Zestea Kombucha: Reviving A 2,000+ Year Old Chinese Beverage

By Sophie Steiner, March 29, 2022

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Kombucha – a fermented, probiotic-filled tea-based drink – traces its origins back to the Qin Dynasty in China, before spreading to the rest of the world through Silk Road trading routes and Russia.

Yet, for thousands of years it fell out of vogue, finally seeing a resurgence in the last decade for its health benefits and multi-functional uses.

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Image courtesy of Zestea

Sharon Lee and Cindy Chen are the co-founders Zestea Kombucha. Over the last few years, they have grown a homebrewing kombucha into a business that now delivers this health-centric, effervescent drink across China.

We sat down with the two entrepreneurs to learn more about the growing kombucha trend and where they see it going in the future. 

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Image courtesy of Zestea

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

For those who don’t know, what is kombucha?
Cindy: Kombucha is a fermented beverage made with brewed tea, sugar and – most importantly – a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), the fermenting agent of the kombucha that is packed with probiotics, vitamins and healthy enzymes. 

Kombucha delivers both the benefit of a tea and a probiotic simultaneously. In addition to aiding in digestion and increasing metabolism, it detoxifies, energizes and boosts overall immunity. As more consumers are looking to replace their sodas with healthier beverage, kombucha can fill that gap.

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Image courtesy of Zestea

What is Zestea’s origin story? 
Sharon: After I returned to Asia in 2016, I realized that high quality kombucha is hard to find in Shanghai and Taiwan. 

Cindy: I asked my colleague to personally deliver a kombucha home brewing kit, and we decided to begin brewing at home in 2016.

Sharon: I used to bring my creations to work at Hunter Gatherer for the chefs to taste, and they loved it! So, after many of our friends, family members and co-workers urged us to take our hobby a step further, we decided to share our passion for kombucha with the Shanghai community by launching our own brand in 2018.

Zestea Kombucha is a carefully handcrafted, all natural and deliciously refreshing drink that not only tastes good, but leaves you feeling healthy and filled with probiotics.

WechatIMG1277.jpegImage courtesy of Zestea

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

When was the first time you tried kombucha? 
Sharon: I studied restaurant entrepreneurship in New York in 2015, and one of my classmates introduced me to kombucha. The first sip tasted so weird to me, almost undesirable.

But, after a few sips, my feeling changed, and I soon became addicted. I later did some extensive research and became immersed in the wonderful world of kombucha. 

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Image courtesy of Zestea

What were some of the initial challenges you faced when starting Zestea?
Cindy: Tons! Kombucha is a relatively new beverage for the China market, so not many people are familiar with it.

Making commercial beverages in China that can be sold to the general public, you need to find a manufacturer. China does not have any kombucha breweries, so the majority of our time was spent finding a factory that shared the same vision as us. I remember visiting at least 100 factories.

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Image courtesy of Zestea

We also wanted to preserve the natural probiotics and not pasteurize our kombucha, which would kill the probiotics and leave it as a sweet beverage without any nutritional value.

After bottling, Zestea has to be kept in a refrigerator at all times, even during delivery. The logistics of cold chain storage and delivery are always challenging and difficult to arrange.

DSC03091-2.jpgImage by Sophie Steiner/That's

Has the Chinese market been as receptive to kombucha as you expected? 
Sharon: It’s better than we expected. Kombucha originated in China during the Qin Dynasty, and was initially prized for its healing properties. So, when we first launched in the market, we were surprised to find that some of the older generation tasted our product and recognized the flavor.

We heard stories from numerous consumers that the beverage reminded them of a drink their grandma used to make for them at home when they were young.  

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Image courtesy of Zestea

But we still need to provide a lot of education to the market, so we have offered many kombucha workshops for tasting and teaching how to brew your kombucha. When COVID-19 restrictions ease, we plan to run a kombucha workshop once a month.

Additionally, customers can purchase Zestea brewing kits and brew at home. We provide detailed instructions and guarantee 100% success.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

What are your favorite kombucha flavors? And are there any kombucha flavors you wouldn’t drink?
Sharon: I enjoy Sencha Hop kombucha because it's filled with tropical fruit aromas and tastes like a healthy and refreshing IPA beer.

Cindy: My favorite is something that we have not yet launched. It's a new flavor, and it's awesome, but the exact flavor is still a secret! But the Shanghai market will soon taste it.

We love trying and tasting different kombucha flavors, so any odd flavor we have had is welcome. 

That said, there is one brand in the United States that makes a jalapeño flavored kombucha, and that is not necessarily for me.

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Image courtesy of Zestea

What is the most creative use of kombucha you’ve ever heard of?
Cindy: We have seen many creative usages, especially when people are not actually drinking the kombucha, but make it into a hair or skin product because its packed with antioxidants. 

There’s also a TED Talk about how to turn a kombucha SCOBY into sustainable material to make clothes. 

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Image courtesy of Zestea

Are there any other products you hope to expand into or just different varieties of kombucha?
Sharon: Our company has a lot of ideas. We already have a kombucha brewing kit consumers can use to make their own kombucha at home. This kit includes a glass jar, tea, sugar and our signature SCOBY, which we use to brew Zestea Kombucha. 

Cindy: We also make gelato from our kombucha; it's silky and smooth, and kombucha works magically well with milk and cream.

While we continue to develop more flavors, we aim to transform traditional Chinese tea into a fun kombucha journey.

Our goal is for people to perceive Zestea Kombucha as a fun brand that's not just about kombucha, but also about attitude, making a statement and lifestyle.

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Image courtesy of Zestea

Where do you see Zestea going in the next 3-5 years? 
Cindy: We exist to create a real, organic, raw and all-natural beverage so that consumers can have more choice when they don’t feel like drinking water. We aim to help them stay at their best so they can live happier, healthier lives. This is our motto that drives our company forward.

Sharon: And, of course, we want to see Zestea in every fridge in China and across Asia!

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Image courtesy of Zestea

To purchase Zestea Kombucha, scan the QR code below to enter their Official WeChat Account. Zeseta products are also sold at numerous restaurants and bars around China.

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[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That's]

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