Phil Smith broke off the beaten path when he launched Flower Crown Kombucha, Tampa’s first kombucha brewery and tap room, which opened in Tampa Heights in 2021. With the boom of local craft breweries and coffee roasteries, Smith had experience in the beer industry but had his heart set on an untapped market — kombucha. Simply put, kombucha is fermented tea, and the Washington state native first encountered the bubbly beverage over a decade ago.
“I loved its natural tangy effervescence,” Smith says. “The memory and the flavor stuck with me and after I started working in a beer company, I bought some beer equipment and started wondering if I could convert it for brewing kombucha.”
At the time, kombucha wasn’t a well-known beverage, nor was it readily available commercially. But Smith started home brewing and sought to perfect his recipe and method. When the brewer moved to Tampa in 2016, the idea for Flower Crown was born.
“I saw that Tampa had a great craft beer culture and had the potential for a great craft kombucha culture,” he explains.
Smith would end up meeting his future business partners, Bryan Griffin and Daniel Andresen, at Radiant Church in Tampa. Friends first, the trio came together to bring Flower Crown to life, with Griffin handling the legal matters, Andresen tending to finances and Smith spearheading brewing and day-to-day operations.
“Our faith guides our business practices together,” Griffin says.
Smith adds, “Much of the business plan for Flower Crown was written years ago at the old Foundation Coffee Co. in Tampa Heights. Ironically, or by divine providence, we ended up leasing that exact location when they announced they’d be leaving.”
At Flower Crown, Kombucha is sold on tap, in flights, in growlers and in take-home cans. Although popular with the health-minded crowd, the beverage may still seem mysterious to many. Flower Crown uses three simple ingredients: Gunpowder Green Tea, Assam Black Tea and cane sugar, all organic, are combined with the kombucha culture (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) and reverse osmosis water.
The mixture is left to ferment, the culture consumes most of the sugar and within a few weeks, the resulting liquid is the carbonated beverage that many love for its funky flavor and naturally occurring healthy ingredients, like detoxifying organic acids, vitamins, antioxidants, enzymes and probiotics.
At Flower Crown, fresh fruit is infused with the brew to create delicious flavors for nearly any palate. Four core options are always available: Pineappley Ever After, Mexican Hippie, Key Lime Mojito and Pink Passion Fruit. Rotational flavors make use of fresh seasonal offerings.
This spring, Smith journeyed to Whitehead’s Blueberry Farm in Winter Haven, purchased 20 pounds of blueberries and produced one of Flower Crown’s most popular rotational series with flavors including Blueberry Cobbler, Blueberry Watermelon Mint, Blueberry Lavender and Blueberry Ginger Lemonade.
“Although they shared the same base, they were each very different in terms of flavor component,” Smith shares. “The cobbler was sweeter, whereas the lavender flavor was more floral, with the watermelon mint being the most refreshing variation.”
Smith says that he never knows what will spark his inspiration, which helps him stay creative. For instance, a ghost pepper inspired him to make spicy kombucha and he has also concocted a spicy mango lemonade flavor featuring jalapenos and cayenne.
Shop manager Corinne Fanta says Smith takes care to blend flavors so that there’s something for everybody, from traditional to bold and funky. Flower Crown hosts everyone from regulars to first-timers.
“Most people’s exposure to kombucha is what they’ve bought at the grocery store,” Smith says. “So it’s rewarding to be able to educate those who have never heard of the drink and to produce something people come to love.”
Maryam Bakht, a longtime customer and instructor at Gaze Hot Yoga, didn’t like kombucha before she visited Flower Crown. In fact, she thought it tasted like spoiled juice.
“Flower Crown was the first kombucha that I thought was legitimately delicious,” Bakht says. “I’ve been a customer since day one and whenever they put out a new line of flavors, I go for the flight.”
Her favorite flavor is one that she requested: Yogi Grape.
She adds, “Flower Crown moving in made the block feel much more neighborhood-like. The space is beautiful, everyone there is super friendly and fun and it’s a perfect place to hang out.”
The venue itself is versatile. Red brick walls, cozy brown leather couches, dark wood tables and lots of seating create an aesthetically pleasing, industrial feel, yet cozy and peaceful. The outdoor space offers more brick, white walls, elegant wood finishes and lush greenery. The taproom was specially crafted with post-pandemic sensibilities in mind, with the owners wanting it to be a preferred place for remote workers, along with those gathering in a group.
Flower Crown operates a cafe during the week with Foundation’s coffee beverages, pastries and light bites, in addition to their kombucha beverages. Hard kombucha, seltzers, mimosas, beer and wine are also on the menu. These days, Flower Crown is growing. Smith, Andresen and Griffin all have girlfriends who have become part of the business.
“The six of us are best friends and I think it’s cool to be part of something like that where we all have a unique role in the business,” Smith’s girlfriend, Fanta, says. “It’s what makes us successful.”
Co-founder Andresen says his favorite part is being able to pour back into the Tampa community with his close business partners.
“We believe very strongly in our mutual shared beliefs, we enjoy running a business that brings a healthy beverage option to our local Tampa community and we love the friendship and partnership that we are building together,” he shares.
Fanta says that Flower Crown has become like her second home.
“We strive to make everyone feel loved and welcomed. The owners do a great job of fostering a sense of family,” she says. “We know our customers personally and make our staff and customers feel loved.”
Recently, Flower Crown has been building out the events portion of its business, providing a unique space for private events like weddings.
“The results from private events have been great and we love providing an awesome, unique venue for the community to host events,” Smith says. “When we opened, we just wanted to build a grassroots company with a great reputation and see where it goes.”
Whatever the future holds for Flower Crown Kombucha, it’s clear that the owners have perfected the art of not only making craft kombucha, but also of launching and operating a small business with friends.
Smith reflects, “We wanted to build a perfect concept that people love, to perfect our kombucha and scale it to operate hyper-locally out of our taproom and that’s what we’ve done.”