Getting to Know Aqua ViTea Founder, Jeff Weaber
Meet Jeff Weaber, founder of Aqua ViTea Kombucha in Middlebury, Vermont. Jeff’s vision is to bring naturopathic principles of vitality and wellness to the masses. Learn about the early days of the Kombucha industry circa 2007 and Jeff’s journey from craft beer brewer to Vermont entrepreneur.
Craft Beer Brewing in the Post-Grunge Heyday
In 2004, Jeff was brewing beer at the Lucky Labrador in Portland, Oregon, a microbrewery on the scene before the rise of craft beer. There was creativity, innovation, and the opportunity to be involved in all aspects of the operation. Jeff helped the brewery scale to meet increasing demand.
The brewery team was scrappy. Jeff learned everything from managing contractors to purchasing equipment to electrical work. This is where he first discovered his entrepreneurial ambition and drive to understand all aspects of how something works.
“It was the rise of DIY and Portland fully embraced this mentality of back-to-craft. This was the Renaissance period of my life. I learned woodworking, homebrewing, remodeling homes, I was the GM of a brewery, I volunteered on an organic farm. I was also fascinated by my wife Katina’s Naturopathic Medicine curriculum, which explored concepts of harmony between the body’s systems to create wellbeing from the inside out.”
“In college I lived in an Intentional Community of students. We did everything ourselves. We lived out in the forest and chopped wood. Who chops wood to survive in college? Vermonters have a similar spirit.
When we arrived in Vermont I wanted to bring people together in a similar fashion. We bought an old farmhouse and immediately set to work remodeling the space to make it a place where people could come together and contribute their talents and ideas. We added a fire pit, soccer field, bocce court, vignettes where people could comfortably gather. We convinced some of our Oregon friends, including the artist behind Aqua ViTea’s distinctive art style, Michael Kin and his wife Melissa, to join us in creating this community. We brought Vermonters together who were once isolated, in a place where they could share symbiotic skills and ideas.”
Be Nice became an unofficial motto after the team lost a beloved brewer in a tragic hiking accident. The sentiment and his legacy are woven into the culture to this day.
“We also wanted the space to allow us to start multiple businesses. Katina built her Naturopathic Clinic, I raised cows and started a meat share. And then, there was Kombucha…”
In 2007 the concept of Food as Medicine was not widespread. Kombucha, with its restorative properties at the very gut level, highlighted the relationship between food and healing, and the naturopathic principles of holistic wellness, verses treating symptoms.
“Vermont is fertile ground for quirky perspectives and ideas, a la Bernie Sanders and Ben & Jerry’s. I didn’t want to start a business involving a raw food product in Portland because I had witnessed how Oregon treated and regulated these products. I knew Vermont would embrace the concept. Yet Vermont has its own unique hurdles for businesses – infrastructure, resources, lack of diversity, geographic remoteness, weather, taxes, regulations, available funding. Those who choose to start a business here do it with intention, knowing they’ll need to persevere and innovate through these challenges.”
Growing a Category
Not only did Jeff help build a beverage category that was completely bizarre at the time- a living culture in a fermented beverage, Jeff introduced the Kombucha on-tap concept to the Middlebury Co-op in 2007.
“By its very nature, the model not only encourages sustainability through …
A Day in the Life with a Vermont Entrepreneur
Follow Jeff through a day in the life of Vermont business owner: