Kolkata’s newest craft-brewed kombucha label is only a few months old and can already be dubbed a well-rounded success. You may have spotted Calbrew’s naturally carbonated kombucha on the shelves of your favourite cafe or you may have scrolled through the colourful glass bottles on your timeline. The brand which has been started by four long-time friends hit a note with probiotic lovers with their distinct blends of kombucha, kefir and flavoured ‘Coffucha’.
“We have known each other for 15 years now! We met in 2007, we were a part of an NGO in the city, that worked towards the financial education of women. We’ve stayed friends, it made a lot of sense for us to start this venture together,” says Jagruti Shah, who started Calbrew along with her pals Sonali Sonpal, Shilpa Soni and Smita Agarwal.
We spoke to Jagruti about the beginnings of the venture and the booming relevance of probiotic foods:
Tell us a little about how the brand started
One of my friend’s (Sonali Sonpal) sons, returned home after pursuing a degree in the States and he wanted to brew kombucha. He set up the equipment but couldn’t eventually get started on it. Sonali at one point started brewing it for her family and she started sharing it with her friends and relatives who loved it. She decided to explore a commercial avenue for it but she didn’t tell us at once.
What happened was we went on a trip to Varanasi, the four of us. And after we came back she suggested that we all join in the venture. We were really happy with the samples and we loved the idea. There weren’t a lot of brands in the city brewing it back then so that’s how we got started.
You’re also making kefir which has been trending big in the probiotic spectrum…
Yes, we added kefir to the line-up because we felt it had a lot of potential as a probiotic and we wanted to specialise in fermented foods (we also considered making kimchi at one point). Kefir is also so different from kombucha because kombucha is a tea-based drink. But for kefir, you need to ferment the water and flavour it and store it for a few days and it’s lighter than kombucha. It’s a potent probiotic and can be more nutritious than yogurt.
Tell us about your flavours. They’re already a hit…
We always knew we had to go with flavours that go with the Indian palate. It has to blend with your daily diet. Our orange mint or lemon ginger flavours for instance are incredibly versatile. The hibiscus one was a major seller when we started out because it had really distinct notes.
Do you follow a made-to-order model?
In a way yes, we don't brew unless a batch has moved out or we already have orders. The shelf life on our kombucha is 90 days and for kefir, it is around 60 days, if refrigerated. We’re using natural carbonation and not using any artificial elements so refrigeration is pretty crucial.
Jagruti, Sonali, Shilpa and Smita of CalbrewCourtesy Calbrew
Are you planning to scale up?
Yes, we are already selling to some wellness experts across the country. However, our main market is Kolkata at the moment, and a number of cafes are already sourcing from us like Glenburn Cafe, Bunosilo Estate Coffee Roasters, etc. Within the next year, we’re hoping to scale up.
Tell us a little about the response
Our kefir is selling really well because it’s lighter, more pairable and a big seller at cafes. Most people already know quite a bit about kombucha and kefir and there’s already a market for it here.