Unless you’ve been living under one of Old Harry’s rocks, you may have noticed that kombucha is the shiny new star of the beverage industry. Appearing on supermarket shelves and menus across the land, including right here in Dorset. It’s feted by influencers, loved by health gurus and me.

This fermented sweet green tea, which has been quaffed by our ancestors for millennia is now the choice drink of A-list celebrities like Lady Gaga, Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow. Even on TikTok, #kombucha has racked up more than 875 million views. But what’s behind its meteoric rise?

Once only found in health food shops, thanks to all the furore around keeping your gut biome happy and healthy kombucha is now widely available. But finding one that tastes great and still does you good is more of a gamble as its all down to how it is made.

Great British Life: Emma Davies with her Curious Kombucha range. Emma Davies with her Curious Kombucha range. (Image: Maisie Hill)

Emma Davies is the master brewer behind the award-winning Dorset brand Curious Kombucha. Being something of a kombucha fan and maker myself, she has invited me to her kombucha HQ which is in a former dairy now micro-brewery at Thorncombe in the Marshwood Vale.

‘I sort of fell into kombucha making,’ says Emma, who is as lively and bubbly as the healthy brew that she makes. After travelling the world, she settled in West Dorset to raise her children. Then, having trained as a brewster, Emma worked for various local microbreweries. This she says was a ‘coin-drop moment.’ She understood the craft of beer making and saw how to develop her skills. And she was good at it too, becoming an award-winning brewster known for her love of bold flavours and the use of wild foraged ingredients. With the freedom to be creative in her brewing, Emma came up with out-there-flavours like Goosegrass and Dandelion Ale and an Elderberry Stout. 

In 2018 Red Panda, a Lyme Regis based company known for their healthy and sustainable Asian street food, approached Emma about making a kombucha for them.


‘I’d barely heard of the stuff at the time,’ she admits, ‘but I was intrigued to give it go.’ And so, she set to work on developing a ‘scoby’ an acronym for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. Now this is the science bit, pay attention at the back. All kombucha starts with a scoby. It’s as important and prized as a sourdough starter – remember all that lockdown madness with people keeping their precious mother-dough alive by feeding it daily with flour and water. Well in the world of kombucha a scoby is ‘a culinary symbiotic fermentation culture (starter) consisting of lactic acid bacteria (LAB), acetic acid bacteria (AAB), and yeast which arises in the preparation of sour foods and beverages such as kombucha’. It’s what turns sweet tea into tangy kombucha. And you feed your scoby with tea and sugar.

Emma set about making her first batch of kombucha in her Dorset kitchen. The results were both tasty and tantalising. ‘My love and appreciation for kombuchas many benefits also grew,’ she says. ‘I found by drinking kombucha regularly I improved my gut health, my energy levels increased, and my digestion improved. But it was the infinite flavour combinations to enhance and balance the sour tangy elements of the unfiltered kombucha that really energised me. I needed to share this with others.’

And so, Curious Kombucha was born. From her makeshift kitchen-come-brewery Emma set to work experimenting, bottling, testing and tasting a whole range of kombuchas. When not scouring the West Dorset hedgerows for ingredients for her new enterprise, the entrepreneurial single mum was pounding the pavements finding outlets to stock her new wonder product as well as pitching up at foodie events and farmers markets to showcase her range.

Great British Life: Emma proudly shows off her unique scoby, the kombucha culture used for every ferment. Emma proudly shows off her unique scoby, the kombucha culture used for every ferment. (Image: Maisie Hill)

‘My growth as a business has been super organic from the start,’ she says. Realising that her home kitchen would not be big enough for the orders coming in, she set up a new purpose-built space, connected to the Dorset microbrewery Gyle 59, where she had previously worked. Upscaling, however, came with its own challenges. ‘Every time you move to a bigger brewing tank you have to learn a whole new set of criteria,’ Emma explains. ‘A recipe that worked phenomenally well, will suddenly be wildly different when attempted in a larger tank.’ This is where her skills as a brewster helped, as did understanding something of the history behind this ancient health-giving beverage.

‘Five years ago, when I started Curious Kombucha, it was still an obscure drink,’ Emma explains. ‘I had to take time educating my customers about its benefits and sharing its extraordinary story.’

Kombucha is said to have been invented in the Far East. One tale tells of a Tibetan monk who left a pot of sweet tea beside his windowsill. The monk, so engrossed in his meditation, forgot about the tea and a fruit fly with acetobacter on its wings (the healthy bacteria found in kombucha), landed in the pot causing the tea to ferment. And thus, by an accident of absentmindedness, the first pot of kombucha was created.

Great British Life: Emma foraging for young nettle tops and goosegrass for her Spring Tonic kombucha. Emma foraging for young nettle tops and goosegrass for her Spring Tonic kombucha. (Image: Maisie Hill)

The fermented tea drink, when tasted, was said to have been such a hit that it spread throughout the region, becoming known as the ‘elixir of life’, and much prized by Emperor Ingyō of Japan in 400AD. This stuff has been round along time.

‘The recent interest in kombucha, is due to our increased understanding and scientific research into the importance of gut-health,’ says Emma. Kombucha is part of what is often referred to as the four K’s – kefir, kimchi, kraut (sauerkraut) and kombucha. A family of fermented products that positively impact our gut flora. ‘There is now clear evidence that looking after our gut health helps our immune system, energy levels, and brain chemistry,’ she adds. ‘We are happier when we have ferments in our gut.’

Emma is a huge believer in the work being done by Professor Tim Spector, the founder of the Zoe programme. Zoe is a biotech start up, that combines large-scale human studies with machine learning technology, microbiome sequencing and world-leading scientific knowledge. From Zoe’s large-scale research, the company has been able to lift the lid on gut-health science, their results being widely acclaimed, by users of their personal-health monitoring product and with celebrities such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Davina McCall following the regime.

Great British Life: Young nettles and goosegrass. Young nettles and goosegrass. (Image: Maisie Hill)

‘More and more people are starting to think about what they are putting in their bodies,’ says Emma. ‘The stir caused last year by Dr Chris van Tulleken’s best-selling book Ultra Processed People is testament to the focus on the daily food and drink that we all consume. Going alcohol free for example, is now very acceptable and kombucha fills that void, offering a healthy, grown-up tasting alternative to alcoholic drinks.’ Curious Kombucha’s Cucumber, Lime & Mint Kombucha was declared Taste of the West Champion Non-Alcoholic Cold Drink in 2021, the brand has notched up six Taste of the West gold accolades to date.

However, there are kombuchas and kombuchas, as Emma is keen to point out. ‘Products kombucha brewers can use to speed up the fermentation process are now widely available. These can include making kombucha from a concentrate solution.’ As a member of the Guild of Fine Fermenters – a group of enthusiasts set on educating people about the rise of mass-produced so-called fermented products - Emma is keen that people are aware of this. ‘These versions offer none of the gut-health boosting benefits of the traditionally made drink.’ Spring water, organic sugar, organic green tea and that all important unique scoby are the base for all Emma’s kombuchas, which are far from mass produced, but lovingly crafted in small batches. This is then combined with other ingredients to create her range.

Before we conclude the interview, she takes me foraging in the woodland that her HQ backs onto in search of wild ingredients for her seasonal limited edition Spring Tonic. It’s early March, and during our scoby banter, she plucks vibrant green young nettle tips and goosegrass, these are combined with lemon balm, producing a delicate drink with notes of apple and elderflower. Her autumn seasonal brew, Spiced Elderberry, using elderberries picked from the local hedgerow, always sells out.

Great British Life: Fermenting tanks at Curious Kombucha's HQ. Fermenting tanks at Curious Kombucha's HQ. (Image: Maisie Hill)

‘Provenance of my ingredients has become really important to me,’ she says. ‘When I started Curious Kombucha, one of my first flavours was pineapple and ginger (which won a Taste of the West Gold in 2021). It’s probably my biggest seller, it’s a fantastic kombucha, but pineapples don’t grow in Dorset, they come from the other side of the world. And that’s an uncomfortable truth.’

So, this passionate brewer started to look closer to home, foraging and sourcing flavours from her local landscape. One of her latest local flavour combinations is lion’s mane and Centennial hops - a nod to her beer brewing days. The lion’s mane, a much-revered fungi celebrated for its cognitive health benefits, is grown in nearby East Coker just over the Somerset border by a friend who runs Fruit Bodhi Mushrooms. The result is a kombucha that is true to its word as a health-giving product, that’s genuine, life affirming and somewhat curious – much like its maker.

Curious Kombucha can be found in various stockists across Dorset, including Soulshine Café, Bridport, Washingpool Farm Shop and The Good Food Store in Lyme Regis. Or order online curiouskombucha.co.uk or pick up direct from Curious Kombucha’s HQ in Thorncombe.

Great British Life: Kombucha ready to pour. Kombucha ready to pour. (Image: Maisie Hill)