The Story of a Local Kombucha Brand’s Nine-Year Entrepreneurial Venture Interviewing with Taboocha Lisa & Pat

Do you ever feel that the beverages we consume from childhood to adulthood are mostly provided by big brands? Whether it’s lemon tea, chocolate milk, fresh milk, or fruit juice, the options available are so limited that you can almost name them all. Despite the lack of variety, how many people have actually considered creating a drink that truly represents Hong Kong?

The story of Taboocha began in 2014 when sisters Lisa and Patricia started experimenting with the wild world of kombucha as their go-to home remedy for health fix-ups. 

Lisa was suffering from poor digestion and her friend taught her how to make kombucha. It was a realization that they could help others with the same case as hers.

At about the same time, they adopted a tricolored mongrel puppy, now famously and lovingly known as Taboo, the furry face behind the label.

What is Kombucha?

Kombucha is a healthy probiotic drink made mainly from tea, sugar and SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) upon fermentation of 1-2 weeks. It is naturally bubbly, deliciously sweet and tart. Kombucha can aid digestion and gut health, boost your immune system, promote healthy growth of good bacteria in your body and help you flush out evil bacteria!

Taboocha is the first kombucha brewery in Hong Kong. Unlike many imported brands, Taboocha is made with love by true locals who use ingredients such as ginger, goji berries, chrysanthemum, osmanthus and lychee to produce flavors that suit the local market.

With pawful support from Taboo, what started as a home-brew project became an aspiration to develop a brand which provides natural, functional and flavorful beverages to the wider local community. 

Resigning from Full-time Work: Rethinking One’s Direction

Since Lisa learned how to make Kombucha, she has been experimenting with different flavor combinations and has become like a beverage scientist, with her sister Pat becoming her “guinea pig.” In the beginning, Lisa didn’t really like the taste of Kombucha, but Pat liked it and thought it was a healthy and natural alternative to the sugary drinks available in Hong Kong.

With her first customer on board, Lisa started making more Taboocha at home. During a period of high work stress, she found solace in making tea, which eventually led her to quit her job. During her break, she cleared her mind and slowly recovered physically and mentally. She started thinking about her future and realized that she had a unique skill that nobody else was doing. She decided to share her healthy drink with others and create a brand that sells a tasty and healthy beverage.

Lisa’s journey shows that sometimes, taking a break and pursuing a passion can lead to new opportunities and success. Her story also highlights the need for more healthy drink options in Hong Kong, which is dominated by sugary drinks from big brands. By creating her own Taboocha brand, Lisa is not only providing a healthier option but also promoting the idea of creating something unique that represents Hong Kong.

Entrepreneurship is going from zero to one

while operations go from one to ten

Many people say that starting is the hardest part, but Lisa believes that going from zero to one is not difficult, while going from one to ten is the real challenge.

During the initial stages of developing flavors for Taboocha, they once invited a group of friends for a “tea tasting session” at home to try out different flavors. Faced with various opinions, many people would be influenced, but Lisa boldly stated, “At that time, I didn’t really pay much attention to everyone’s opinions haha… I continued making the flavors that I liked! (with determination)” Pat, on the other hand, laughed and cried beside her, adding that she did consider everyone’s suggestions.

As production volume increased over time, it became impractical to continue making small batches at home, so they started looking for a larger location. Lisa shared, “Actually, our first production facility had many problems and failures because at that time, I simply scaled up the equipment from our home instead of designing an efficient and reference-worthy factory.”

Having learned from their first failure, they put more effort into preparation when moving into their second facility. Lisa said, “For our second attempt, we did more research and visited factories in other countries for inspiration. We were fortunate to learn from others and find some inspiration. We also sought help from a friend who brews craft beer to assist with equipment selection. However, after receiving the ordered equipment, we realized that not all of it was suitable. So it’s all about learning from mistakes because no one tells us exactly what to do, and everyone has different ideas about makingKombucha.”

As they went from being a one-person operation to hiring more staff, managing operations and logistics became constant considerations. The biggest challenge was figuring out how to sustain the business in the long run. Even after nine years of operation, they still can’t believe that they have come this far. It’s not just luck but also sheer determination.

Cost Budgeting is Important

Supporting Local Farms with Ingredients is Even More Important

They communicate with local farms to see if they can use seasonal ingredients. They have previously created a local lemon tea flavor and also aim to promote the use of local agricultural products. They want people to know that these farms exist and that they can buy vegetables and fruits there, supporting their livelihoods and sustaining the local industry.

Some of our customers who come to pick up their orders run grocery stores, restaurants, or bars. Therefore, they occasionally have excess food waste or ingredients left over, such as overripe fruits, pre-cooked fruits, unsold fruits or vegetable ingredients with poor appearance, etc. They will hand over these leftover ingredients to us, allowing us to try and develop new flavors.

Reducing waste and environmental protection can be a difficult and thankless job, but it is of great significance for the environment and sustainable development of the planet. Pat said, “Sometimes I find these projects interesting because they are innovative and environmentally friendly. By adding these ingredients to ourKombucha, we can also preserve their freshness and taste.” Taboocha also collaborates with stores to provide a “recycling service for Taboocha glass bottles,” and the factory must reserve space for storage and disinfection.

The Challenges of Promoting Healthy Beverages

Always Loving to Be Personally Involved.

As store owners, they prefer to personally engage in events and markets rather than relying on online advertising methods. Lisa expressed, “In all honesty, I enjoy participating in events and markets because that’s when we can truly connect with consumers. When we sell our products in small retail stores, we don’t have the opportunity to directly interact with customers, and it lacks a personal touch. That’s why I used to spend almost every weekend at markets.”

Pat added, “The main purpose of participating in markets is not just about selling our products; it’s about giving people the chance to try them. We used to talk about how our beverages could help soothe sore throats and would encourage people to give them a try. However, not everyone would immediately grasp the concept. Sometimes, people would find our drinks challenging to consume, and we had to face those situations.” Despite encountering such challenges, they remained patient and committed to explaining their products, hoping to reach a broader audience.

Compared to markets, workshops require more resources and manpower, but they are more effective in conveying the principles ofKombucha to consumers. For example, they started hosting workshops last year, and Pat discovered that the benefit is that it deeply penetrates the minds of the participants, making them understand the amount of effort and time that goes into makingKombucha. As a result, they gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for Taboocha from the bottom of their hearts. For them, this is a more long-term and effective way of promotion.

Each flavor of our product packaging has a unique illustration

Fermented tea diverges from the excessively sweet and indulgent path taken by pearl milk tea, and it may not enjoy the same level of popularity or widespread understanding among the general public. Health-conscious individuals might take note ofKombucha, but attracting those who typically indulge in pearl milk tea poses a challenge. “Given that our pricing is not cheap, convincing people to forgo pearl milk tea in favor of a slightly more expensive drink is no easy task. We are well aware of the hurdles in this regard,” Lisa acknowledged. Despite being aware of the difficulties in promoting Kombucha, Lisa remains determined to introduce it to all Hong Kong residents.

Recognizing that taste and price alone may not suffice to succeed in the market, Lisa aims to pique people’s curiosity and enhance the competitiveness of the product through its packaging. When designing various flavors, she shares her design ideas with local artists, collaborating with them to create captivating and visually appealing illustrations. “I explain to the artists the emotions evoked by each flavor, and on occasion, I even try my hand at drawing when it comes to seasonal varieties.

During the interview process, it was clear that the store owners possessed not only a clear understanding of their goals but also a profound appreciation for the importance of their craft. This understanding and appreciation empowered them to confront and overcome various challenges and difficulties with determination. Lisa expressed her interpretation of “Be Bold” as essentially equating to “Go with the Flow,” encouraging a mindset of not overthinking things. Conversely, Pat emphasized the significance of staying true to one’s own conscience and pursuing what feels right, irrespective of the opinions of others.

Christmas Limited Edition Banana Cake Flavor

Partial proceeds will be donated to stray dogs

Lisa has revealed that they will be introducing a Christmas limited edition flavor, Banana Cake, just in time for the upcoming festive season. What’s unique about this flavor is that they will be using locally sourced bananas in its creation. Moreover, as part of their Christmas promotion, a portion of the proceeds from the beverages will be donated to support stray dogs, whether they are housed in dog shelters or cared for by animal welfare organizations.

The picture above shows the 2021 Christmas limited flavor. 

In addition to the exclusive seasonal flavor, both store owners also shared their personal favorite tastes. If you’re curious to learn more, I encourage you to check out our interview video!

Source: IG@taboocha、FB@taboocha、Taboocha official website

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