Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

Jason Todd doesn’t drive to the store to buy his favorite beverage.

He just walks down to his basement.

Dozens of brown glass bottles stand in rows, as orderly as soldiers at attention, in the space below the stairs leading to the cellar of the 103-year-old home that Todd and his wife, Crystal, own in Baker City.

Each 12-ounce bottle contains kombucha.

That’s the fizzy fermented flavored tea, served cold, that the Todds have been brewing in their home for the past two years.

The couple, who moved to Baker City in 2015 and have a four-year-old son, Luke, started selling kombucha in 2017 under the name JungleBooch Raw Kombucha Teas.

The whole process, from brewing to bottling, happens inside their home.

Jason, 36, who has a teaching contract with the Baker School District and also oversees its digital media among other duties, jokes that his friends and customers in effect subsidize his thirst for kombucha.

“We have a little cult following of regular customers who keep it going,” he said. “And I get to drink my kombucha for free.”

Todd said he and his wife have a roster of “very loyal customers,” some of whom buy a six-pack or 12-pack of bottles about once a week. Each bottle costs $2.50.

The couple generally brews a 6-gallon batch — enough to fill about 54 bottles — every three weeks.

They have several smaller brewing vessels they can employ to meet the demand for special events such as the recent Christmas bazaar.

Sunday is their usual bottling day.

“Bottling day is pretty crazy,” Todd said. “We’re up at the crack of dawn. It’s a family thing.”

He was introduced to kombucha about 11 years ago by his mother, Marlena Iverson, who lives in Caldwell, Idaho.

Todd was living in Eugene in 2007.

He was studying for his master’s degree in education at Pacific University’s satellite campus, and Crystal was working as an accountant.

He was having stomach problems, and his mother, who credited kombucha consumption with easing the symptoms of the rare autoimmune condition she suffers from, suggested her son try kombucha.

The beverage, believed to have been first brewed in China, is fermented with a combination of bacteria and yeast, and its proponents say the concoction can help ease gastrointestinal ailments as well as alleviate joint pain and inflammation.

Todd started drinking kombucha regularly, and he felt better.

“I really liked it, and it was good for me,” he said.

“But it was expensive.”

Todd, who had brewed beer while attending the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls, where he earned his bachelor’s degree, wanted to try his hand at making his own kombucha.

But after he earned his master’s degree in 2009 he and Crystal moved to a remote bush village in Alaska, where he worked as a teacher.

The situation wasn’t conducive to experimenting with homebrewing.

But after he was hired by the Baker School District and the family moved into their Baker City home, with its expansive basement, Todd decided he was ready to make his first batch of kombucha.

And he didn’t have to go far to acquire the most crucial ingredient.

It’s known as SCOBY — shorthand for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast — the stuff that brewers add to sweetened tea to kickstart fermentation and create kombucha.

Todd said his mother had been brewing kombucha for years, so he borrowed — he actually uses the verb “stole” — her SCOBY for his first batch.

(SCOBY is somewhat analogous to the sourdough starter that bakers use in breads, pancakes and other items, in that the bacteria-yeast mixture is retained after each batch of kombucha to ferment the next batch.)

Todd said brewing kombucha appealed to him not only from a financial standpoint — he figured he could save money by making his own — but also because he’s been an inveterate experimenter since he was a boy growing up in Hillsboro.

“I’m a tinkerer,” he said. “My wife says I’ve got a problem with not being able to sit down.”

Todd said the early batches of kombucha, though successful and quite tasty, didn’t completely satisfy his curiosity.

Before long he began to ponder the financial possibilities of his new hobby.

This, like his penchant for tinkering, is a predilection that dates from his childhood.

“I’ve always been this entrepreneurial kind of guy,” Todd said with a chuckle. “I was the 10-year-old who towed a lawnmower with his bike, mowing people’s lawns and getting my candy money for the week.”

The couple found a market for the beverage.

Todd said customers have told him regular consumption of kombucha helped ease their stomach problems and other ailments.

“It’s all anecdotal, but they’ve told us they really have seen benefits,” he said.

Todd said that although he believes there are good kombuchas available from commercial brewers, he thinks the JungleBooch beverage has qualities to make it different.

“We brew what we believe is a unique product, and we like sharing that with our friends,” he said.

He and his wife, after much experimentation, settled on a recipe that includes a black tea variety from China, a gunpowder green tea from Japan, and raw leaves of stevia, a plant that is used as an sweetener.

Temperature has a significant effect on the finished product, Todd said. Many people brew kombucha at about 70 degrees, which encourages the yeast to start the fermentation process quickly.

“Yeast likes the warmer temperatures,” he said.

The Todds, by contrast, brew kombucha in their basement at a steady temperature of 50 degrees. This slows the fermentation, producing a beverage that Todd believes is more faithful to the original idea of what kombucha is.

See more in the Dec. 31, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.