By Juliette Cheatham
“When I worked in accounting, I found myself suffering without a creative outlet,” says Keaton Hong, who ditched his career as a CPA to co-found the mobile drink company Kea Beverages. He says while attending the University of Georgia he really got into brewing beer and cooking, but that after graduating, his passions were usurped by long hours spent in the office of a Big Four accounting firm.
Hong’s longing to reestablish his artistic drive led him to link up with Kea’s other half, Sean Keating. The idea for a beverage company began to brew, so to speak, out of their shared passion for experimental fermentation. Keating, a longtime member of Atlanta’s food and beverage industry, “is completely unstructured and invents a lot of stuff you have to be brave or stupid enough to try,” jokes Hong. “Between the two of us, it’s the perfect mix of our previous professional backgrounds.” What started off with a single bike-powered beverage cart with a handful of rotating taps has transformed into a full-scale juice delivery business, as well as a mobile beverage catering company for anything from corporate events to album release parties.
One of the drinks they concoct is kombucha, which originated in China around 220 B.C. but has seen sudden and monstrous growth in the past decade. Offering probiotic benefits that encourage gut bacteria diversity and aid digestion, the health conscious brew now occupies up to a third of the refrigerated beverage shelf space in Whole Foods. “Everything is trending toward being more aware and healthier,” says Hong. “To our generation, being able to read the ingredient list, understanding what you’re consuming and even [knowing] where the ingredients are coming from has become a priority.”
Aside from kombucha and probiotic sodas, Kea Beverages also makes nitro coffee, a smooth and creamy nitrogen-infused caffeinated option with a look and keg-storage function redolent of Guinness on draft. Nitro coffee varietals differ based on Hong and Keating’s ever-changing brewing experiments, but they’ve been infused with everything from cherries to dried coconut. “It’s always shocking when I meet someone who doesn’t drink coffee,” says Hong. “Although it’s the most expensive product to produce on our end, it’s in high demand.” So much so that Kea launched its nonprofit initiative, Sip and Support, last October. Nitro coffee taps are placed in retail stores, with 75 percent of the net proceeds going to local philanthropic groups. “We’re currently supporting Chattahoochee Riverkeeper through donations at Ponce City Market’s Mountain High Outfitters and Lift Up Atlanta through donations at Madabolic Inc.”
The Kea team is currently juicing and fermenting in the shared commercial kitchen Prep, though Hong admits he’s craving a private production space. “Our real goal is to work towards opening a kombucha and probiotic brewery. We want to be the go-to healthy hangout spot.” If you’re lucky, you might happen upon the Kea Beverages mobile cart on the BeltLine, in Piedmont Park, at an Atlanta United tailgate or at a local farmers market. However, if you want a more reliable juice plug, you can order online at keabev.com or through their Instagram @kea.atl for bike delivery. You can also pop over to Hampton+Hudson, Tiny Lou’s at the Hotel Clermont or Gauc Y Margys to get gulping.