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The Fermented Tea Company has expanded into a café and expanding the reach of their products

click to enlarge Todd Sallee is ready for your order.

Mark Whittaker

Todd Sallee is ready for your order.

We are nearing the end of January. How are those resolutions holding up? Better yet, how's your gut? The holidays can sure take a toll on the inner workings, especially the belly, but I have come across something that has sure helped me digest grandma's pickle loaf and my weird uncle's secret recipe for "brandy."

Fermented tea may sound a bit gross if not oxymoronic, but a local family has concocted a strangely delicious elixir that has multiple health benefits besides the always appreciated post-carbonated drink belch. Also known as kombucha, the tea is an active province of yeast and helpful bacteria and a lot of people out there swear by the fact that it can assist the inner workings by managing certain ailments. In fact, that's how the Tucson based business, Fermented Tea Company, came about in the first place.

"Our youngest son was very sick and when we took him to the doctor he reviewed our diet and said that we lacked certain probiotics," says Tracy Sallee, a registered nurse who founded Fermented Tea Company with her husband, Todd. "It was then that I began studying herbal medicine and how to make kombucha. The first few batches we made were not very good, even though our son was feeling better. So for six months we experimented with flavors and before long, we had a product and started bottling it up."

The Sallee's process of making kombucha is a lot like home-brewing beer, although the CO2 helps displace the possible effects of any alcohol. The initial flavor is, yes, very sour and pretty grim. But what Tracy and Todd do with raw fermented tea is pretty extraordinary and the experience of drinking their carbonated wares is very unique. When you twist the cap, there is a distinct pop, inviting bubbles to begin dancing in the colorful brew. But this isn't an ordinary carbonated beverage. For tea drinkers, such as me, the flavor of loose leaf herbs and flowers is definitely there, but transformed into an almost soda taste without the use of refined sugar and salt. When it slips down the gullet, there is a slight tickle before eventually hitting your stomach, which is where the magic potion begins to take hold.

Kombucha tea originated sometime around 200 B.C. in China before eventually finding its way around Europe and Russia centuries later. Consumers of kombucha claimed that it helped them with digestion, cured insomnia, cleared up acne, banished migraines and even assisted with erectile dysfunction. Scientifically, none of this can be proven, but drinking anything from the Fermented Tea Company just makes you feel better in the general form.

And their tea is absolutely delicious. Right now they have a new flavor called Velvet Underground, a black tea variety that is infused with pomegranate, rose and cocoa, which first comes off as slightly rich before finishing with lively floral and citrus notes. A longtime popular drink boasts the title of Purple Rain, although it is bright orange in color, using earl gray tea and mixing it up with lavender, bergamot and jasmine. This is a favorite of mine first thing in the morning after a night of eating rich foods and drinking adult beverages because it not only invigorates, but helps quell the excess scrambling in the middle. And, come on, it's just fun to say their chai tea drink, Kombuchai, because it sounds like you are about to do some serious Bruce Lee moves when you vigorously announce its name.

Right now, you can find Fermented Tea Company products in most Tucson co-op stores, farmers markets, Whole Foods and now in the Phoenix airport along with their café on South Palo Verde Road. It is in the back of the café where they ferment and bottle the tea and are currently in the process of expanding. The Sallees are upgrading from 30-gallon barrels to 100 gallons, as Basha's is interested in selling their teas, along with markets out in California. While visiting their cozy café, you can grab a fermented tea pastry, locally produced healthy snacks, have them whip you up a detoxing smoothie or even purchase soap made from their fermented tea. Plus, if you want, for $90 they can set you up with a keg of your favorite flavored tea. That'll give the term "partying responsibly" a run for its context. Another Tucson small business finding its way into further territories.

Not to mention, the name of Tracy and Todd's sons are Tad and Trenton. Get it? All names starting with T. And they sell tea! C'mon. How adorable is that?


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