Originally from Portland, Shari Merrill spent most of her life there before moving to Redding seven years ago. As a nurse for a number of years, she also helped her husband run a computer business, became a stay at home mom, and then five years ago, she went on a health quest and decided to take up brewing kombucha.
The “health quest” kombucha brewer is a familiar refrain, but Shari took to it the way a talented craft brewer might take to creating a new IPA. In fact, Shari and her husband, Don, went to the Kombucha Brewers International Conference in Long Beach, and Shari recollects, “They had this gigantic kombucha tasting bar, huge!” She couldn’t believe the variation in flavor and intensity, the scale of vinegar taste, lightness, and depth.
According to Shari, “There are real basics to kombucha brewing, but a lot of room for experimentation.”
In the beginning, Shari kept playing around with her recipe, selling to family, friends and neighbors. She even went to a big church bazaar, bringing gallons of kombucha, and to her surprise, it sold out. Then, a little over a year ago, Mama Shari made a pivotal partnership with Jason Miller and Sam LaRobardiere at Theory Coffee Collaborative to sell her bespoke kombucha in their café and use the café’s kitchen space for her brewing. With the world’s best hype man, her husband, helping her out, in this short time Mama Shari’s organic kombucha is now on tap in eight places around Redding, serving flavors like Hibiscus Pineapple Ginger, Grape Lime, Raspberry Lemon Ginger, and Herbal Bliss, a little lighter kombucha with fresh herbs like spearmint, sage, and dandelion root.
She’s currently developed a new summer flavor, a real root beer kombucha made with sarsaparilla and other earthy roots like dandelion and burdock. She calls this one Root Booch. It has to be said that these kombuchas present a layered taste, each ingredient and the tea base evident on the tastebuds.
Mama Shari brews with different combinations of black, green, and oolong tea, she’s been toying with yerba mate, and she used a chai tea for a Spiced Apple Chai kombucha for fall and winter. Shari also notes that if you’re sensitive to caffeine, “green tea has the least, and kombucha in general is a little weaker as the fermentation process denatures the caffeine a bit.”
“At first I thought it was just younger people who were going after the kombucha, but it’s a wide range. Everybody knows what probiotics are,” Shari muses. “Kombucha is alive, it’s constantly changing . . . probiotics, bacteria, and yeast play off each other symbiotically, creating a beverage that is both tart and sweet at the same time.” Shari never expected to have a new, bustling kombucha career at age sixty-two, but her vision now is to saturate Redding with her special blends of the tart and fizzy, to grow, bring on more people, and start bottling. “It feels good to do something that I know is making people healthier,” she laughs. 1
Find Mama Shari’s Kombucha in Redding at Theory Collaborative, Roots Juice Bar on Pine Street and on Churn Creek Road, Mimi Grace, Stirring Coffee House on Churn Creek Road, The Chicken Shack, California Street Lab on California Street, and at Heritage Coffee in Shasta Lake City. Keep up with new brews and outlets on Mama Shari’s Kombucha Facebook page.
Sara Calvosa Olson is a Karuk writer living with her soulmate, raising two large teenage sons. She has a regular column in News From Native California that explores California Indian foodways and reconnection to traditional Indigenous ingredients. Chími nu’am! (Let’s eat!)