Kombucha: The Acquired Taste for Funky-Tasting Fermented Tea


[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

It's hard to compare the taste of kombucha (comb-boo-cha) to anything else. Vinegary, fizzy, cider-y, or just plain nasty if you haven't given it a chance yet. Then again, some people (particularly those who drank vinegar as a kid) like it from sip one.

The leaders of the market are GT's Kombucha—they take up about 93 percent. If your grocery store even carries kombucha, odds are it'll be this one. They have two lines: Organic Raw Kombucha (available in seven flavors) and Synergy, which combines the Organic Raw Kombucha with five percent fruit juice (ten flavors). They all have alliteration-happy, vaguely spiritual names like "Cosmic Cranberry" and "Guava Goddess."

But new brands are joining GT's on the kombucha shelves, and these shelves only really exist at a select number of natural food stores (Whole Foods is probably the biggest).

Red Bull rolled out Carpe Diem Kombucha in 2007 and Honest Tea, the organic bottled tea chain that's branched into "Ades" and kids' juice pouches, started selling kombucha in October. They have three flavors: Berry Hibiscus, Lemon Ginger, and Peach Mango.

The Lemon Ginger is my favorite: it's like ginger ale meets lemonade meets Champagne. It's a nice, punchy taste, especially for times you don't feel like coffee, tea, or soda, but crave something jazzier than water.

Usually between $3 and $4, the tall kombucha glass bottles promise "active enzymes" that are "live, organic, and totally raw!" (Are we going to a rock concert?) So what's the deal with these active enzymes? If you read the small print on the GT's bottles, the founder claims they are what saved his mother. After she successfully defeated cancer while drinking kombucha, he felt inspired to start bottling it ten years ago.


The mother! There she is!

The enzymes boost your energy without the post-caffeine lows and headachey shakes, making you feel rejuvenated, restored, and pretty happy. It has something to do with the "mother cell," a mini jellyfish-looking blob floating around, which, if you really want to know, is a yeast and bacterial colony where the sugars are digested. With the addition of tea, this microorganism party ferments into a tangy, sparkling drink.

Some especially daring folks even brew their own kombucha. Good Bite just did and shared a recipe, which looks pretty doable, except it calls for that intimidating "starter"—the all-powerful and mystical living culture you need for that mother cell. Instead of ordering it online, you can actually just use the floppy blob found in a bottle you buy at the store instead. Or if you have a friend who makes kombucha (a "kombuchaseur" if you will—no seriously, they call themselves that), ask for their "mother."

Have you acquired a taste for kombucha? Or does the stinky-happy drink still freak you out?

Full disclosure: I interned for Honest Tea the summer of 2005. This was pre-kombucha era.