Fermentation sensation: Singapore kombucha brand scaling up and shipping out with tea-based drinks
Kombucha, a fermented tea-based beverage with origins in eastern China, contains diverse live cultures said to benefit gut health.
Prior to starting the business in 2017, founder Amanda Tan began making her own kombucha as a way to alleviate her longstanding eczema and sinusitis issues — by improving her gut health and by extension, her immune system, she hoped to combat the chronic conditions with which she had been struggling.
After seeing positive results from consuming the kombucha she had made, she decided to establish Yocha. Using black tea fermented by what is known as a 'symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast' (SCOBY), she and her husband manufacture Yocha's range of six bottled beverages.
Formulating from fermentation
Speaking to NutraIngredients-Asia, Tan said: "The SCOBY is what helps with the fermentation process. We brew black tea and add organic raw cane sugar to it.
"When it has cooled down, we add in the SCOBY and starter tea, which is essentially mature kombucha from the previous batch.
"We let this mixture ferment at room temperature for about a week, until we get a somewhat sour and tangy but still slightly sweet kombucha that's similar to apple cider vinegar, though not as strong-tasting.
"After fermentation, we remove the SCOBY, and flavour the kombucha using fresh fruits and plants."
While the beverages are typically bottled for sale after a week of fermentation to avoid them becoming too sour, the natural fermentation process used to produce the drinks means that customers can choose to leave them unchilled for up to three weeks if they prefer a stronger flavour.
At the moment, the product comes in 400ml bottles and is available in six flavours: strawberry and mint, lemongrass and ginger, hibiscus and pineapple, passionfruit, Earl Grey and lavender, and lemon and mint.
The company also offers kombucha jellies in packets of 20, which are made with the exact same formulation that is used in the beverages.
Expansion and education
Yocha sources its ingredients locally to ensure freshness and sustainability, and manufactures its products out of its two outlets. Each of the outlets consist of a shopfront where customers can pick up their online orders, and a kitchen where the products themselves are made.
Apart from these two locations, the beverages are also available via online retailers RedMart and Honestbee, as well as at supermarkets FairPrice Finest and Mahota Market, and a number of cafés.
However, Yocha is planning exponential expansion both in Singapore and overseas, and to support this plan, it is in the midst of setting up a factory, which it expects to be operational by August this year.
Tan said, "The idea behind setting up our own factory is to scale up our production, because we are facing demand we are unable to cope with right now.
"We are working closely with local authorities in setting up the factory to make sure all the health and safety requirements are met.
"Establishing a factory will make the process semi-automated, and we will be able to produce our kombucha on a larger scale. We will then look at how to expand across the region.
"Initially, of course, we will target neighbouring countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand."
Yocha hopes to become a market leader in Singapore, where there are only a few other small players in the kombucha space. According to Tan, it will be the first such company in the country to set up its own kombucha factory.
"Kombucha is already quite popular in Australia and the US, but not yet in Singapore. There isn't much supply in Singapore, and this puts Yocha in a good position to explore its opportunities here and in the surrounding region.
"Once the factory is operational, we will consider introducing seasonal flavours in addition to the six we already have. We don't want to offer too many flavours, as doing so would complicate the production process and raise costs."
The company also plans to make its kombucha available in 300ml glass bottles — in addition to its existing 400ml PET bottles — but new product varieties will have to wait, as Tan believes greater consumer awareness is vital to helping the brand establish itself as a market leader.
She said, "For the next three years, we want to focus on our main line of products, and expanding further in the region. In Singapore, we still need more awareness around kombucha and its health benefits."