I won’t forget the day when my neighbor carefully peeled off a layer of rubbery slime from her fleshy live culture, handed it to me in a jar with a splash of cool tea, and encouraged me to home-brew this stuff called kombucha (thanks). She claimed it was a miracle drink, yet after weeks of entertaining this fermented tea “experiment,” I decided, nah. All this trouble for something that just isn’t creating miracles. Nor, did it taste any good. I prefer my tea with cream and sugar, not microbials, thank you.
Now, ten years later, with grocery stores featuring fermented products, such as kefir and kimchi, kombucha, a sweet-tart effervescent tea brewed with a culture of yeast and bacteria, is fast-becoming a drink that is moving from the natural food isle to the mainstream. I decided to give it another try, but this time, I’d purchase already-made kombucha.
I coaxed my husband, Craig, to partake in a kombucha tasting. Surely, he can remember our kombucha trials back in the day. He was patient and open-minded, almost methodical. He would handle the SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) with extra clean hands and prepare just the right amount of tea, before securing the cheese cloth over the 8-quart, food-grade bucket. After fermentation, he’d carefully peel off the “friendship” layer that had grown over the week, and try to pawn it off to friends, just like our neighbor did to us. He stills gets the shakes to think that we’d actually offer what he calls “SCOBY’s placenta” as a gift of health.
I also grabbed our friend Kirk Peterson, who is like the ultimate tasteBUD. If he were one of the X-Men, he would be “Olfacto,” with his hyper-sensitive olfactories effortlessly tearing apart and exposing subtle smells and flavors in their futile attempt to hide in food and wine. For sure he’d enlighten us.
So, we knew that kombucha had been passed around the globe from culture to culture (pun intended) as an elixir, claiming to provide a string of healthy perks, from aiding digestion, to promoting vitality. None of them are at present scientifically verifiable, however. We wondered why kombucha was becoming so popular. Perhaps it was all in the taste.
First up was Health-ade’s Original. (Calories: 30-40/ bottle Sugar: 2-3 g/bottle Alc: < .5%)
Contained in an old-time pharmaceutical bottle, the kombucha tasted like a mixture of water and apple cider vinegar. It also smelled slightly of bruised apples, was lightly carbonated, and wasn’t too different from the home brew we used to make. We also tried the pomegranate-flavored version, which tasted similar to the original, but with a sour cranberry-esque aspect.
GT’s, Classic-Original(Cals: 60/bottle; Sugar: 4 g/bottle) which requires an ID at checkout for its elevated alcohol (higher than .5%) , was darker in comparison to Health-ade. It was more aromatic, with a powerful odor of fresh fermentation, higher fizz and acid, and overall more flavorful.
Always hoping for the flavored version to be better, we also tried GT’s Strawberry Serenity, which is made of raw, organic kombucha and strawberry puree. Personally, this drink didn’t take me to any California strawberry farm. Kirk described it best, “The bruised strawberry character to the framework of the Original honestly seemed out of place, like the last sad basket of strawberries at the market no one will buy.” Ouch!
Moving on, we then tried Kevita (Cals. 35/bottle; Sugar 8 g/bottle; Alc. < .5%). This brand does not offer an original flavor, so we tasted two flavored ones, the first of which was Lavender Melon. It definitely smelled like a lavender sachet and it was somewhat sweet on the palate, thanks to the addition of stevia, but, “it was rather artificial tasting for an “all natural” type of product and it tasted eerily like Grape Zotz – those fizzy candies you used to eat as a kid and forgot about until just now.”
Finally, we tried Kevita’s Pineapple Peach. Tasting quite sweet, we also found that the flavors were very much at home against the backdrop of kombucha. In terms of being the most accessibly-flavored, this was clearly the winner of our tasting. Nothing like saving the best for last.
So, do we like our tea with cream and sugar, or perhaps with a dose of live bacteria? Let’s be honest. We like fermented things, sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, miso – all good – but all fermented things considered, we prefer fermented grape juice.