Today we're at Georgia's very first kombucha tasting bar. Cultured South Fermentation Co., the home of Golda Kombucha, is on the west side of the Atlanta BeltLine and David wants to answer a simple question: What exactly is kombucha? 


Fork in the Road at Cultured South Fermentation Company
Credit: GPB


Melanie Styles: My grandmother taught me how to make kombucha when I was in college and I started brewing it from home. Discovered the health and wellbeing factors of it.

David Zelski: Kombucha. That's fun to say. On this episode, we will take a trip around the Atlanta BeltLine. What is that? Indulge me as I read from the Wikipedia entry.

David Zelski (announcer voice): The Atlanta BeltLine is a 22-mile opened and planned loop of multi-use trail and light rail transit system on a former railway corridor around the core of Atlanta, Ga. The Atlanta BeltLine is designed to reconnect neighborhoods and communities historically divided and marginalized by infrastructure. It is designed to improve transportation at greenspace, promote redevelopment, create and preserve affordable housing, and showcase art and culture.

David Zelski: All right, All right. I promise I won't do that again. Okay. So on the west side of the BeltLine is where we will find some of that culture with Georgia's very first kombucha tasting bar.

Theme Song: I came from the mud, there's dirt on my hands. Strong like a tree, there's roots where I stand.

David Zelski: I'm David Zelski, and this is the Fork in the Road podcast, featuring the stories from Georgia's farmers, fishermen, merchants, artisans, chefs and others who helped provide Georgia-grown products to folks in the Peach State and beyond. Today we are talking with Melanie Styles, owner and CEO of Cultured South Fermentation Company. And your first question is the same as mine: What is kombucha?

Melanie Styles: Kombucha is a probiotic tea. It is a fermented drink made from a sweet tea base with a culture of yeast and bacteria. The yeast and bacteria converts the sugar and the caffeine in the sweetened tea to probiotics, vitamin B12, vitamin C, and it has a little bit of a tanginess quality to it. It also is fizzy, just like a beer or carbonated water.

David Zelski: Fermentation sounds a lot like making beer or wine. Is kombucha an alcoholic drink?

Melanie Styles: Yeah. So the fermentation process does produce a little bit of alcohol, naturally, but it is a nonalcoholic beverage. It's less than half a percent of alcohol and it's a healthy amount of alcohol. So just enough to, say, ah, you know, help some of your, your systems, digest your food, things like that. It mostly helps with digestive issues. So probiotics are great for the microflora in your gut system. And the vitamins found in kombucha are all naturally occurring Vitamin B12 and vitamin C, and those, of course, help with energy and overall health and wellness.

David Zelski: How and why did Melanie get into making kombucha? Like so many people in the South, she was influenced by her grandma.

Melanie Styles: So it all started with my love of fermentation, specifically kombucha. My grandmother taught me how to make kombucha when I was in college and I started brewing it from home. Discovered the health and wellbeing factors of it. I just fell in love with the entire process of fermentation. I started Golda Kombucha in 2013 and we've been making kombucha, and then about a few years ago in 2018, we decided to start going into more of the fermentation of food and vegetables in different kinds of cultures. So I started a company called Cultured South to kind of encompass all of that. And today we make fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi and a vegan cheese called Pure Abundance and of course, Golda Kombucha.

David Zelski: So we've learned that kombucha is made from a sweet tea base, and Melanie's grandmother taught her how to make it so, it must be a Southern thing, right? Wrong.

Melanie Styles: So my grandmother taught me how to make kombucha tea. And it is traditionally not a Southern drink, but I kind of put my own Southern spin on it. We use fresh peaches from local Georgia peach farms and lots of herbs and fruit pairings that you would traditionally find in the Appalachian Mountains and Georgia.

David Zelski: So if it's not a southern thing, then where does Kombucha come from? Well, first off, kombucha was invented sometime around 220 B.C. So it's time for a short Fork in the Road history lesson.

Announcer: And now it's time for a Fork in the Road history lesson. Once upon a time, many, many, many years ago.

David Zelski: No, no, no, no. Not like that.

Melanie Styles: Kombucha is an Asian drink. It started over 2,000 years ago around Manchuria China. Back in those days, they started brewing all sorts of different fermented drinks and making fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut. But it just came to the United States around the turn of the century.

David Zelski: So it comes from ancient China. But Cultured South Fermentation Company puts a little Georgia twist on it with its flavors. And that's what we're going to talk about next, the flavors.

Melanie Styles: We have several different flavors. We try our hardest to use all ingredients from Georgia farms. So we use fresh peaches. We have a peach and ginger flavor. We also use local satsumas from a South Georgia citrus farm. We use strawberries — like strawberries and mint kombucha. We also have a blackberry and basil and a hibiscus blood orange.

David Zelski: Those all sound delicious, but if you've never had kombucha, how do you know where to start? Don't forget, this is Georgia's very first kombucha tasting bar.

Melanie Styles: So Cultured South is our kombucha taproom. It's Georgia's first kombucha tasting bar. We also serve our vegan cheese called Pure Abundance. We have over 15 different flavors of kombucha brewed right here in-house, on tap and in the can, you can get a flight, a pint or a float of kombucha. We also make fermented foods that are good for your gut, rich in probiotics. And we're a small, niche community-based business striving to promote health and well-being right here in Atlanta, Ga.

David Zelski: A flight sure sounds like a nice way to try out some new flavors.

Melanie Styles: This is our flight board sampler. It's five different flavors of Golda Kombucha. This one here is our elderberry refresher. It's made with fresh elderberries, mint, echinacea. We also make an elderberries syrup, which is an immune-boosting tonic. And this is our kombucha that's made with the same herbs that are infused into our elderberry elixir.

David Zelski: Flavors, flavors, and more flavors.

Melanie Styles: We have here our strawberry mint flavor. We use fresh strawberries and dried mint. That flavor is also available in all of the Whole Foods stores and Kroger stores in the area. Here we have our hibiscus orange kombucha. It's got a beautiful color. It's a little bit more of a tangy kombucha.

David Zelski: Where do you get your hibiscus?

Melanie Styles: We get our hibiscus from a local grower, actually, right down the street. She grows sorrel and hibiscus. So it's a — it's a Jamaican grower. And she loves to produce the sorrel and hibiscus that we use right here in this kombucha.

David Zelski: Flavors, flavors, and more flavors.

Melanie Styles: This is going to be our cream soda kombucha. It uses the Rehoboth tea with herbs like lavender, vanilla and orange peel. Tastes just like a cream soda. People love that one. It's a great starter kombucha. All of our kombucha are very low in sugar. We don't add any artificial flavors, no added sugar. They taste very much like a effervescent sparkling water with a little bit of a tint of not too much vinegar, but a little bit of tanginess. And that's because of the fermentation. All of the fermentation is great for your body and it adds just a little bit of tanginess and acidity to the drink.

David Zelski: Flavors. Flavors. And how about a few more flavors?

Melanie Styles: This is our lavender lemon kombucha. This one is our top seller. It's lavender and lemon infused into our kombucha. The lavender provides a really unique floral flavor. This one's also available on tap here always at Cultured South. You can get a growler of it. You can refill that growler for sustainability, and we'll give you a little discount when you come back and bring it for a refill.

David Zelski: Cultured South Fermentation Company on the west side of Atlanta is not just home to the taproom where you can try all of these wonderful flavors. It is also where the proverbial sausage is made.

Melanie Styles: We have our own canning line. We brew everything fresh weekly and we can it right here at our taproom and brewery. So right behind me they are canning up some fresh lavender lemonade kombucha to go into stores like Kroger and Whole Foods. And you can find that in all of your local stores here in Atlanta, Ga., and beyond.

David Zelski: Let's walk inside and take a look around.

Melanie Styles: Today we're bottling our lavender lemon kombucha. We make this fresh in-house with delicious herbs and yummy lavender and lemon. But this is our black tea that we use to make the fresh tea in the kombucha. So sweetened tea just like you would drink here in Georgia. Sweet tea. But we actually ferment all the sugars out, so it makes a really yummy probiotic-rich kombucha tea.

David Zelski: Kombucha was developed in ancient China for its health benefits and Cultured South is keeping up with that tradition.

Melanie Styles: So in 2019, we were the first Georgia company to infuse CBD into our kombucha. CBD is a oil-based component of the hemp plant. It does not have any psychoactive properties such as THC. It is just the cannabinoids found in the male hemp plant and it actually has a really nice quality to it. It helps with wellbeing and health. It also helps relieve stress and anxiety, muscle fatigue, cramps and any sort of overall body pains or any sort of anxiety, stress, depression you might be having. We infuse our CBD into the kombucha and one of our flavors is actually a hopped Georgia citrus CBD kombucha, and we use a local Georgia citrus farm called Georgia Citrus out of South Georgia. And we use their tangerines and their satsumas, dry hopped with our kombucha. Kind of tastes like an IPA beer, but again, no alcohol. And all the great terpenes from the CBD and the probiotics from the live cultured kombucha.

David Zelski: Kombucha. Kombucha. Kombucha. Kombucha. Kombucha. By now you've probably learned more about kombucha than you ever thought you would. I did, too. Ancient Chinese tradition merged with Southern flair and Georgia-grown produce. That is what you'll find at Cultured South Fermentation Company and Golda Kombucha. Be sure to visit the taproom next time you're on the Atlanta BeltLine and be sure to watch A Fork In The Road on GPB-TV or any time on the website. That's where you'll also be able to listen and subscribe to this podcast or download it on your favorite podcast platform. I'm David Zelski. Thanks for listening to A Fork in the Road.


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