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The Story Behind Our Donation to the Smithsonian

You may know that our Kombucha is known for its tea-inspired flavors and commitment to sustainability. But did you know that our Co-Founder, Robert Deering, is among the first producers of Kombucha in the United States?

In the 90s, Robert was living in the Gorge with several friends when he had a serendipitous encounter with Kombucha for the first time. A friend-of-a-friend had a jar full of liquid with an odd, gelatinous goo floating on the top. Robert was immediately drawn to its tangy, effervescent flavor and believed it had the potential to be extremely delicious. It reminded him of a raw cider he used to buy at the store that would ferment when he was about halfway through the jug. “It would start to get vinegary, and I really loved that stuff.”

Learning that Kombucha was a non-alcoholic, fermented beverage intrigued Robert, and he was determined to learn how it was made. He headed to the Portland State University library to research and gather information.

At the time, Robert and his friends had been considering starting a business together. After their exposure to Kombucha, they saw an opportunity. Although their first taste was interesting but not sellable, they were confident they could make one that was delicious! Drawing on Robert’s expertise as a microbiologist and his extensive research, they refined the Kombucha by improving the culture. They decided to use a different yeast (a white wine yeast), which enhanced the taste, and filtered the Kombucha to remove any yeasty bits from the bottle.

This led to Robert co-founding one of the country’s first Kombucha companies, Oocha Brew, which quickly gained a loyal following. After several years of successful operation, the company eventually went out of business due to being a bit ahead of its time. The market wasn’t ready for a fermented, sparkling tea drink.

Despite this setback, Robert never lost his passion for Kombucha. He continued to keep an eye on the industry while pursuing a new career as a middle school science teacher. In November 2016, an opportunity arose for Robert to reenter the Kombucha brewing business when Joe Mayol emailed him about creating a slightly different Kombucha. Both shared a passion for brewing a tea-forward Kombucha using organic ingredients and sustainable practices, which led to the co-founding of Camellia Grove Kombucha.

Robert’s pioneering spirit and dedication to Kombucha have played a significant role in shaping the industry, and his contributions continue to be felt today. He remains committed to sharing the benefits of Kombucha with others and is passionate about educating people on the history and science behind this unique drink.

In fact, Robert’s extensive history with Kombucha led to him speaking with curators at the Smithsonian. Theresa McCulla, curator for Brewing History, was particularly interested in the development of craft beer and farm-to-table dining in the NW and Portland area, which is how they discovered Robert. They were especially excited to learn that he still had some bottles from Oocha Brew! As a result, Robert donated Kombucha and photos from both Oocha Brew and Camellia Grove Kombucha to the business history collections at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. To see our donated materials in the Museum Collections, click here!

And the next time you take a sip of your favorite Kombucha, remember Robert, one of the pioneers of this unique and delicious drink in the United States!

Robert brewing tea at Oocha Brew

Joe and Robert at the PSU Farmers Market

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