Carlos da Silva started brewing kombucha as a hobby about three and a half years ago. He and his friend, Caitlin Matteson, were both yoga teachers who liked the beverage made from fermented tea, so they bought a home kit from Communitea.
The pair, and their friends, enjoyed the brew they came up with, but there was one big problem.
“We didn’t make enough kombucha for a habit,” da Silva said. “We wanted to make more.”
From that scoby — the squishy tea starter disc — sprang forth Mystic Kombucha, a company which sells its creations around Capitol Hill including the weekly Sunday Broadway Farmers Market, and which, as early as this summer, should have its own kombucha bar on 12th Ave.
The operation started small as a community supported agriculture project. People would pay a monthly fee, almost like a subscription service, and they would get kombucha delivered to their doorsteps.
“It was, literally, just me driving around dropping off growlers,” da Silva said.
It got to a point where he needed to turn people away because his small operation simply didn’t have the brewing capacity to match the interest they were getting.
So, da Silva started drawing on the support of a neighborhood which he found to be filled with generosity. About a year and a half ago, Scratch Deli on 12th Ave allowed da Silva to rent out their kitchen to try and scale up production of his kombucha.
He quickly found it would work, and Mystic began getting some commercial accounts at other Hill-based businesses like Victrola and Juicebox. He was able to get a bit more assistance, this time from the burgeoning beer scene in the area. The folks at both Standard Brewing and Outer Planet have both been very helpful with teaching him about scale, da Silva said.
He noted that scaling up volumes is a common problem in the fermenting business but it’s something beer brewers have gotten a handle on. He was able to tap into that knowledge and use it to further his own growing operation. While kombucha has been around for centuries, it’s only recently been mass-produced.
“Everything in this industry, we need to invent ourselves,” he said.
All along, da Silva has been tinkering with his recipe for kombucha. It may have started with Communitea, a brew for which he has nothing but praise, but he and Matteson have added new bits into the mix over the years.
“It’s actually made up of cultures we like from around the country,” he said.
The operation outgrew Scratch Deli, and is now housed in its own space across the street. Now that Mystic is more established, he wants to give back to the larger community that helped it grow. He really wants a company that is tied in to the community, da Silva said.
He hopes, once Mystic’s kombucha bar is open this summer, they’ll be able to showcase local companies starting out, such as raw and baked treats from the Pixie Pop Up.
We can also report that kombucha bars will soon be a “thing” in Central Seattle. Earlier this year, we reported on Communitea’s move to 21st and Union and project to create a new facility with a small cafe and kombucha shop next to Central Cinema.
Mystic’s kombucha bar is just the latest project for da Silva, whose roots run deep on Capitol Hill. He’s been living in the neighborhood off and on since 1985, his grandparents are buried here, he used to work at the old Fred Meyer and said he used to own record store Delicious Music.
But now he’s most excited about the new project. He says he enjoys kombucha because it supports health, and helps provide organisms which complement the natural intestinal processes.
“We have a beverage here that is so good for you — that supports people’s health,” da Silva said.
He acknowledged there have been no scientific studies that support this claim, but says that’s because large corporations have been unwilling to fund them. He argues it would be difficult to patent the product, and those companies would not see much return on that investment. Further, said da Silva, going large scale could force companies to pasteurize, which would likely kill the very organisms providing the benefit.
While science debates the relative merits of kombucha, da Silva and Matteson continue their work to grow their business and support others in the area. While his work as a yoga instructor has moved to the back burner, da Silva said he said he hopes to expand the kombucha company, but to do it thoughtfully by offering Mystic at small, mom-and-pop locations in the U-District, Fremont and Ballard.
You can learn more about Mystic Kombucha at facebook.com/mystickombucha.