April 4, 2011

Kombucha Companies: The Roundup. ~ Hannah Crum

Photo: Robert Anthony Provost

A glimpse into the wide varieties of Kombucha available post-recall.

The all-natural consumer products trade show Natural Products Expo West is known as “Disneyland for Eco-People”—appropriately, considering you often have to park in the Disneyland lot and then walk a long (heavy-sample-toting) distance to the show. The irony of a sprawling, “single-serving” oriented, yet eco-conscious convention and the waste it creates is not lost on the attendees. But this is business, and these companies are working to bring better (not perfect) products to the market.

It’s an exciting atmosphere full of like-minded, passionate people looking to make connections, with just a dash of peace and love thrown in wherever possible.

The entire event is fascinating, but my business is Kombucha Tea: so I set my laser-like focus on anyone associated with the sweet and tangy elixir. While just a handful of the 50+ (and growing) currently established commercial Kombucha brewers opted to attend this year, those on hand offered a glimpse into the wide varieties of Kombucha available post-recall.


Photo: Ed Summers

For those who missed it, many Kombucha brands underwent a brief voluntary recall last Summer due to alcohol levels slightly above 0.5%. Some of those brands altered the process of making their Kombucha to prevent this from happening, dubbed “reformulation.”

Upon arriving, I came across Kathy Taylor of Vibranz Kombucha downstairs at the front of the New Products section, pouring samples and chatting happily. Kathy launched Vibranz last summer, just before the Great Kombucha Recall of 2010. By quickly reformulating, she was able to snap up shelf space left empty while national brands scrambled to get back.

She touts her brand as the first “good tasting” kombucha, and I can definitely see how those who don’t care for the acetic bite of some brands would go for hers. She also told me that they will be re-launching their popular mango flavor later this Spring.

A brief stop by the Kombucha 2000 booth to chat with the friendly, but tight-lipped Ardi Farshchi—an LA fixture since the 1990’s—included a tasty sample of his lightly tart and soda-like blueberry brew. Ardi ships Kombucha nationwide and distributes his beverage direct to retailers in a handful of states, featuring exotic flavors such as noni, E3 live, and papaya.

I was particularly excited to speak with Chantale Houle (President) and Dr. Sergi Rollan (Scientist Director) of Kefiplant in Canada to hear Chantale’s wild story. As it goes, she was brewing Kombucha at home, and decided to research what was in her drink and “mushroom.” After tracing the DNA of the SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast), Dr. Rollan theorized that Kombucha’s roots go back to the kefir grain of the Mongols, sometime in the last 1000 years. His concept is that while traveling on the Chinese Tea Road, kefir grains mixed with tea, leading to Kombucha. Sergi is writing a manuscript detailing his research claims.

Photo: tarikgore

From this idea, they have developed various ferments using the kefir grain (pictured left). Their process is tightly controlled in the laboratory to produce what they say are the highest levels of beneficial acids with the lowest amount of alcohol—a product dubbed “kefir-kombucha.”

Santa Cruz’s Kombucha Botanica came back from the reformulation in partnership with Kefiplant as the first U.S. beverage using the lab’s “Kefi-Viva” extract as a base. Founder Adam Goodman is excited about his reborn product, which is available up and down the West Coast in both 12oz bottles and kegs. The pomegranate flavor I sampled was fruity, bubbly, and thirst quenching, yet hard to categorize as either kefir or Kombucha. It’s more its own flavor.

Celestial Seasonings was on hand to offer samples of their Kombucha. Their vibrant packaging style mimics their already successful lines of tea, and each surprisingly tart flavor is targeted to boost a specific body function, such as digestion or energy. As many producers have chosen, Celestial Seasonings is maintaining below .5% alcohol content by changing and removing yeasts and keeping the product cold at all times, though they are not using wine yeasts like some brands. Those in the Rocky Mountain region might find it available where they live right now, while others will have to wait until plans to roll out nationwide develop later this year.

Finally, I met up with the proudly pasteurized Kombucha Wonder Drink folks. Their assertion is that although pasteurization kills live cultures, it doesn’t kill the organic acids produced by the culture, which provide the real health benefits of Kombucha. They also say that probiotics cannot survive stomach acid anyway, so pasteurization has no effect. They certainly have a successful brand, and it’s difficult to argue with people who are so darn friendly, so instead I sipped one of their sweet-tart and sparkly Kombuchas and enjoyed the moment.

I’m no scientist, but it appears for now, at least, that Kombucha may be in the eye of the beholder.


Hannah Crum is the creator of Kombucha Kamp and has mentored 1000’s of homebrewers around the world. She has been featured as The Kombucha Mamma on the Veria Network as well as in BevNet, Whole Life Times Magazine, LA Times Best Bets, Vital Juice and many more. Keep up on Kombucha news, interviews & brewing secrets and learn about the health benefits of Kombucha Tea here, or e-mail her at [email protected]

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