For Siberian-born Olga Sorzano, kombucha wasn’t the latest health fad from California; it was something her great-grandmother made when she was a child. The veterinarian turned private chef turned her nostalgic hobby into a line of premium kombucha for her local Pennsylvania audience over seven years ago and pays tribute to her great-grandmother every day with her company, Baba’s Bucha. Now that she’s conquered the kombucha market, she’s making exciting kombucha vinegars and expanding her brand with Baba’s Acid Trip.
When Sorzano started making kombucha it was something to fulfill a craving. The versions available commercially didn’t taste like what she grew up drinking. “It was just not what I remember,” she said. “It’s almost like when you have your mom’s chicken soup and then you go to Wawa and you see chicken soup and you’re excited and you get it and you’re like, it’s chicken soup but it’s not what I remember.”
A trip to a fermentation conference with her husband in San Diego changed everything. She tried kombucha that tasted like home, made with real ingredients like ripe berries and fresh herbs. Sorzano jokingly suggested she start a business using the same methods, but her husband took it seriously and did the market research. He told her if she wanted to give it a go, there was room for her product in the market.
“When I got my doctor’s degree,” Sorzano said, “we studied a lot of microbiology and chemistry, so I kind of fell in love with the process of fermentation itself. It was really great to put together the scientific process and also the artistic process of creating the kombucha itself.”
The kombucha started as a side job. At the time she was working as a private chef but spent weekends selling her wares at farmers’ markets. At first no one really knew what it was, but Sorzano used this as an opportunity for education and shared all the benefits of this seemingly foreign product with her new audience. Soon enough, she was selling out at every market.
About a year after launching, Sorzano made Baba’s Bucha her full-time job and hasn’t looked back. Though she’s put in a lot of work spreading the gospel of kombucha over the past half decade, Sorzano has seen a huge shift in awareness of the product and its benefits in general. “I think kombucha is a phenomenal product because it’s survived all these centuries,” Sorzano said.
As a big proponent of the benefits of fermentation for gut health, she’s pleased the population at large is starting to realize what she’s always known: people need to support their bodies.
When the pandemic hit, Baba’s Bucha lost 70% of its business overnight. The small businesses and local restaurants that had stocked the product went out of business, so Sorzano pivoted to online sales while at the same time trying to expand her network. Vinegar came about as an expansion product because it has the same benefits as kombucha but with a longer shelf life as it doesn’t need to be refrigerated.
It takes an additional five months or so to ferment the kombucha into vinegar, and Sorzano was already making small batches for herself and her friends. Adding a shelf stable product with more culinary applications made Sorzano’s heart sing. The vinegars are flavored in the final step of their fermentation process, and the varieties lend themselves to applications in vinaigrettes and, Sorzano’s favorite, cocktails.
Grapefruit kombucha vinegar in a drink gives the same hit of acid and punch of citrus as fresh fruit without the waste of a half used lemon. The cayenne variety makes for a delicious sauce tossed over wilted greens or crispy Brussels sprouts.
So what’s next for Baba’s Brew? Sorzano is working on a functional version of her kombucha with all natural caffeine and adaptogens like ashwagandha and chaga mushrooms. She’s always thinking up new ways to expand her business and share her love of fermented products with her community.
Despite her success, Sorzano acknowledges the challenges of running a small business every day and is immensely grateful for the support she’s received. “We cannot compete with billion dollar companies,” she said. “If you like the products, please support all of your local artisans because we now need it more than ever.”
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