It’s time for a different kind of tea! Real Kombucha founder, David Begg, describes his pursuit of the perfect non-alcoholic drink.

If you don’t yet know what kombucha is, we’ve got to say: which rock have you been living under? But we will be kind and tell you anyway: it is fermented tea – and you are going to hear a lot more about it in the near future.

To make kombucha, a culture is added to a brew of tea and left to ferment for a couple of weeks. The result is a sophisticated, non-alcoholic drink that tastes somewhere between champagne and cider and pairs beautifully with food. Millennials can’t get enough of it.

In 2016, David Begg founded Real Kombucha, brewing the drink from hand-picked, loose-leaf fine teas from around the world and selling it to health-conscious non-boozers. Real Kombucha is now stocked in over 40 Michelin-starred restaurants and 500 bars and hotels across the country.

Here, the king of kombucha tells us about the team, technology and types of tea that have made his business what it is today.

I came up with the idea for Real Kombucha when… a friend of mine passed me a glass of his home brew across the table over dinner. It was love at first sip. I couldn’t believe that this full-flavoured brew was non-alcoholic. He gave me some kombucha culture to try brewing my own – and my obsession commenced!

Since (almost) giving up alcohol a couple of years previously, there was a really big hole in my foodie life. Water just doesn’t cut it with a great meal. Tea, it transpires, is as complex and fascinating a world as wine.

At Real Kombucha, we have now experimented with around 150 different teas. We work with an incredible tea master, Will Battle, who wrote The World Atlas of Tea, to identify and source our teas. He has educated both our brains and our taste buds.

The biggest challenge is… to do with people’s understanding of how different kombuchas suit different environments and drinking occasions. There are two distinct kombucha markets developing in the UK. There are those who follow the US trend of flavoured kombuchas, providing a great, lower sugar, healthier alternative to a soft drink that fits well in the fridge in cafes and supermarkets. But brewers like us are focused on producing a high-quality alternative to alcoholic beverages for special nights out or evenings at home.

The average day is spent… involved in all aspects of the business, from heading up the brewing process, working on research and development, meeting with managing directors and head chefs across our network, talking with the many new stockists who come to us each day and working on the branding side of things. It’s pretty full on. Who needs time to sleep, right?

The team consists of... several fantastic people across the business. There is the team in the brewery; there’s our sales and activation team out and about; we have marketing, from developing the brand, creating content and running our many events and exhibitions; and, of course, there is finance and operations that keeps the business running day by day. We also work with great partners who supply our raw materials and equipment, run transport and logistics, etc. We couldn’t do any of what we do without them.

My favourite quote is… “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” - Winston Churchill

I am where I am today because of… those people that really challenged me. They had the greatest impact: pushing me beyond my comfort zone, expecting more of me than I felt able to give, challenging me at every turn. Because, ultimately, I realised that these were the people that really believed in me.

I am who I am because of… my family.

The best advice I’ve been given is… Everything in business has been done before, somewhere, at some point. So be a sponge to everyone and everything around you. Learn from the mistakes and wisdom of others before you make your own mistakes. Never assume that you know best – and never reinvent the wheel.

In five years I’d like to be… Here! I love what I do, and would be hard pressed to find something that I would enjoy more. Yes, a few more people to take the strain, bigger premises, a little less intensity at times. But all of this will come.

The websites I most frequently use are... Amazon, eBay, BBC. Don’t we all? But I am also a brewing geek, so I am constantly surfing, learning more about the brewing process, sourcing new kit, trading ideas.

The apps I use to be more productive are... When I started my entrepreneurial career almost 20 years ago, you had to be in the office to do almost anything, and collaboration tools were virtually non-existent. Now we run all our documents on Google Drive, we couldn’t operate without the communication that Slack enables, Google Keep ensures we are all organised with shared lists and to-dos and Xero is integral to all we do. Finally, I am able to run the paperless, remote, virtual organisation that I have been banging on about for years.

The most rewarding experience I’ve had to date is… having children and seeing them grow up curious.

December 2018