There’s something new on tap, though it’s been around for two thousand years. Kombucha, a fizzy, fermented tea drink purported to have healing properties, is steadily rising in mainstream popularity, finding success with commercial kombucha brewers, home brewers, and bartenders alike.
Made by fermenting tea and sugar with a culture of bacteria and yeast, kombucha is effervescent and potent, its deep, almost musty flavor lightened by a rush of friendly little bubbles. First-time drinkers soon become kombucha groupies.
Once associated with only the dippiest of hippies, kombucha and other fermented foods have earned the respect of the health-conscious community. Kombucha is thought to detoxify the body, improving digestive and immune systems, and Psychology Today reported that fermented foods may even be the next Prozac, easing stress and depression.
Although such positive claims lack solid scientific proof, kombucha devotees stand behind it as a miracle cure. Jeff Weaber, founder of Vermont kombucha brewery Aqua Vitea with his wife, Katina Martin (a naturopathic physician), shared this anecdote in an email: “During an in-store demo, a person returned after 15 minuets of trying our ginger kombucha for the first time to report that a stomachache she had been dealing with for three days was now gone.”
Aqua Vitea is spreading the kombucha love. The brewery bottles single-serving containers, “but more of it travels in the kegs to stores, where it’s sold fresh on tap—a niche Aqua Vitea pioneered,” writes Sylvia Fagin in Vermont’s Local Banquet. “Empty bottles and growlers are sold near the taps for customers to fill and refill, saving money and resources.”
Other kombucha microbreweries around the country are thriving, as well. In addition to its tasty finished product, craft brewer Kombucha Brooklyn sells 100-200 kombucha homebrew kits a month and curates an online Brewers Forum where devotees can swap stories and recipes. “One of our main goals for having the forum was to connect ’buch brewers and to have them share their successes and failures,” says founder Eric Childs.
Now kombucha is hitting the bar scene. Sumathi Reddy, reporting for the Wall Street Journal, sees alcoholic kombucha drinks gaining trend status in the New York metro area. Get a jasmine margarita made with kombucha at Taproom No. 307 in Manhattan, a “beer bucha” (50 percent kombucha, 50 percent light beer) at Urban Rustic in Brooklyn, or try a new high-alcohol version of kombucha called “Mava Roka” at Queens Kickshaw in Astoria.
Beware of too much of a good thing, though (even if it’s nonalcoholic), or you'll risk stomach pain, headaches, or other symptoms as your body adjusts to the detoxification process. Weaber warns, “After making kombucha for eight years, I started getting the sense that it’s powerful stuff, and you should probably be drinking only about four ounces of kombucha a day. But, being gluttonous Americans, everybody’s drinking 16–32 ounces of kombucha a day.” In other words, get out the shot glass, not the pint.
Margret Aldrich is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter at @mmaldrich.