Jay and Jodine West. Photo by Ben Novotny.
Jay and Jodine West are not your typical married couple. They are the proud owners of the Fine Feathers Kombucha Company, which is the only Long Beach company that makes and distributes the sweetened and fermented black tea known as kombucha and distributes it to several local stores and restaurants, including Steamed on 3rd Street and Viento y Agua in Belmont Heights.
Kombucha is a beverage that has gained popularity among health gurus and its status as an all-natural vegan beverage has only increased its demand. Advocates say that the fermented drink—which usually contains less than .5%ABV and is technically classified as non-alcoholic—cleanses the body with its acidity content. Kombucha, like beer, can be brewed at home or in a production facility. The Wests' kombucha company grew out of their kitchen in Portland, Oregon, where they met and fell in love years ago.
Being environmentally conscious, the Wests have continued one Portland tradition since moving to Long Beach—they distribute their Kombucha by bike rather than by car.
"When people hear that we do bike deliveries it gives people a chance to think about why we would choose a bike over a car" said Jodine. "Since Long Beach is trying to be the most bike-friendly city, we're hoping more people will see that model and try to implement it.
Some of the Kombucha the Wests have created include ginger, kiwi-lime, grapefruit, carrot and Kombukee, which is a combination of coffee and kombucha. The pair is always experimenting, creating test batches and interesting seasonal flavors such as the cranberry apple ginger kombucha Jodine made for a recent holiday party.
There are few companies that produce kombucha commercially and the ones that do have a limited selection of options. Fine Feathers began as a way for the Wests to produce something not only local and organic, but also to avoid the steep costs of off-the-shelf bottles of the beverage.
"We were tired of buying it because it gets gets expensive so we decided to make it ourselves" said Jodine. "We would give it to our friends to try and they all liked it and then some people were telling us, 'Let us give you some to buy.' And it was like Whoa! We could sell this? It just kind of grew organically from there".
Unlike most other small business owners the Wests did not take a huge loan from a bank to start their company. Instead, they put their own money into the business, letting it grow at its own pace.
Besides the fact that Jodine is originally from Long Beach, the couple decided to move to Southern California because it's better for Kombucha making. The yeast and bacteria culture that allows the beverage to naturally ferment does better in places where it does not get too cold.
"The warmer weather contributes to a more stable fermentation" said Jay. "Kombucha becomes easier when you can maintain a warm room rather than have to heat it which is something we had to do in Portland".
As for their responsibilities, Jay runs the day to day operations of Fine Feathers, which includes doing most of the botteling and fermenting. He has another job, so he does a lot of the bookkeeping and social media and working on the website. "But we collaborate on everything," says Jay. "There's not one decision made by one person."
The Wests see enormous benefits in running their small business, both for themselves and for the local Long Beach Community.
"There's nothing more rewarding than seeing someone pop open a bottle of Kombucha that I bottled," said Jay.
"For me it's making something helpful for people and that it's good for their mind and body" said Jodine. "That makes me proud."
Fine Feathers Kombucha can be purchased directly from the Wests or at a selection of stores citywide. Visit their website for more information.