When Rüdiger Schmidt decided to bring over a piece of his culture and tradition from Eastern Europe to Colorado, he made it his mission to share kombucha.
The owner of Jamestown-based Cliffhouse Kombucha has been making the fermented-tea beverage for 35 years. It started as a healthy drink he would pass along to friends, and his concoctions were eventually served at Jamestown Mercantile. But everything took off for him when a regional manager of Whole Foods Market stumbled upon the kombucha at the restaurant in the small town near Boulder.
“He contacted me and said it was the best kombucha he has ever had and needed it on their shelves immediately,” Schmidt recalls.
The brewer now distributes across the state and is making kombucha full-time, but still manages to produce everything from a small commercial kitchen in his home, along with help from his wife, Kate, and their son, Julien.
The kombucha he produces has only 0.5 percent alcohol, similar to non-alcoholic beer, Schmidt says. There is a black-tea-based kombucha with mango flowers and passion fruit, an orange-raspberry, and a green-tea variety with mint and turmeric.
The most popular flavor is ginger-peach, made with a black tea base and pieces of fresh ginger and peaches. “It’s got a really nice flavor,” Schmidt says. “It has a lot of ginger, but the peach adds a little sweetness and cuts into the bitterness.” He also makes two herbal tea varieties — one pure hibiscus and one pure lemongrass.
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Schmidt produces about 200 gallons of kombucha per week. “I really put my heart in it, and that comes out in the flavor,” he explains. “It’s not just a job. For me, it’s a part of my lifestyle, and I just turned that into my business.”
That dedication is evident throughout the process of creating each kombucha batch, which takes more than thirty days. Schmidt works with a separate company to import organic fair-trade teas from India and Sri Lanka to ensure that he's using ingredients of the highest quality. Unlike other companies, he is still using an original kombucha culture and unique recipes, as opposed to liquid infusion, which has replaced the traditional method in some cases.
Since production is in his home, he can taste the kombucha daily until he determines the optimal time to bottle for the best flavor. “A certain kind of people are attracted to kombucha,” he notes. “People here are more health conscious and are more aware of the quality and the ingredients in their food and drink.”
Find Cliffhouse Kombucha around Denver at American Cultures (a kombucha taproom in LoHi), Mercury Cafe, and Nooch Vegan Market. You can also find it at Brewing Market and Lucky’s Market in both Boulder and Longmont, as well as several other locations along the Front Range. Visit the Cliffhouse website to see all locations.