Madison Women Brew A Traditional Fermented Tea

By Joe Astrouski | August 25, 2015


In a nondescript building on Madison’s south side, a casually-clad crew of workers rolls shining metal tanks across the floor while music echoes through the room.

The crew are brewing a fermented tea called Kombucha.

“It’s a probiotic fizzy beverage that is fermented,” said Vanessa Tortolano, one of co-founders of NessAlla Kombucha, the brand of Kombucha brewed here. “You use a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, called a SCOBY, and that’s used to ferment a tea-sugar solution into a probiotic fizzy beverage.

Tortolano brews Kombucha and started the company with her friend Alla Shapiro. The two met in Madison, but their stories begin thousands of miles away.

“I was born in St. Petersburg Russia, and my family immigrated to the U.S. in 1978,” said Alla Shapiro, who grew up in Minneapolis and moved to San Diego in her 20s. “I started on a path of holistic health. I went to herb school and became a certified herbalist, and that is where I got introduced to Kombucha through my herbalist teacher.”

“I grew up in Hawaii, and I lived in LA for a little bit after high school,” Tortolano said. “I came here and settled down and had some babies and met some really awesome people, and Madison has become my microcosm of awesomeness, and I love it.”

The two met at a Madison art show and soon found a shared interest in herbs, health and Kombucha.

“We started teaching classes together, Kombucha brewing classes,” Tortolano said. “We sold out our first couple classes and started selling kits and SCOBYs … and we were like ‘I think we’re onto something.’”

Soon, the two began brewing Kombucha in the basement of a Madison restaurant, bottling it and selling it at farmers’ markets. Now, with their own brewery, they sell and distribute their NessAlla Kombucha around the Midwest.”

“Last week, we brewed like 1,500 gallons of Kombucha that is now being bottled on a bottling line,” Shapiro said. “Like, we were siphoning by hand before.”

Joe Astrouski

Joe Astrouski

Joe Astrouski is a reporter for the “Wisconsin Life” project who travels the state, telling the stories of people and their passions. In his spare time, Joe enjoys fishing, hiking and eating his way across the Midwest with his wife, Charity.  Astrouski is a reporter, field producer and narrator for “Wisconsin...

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