar is good because it takes less energy for the SCOBY to consume. We learned it was not vegan due to the bone char used during processing. Luckily, there is a company in Mexico we found that distributes its cane sugar in Tucson and it works just as well.”

FTC has been in business since 2014. The road to being approved by the Health Department was a long one and included first educating them on what exactly kombucha was.

“We needed a commercial kitchen to be able to legally sell it,” he said. “Since no one knew what kombucha was, it took a while but we finally passed.”

Fermented Tea Company Kombucha (Credit: Jennifer Rothschild)

Fermented Tea Company Kombucha (Credit: Jennifer Rothschild)

FTC brews a slightly different kind of kombucha from the version commonly sold in the grocery store by national brands.

“I don’t ferment as far as others to keep the sugar and alcohol content down,” says Sallee. “The alcohol content is always below 0.05%. We also add CO2, which stops fermentation. Our products are geared towards first time drinkers. We also wanted kids to like it.”

Drinking kombucha, according to some sources, provides several benefits related to digestion, insomnia and anxiety, stimulates the immune system, increases energy levels, and normalizes blood pressure. The list of benefits goes on, look to the Fermented Tea Company website for a full breakdown.

Working at the farmers market has been a great tool to educate and talk to people about what kombucha is. Sallee finds that most people have heard about kombucha, but have not tried it. He likes to tell people, “take it off your bucket list and drink it today!”

Currently, FTC offers five regular flavors and mixes it up with an additional monthly flavor. The newest is “tropical” with others in the works.

“We never know if an experimental flavor will be good until it’s done fermenting. It’s always a surprise.”

FTC can be primarily found at Rillito Park Farmers Market and in some stores around Tucson.

“We also have a cafe located at 3820 South Palo Verde Road that my two sons manage as their full time jobs'” said Sallee. “In the shop, we make kombucha based protein shakes, Italian sodas, and also mix flavors. We feature Arbuckle Coffee and have a kombucha flavor using the coffee, as well.”

FTC is truly a labor of love for the Sallee family. What started as a quest to find a healthier life, turned into a family business. “One day I will look back and realize it is the best time of my life.”

Find Fermented Tea Company on the web at fermentedteacompany.com.

Jennifer Rothschild is an aspiring freelance food writer by night.

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