Photo by Klara Avsenik

If you’ve been in any health food store within the past few years, you’ve likely encountered kombucha. Before 2010, the fermented tea drink was still obscure and only sold in specialty health food stores. Now kombucha sales have skyrocketed, becoming one of the fastest-growing product in the functional beverage market, with an estimated market worth of 1.8 billion dollars by 2020.

What was once known as the “Immortal Health Elixir” by the Chinese is now an extremely popular beverage in the modern world for its unique flavors and health benefits. Kombucha is a fermented beverage made from black tea, sugar, and a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (known as a “SCOBY”). The bacteria and yeast are responsible for initiating the fermentation process after the sugar is added. The fermentation causes the beverage to become carbonated, and the resulting drink contains acetic acid, B vitamins, enzymes, and probiotics. The beverage has been lauded as a functional drink with various health benefits. These numerous claims to benefits and cures do not have the evidence to support them, but that certainly isn’t stopping people from trying it themselves!

In 2010, The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau discovered that the kombucha being sold in various stores contained alcohol levels ranging from 0.5% to over 2.5% which is significantly over the bureau’s regulation that non-alcoholic beverages must contain less than 0.5% ABV. Following the pause on production, producers had to decide whether to decrease the alcohol content in their product or keep it the same and market it as an entirely new product regulated by the TTB. Some producers who kept their alcohol content the same created consciously-labeled kombucha beer brands. The most popular of which is Kombrewcha, a New York-based company that emphasizes the touted benefits of kombucha as an alternative to traditional beers.

The newest trend in kombucha is brewing your own at home. However, if you decide to do this yourself you’ll have to wait for weeks to have an actual beverage. Making the SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) or “mother” of the kombucha takes anywhere from 1 to 4 weeks. The first fermentation of making the actual kombucha takes 6 to 10 days, and the final step of carbonating the drink takes an additional 3 to 10 days. Once you have the SCOBY, you can continue to reuse it to make a new batch of kombucha to be ready every 9-20 days. Contamination due to improper techniques is a major concern, with extreme adverse side effects if something goes wrong. If you can’t wait on making your own (or don’t want to try), you can purchase kombucha in almost any major grocery store and health food market. Love it or hate it, the fermented tea is not going away anytime soon.

Written on September 10, 2018.