Kombucha is an ancient, tangy-sweet enigma, often prompting more questions than it answers. The tea-based beverage only recently gained popularity in the United States in the mid to late 90s, although kombucha production has been documented as early as 220 B.C. Kombucha is made from a mixture of brewed tea, sugar, and a live culture nicknamed SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) that forms a unique, mildly vinegar-esque, semi-sweet flavor.
The SCOBY sets kombucha (and other similarly fermented foods, like kimchi) apart from other, more common fermented food and drinks like sourdough bread, beer, and wine. SCOBY’s are gelatinous, circular mats of cellulose, fermentative bacteria, and yeasts. The bacteria and yeast eat the sugars in the tea and converts them into alcohol, carbon dioxide, and acids. (While there were some issues with alcohol level regulation at the beginning of kombucha’s rise to notoriety, studies have shown that alcohol levels are decreased to non-notable levels by the end of the fermentation process.)
One of kombucha’s biggest selling points is its role in maintaining and improving gut health. The name ‘kombucha’ is reportedly derived from Dr. Kombu, a Korean physician who brought the tea to Japan from China as a curative for Emperor Inkyo (412-453 A.D.), who suffered from digestive issues. Kombucha’s fermentation process packs the piquant drink with probiotics, which promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria. Probiotics have been linked to a wide range of health benefits, including weight loss, digestive health, immune function, and more.
Whether you’re unsure where to start in the world of kombucha or are looking for a new brand to try, we’ve gathered five of the best kombucha brands in terms of flavor, variety, and ingredients. Start sipping your way to a healthier gut and happier you!
With 16 flavors ranging from sweet to spicy, Health-Ade kombucha is a Los Angeles-based operation specializing in small-batch, glass-only production (a unique feature that helps prevent plastic and metal leaching). Health-Ade is USDA organic, certified vegan, gluten-free, and non-GMO. With only 12 grams of sugar and 60 calories per bottle, this kombucha is a healthy alternative to other brands that douse their brews with added sugars, dyes, and artificial flavors. Our favorite Health-Ade flavors are Bubbly Rosé, Ginger Lemon, and Cayenne Cleanse. The best part? They offer free, fast, refrigerated shipping.
Based out of Atlanta, Georgia, this fairly new operation is woman- and minority-owned. Kemiko Y. Lawrence’s small-batch brews began as a way to substitute sodas and other sugary drinks in her kids’ diets. Her operation has now expanded to include national shipping and a suite of organic, vegan products made with love and packed with flavor. Our favorite flavors are moon goddess, a mix of blueberry, elderberry, acai, and ginger, and earth goddess, a power green heavy-hitter made with cucumber, mixed greens, celery, and ginger. Kombucha purists will love the Star Goddess, an unflavored brew highlighting the natural tanginess of plain, fermented black tea. Kemboocha also offers a kombucha starter kit for home brewing and fire cider, an ancient, immunity-boosting tonic made from apple cider vinegar, horseradish, ginger, onion, garlic, habanero peppers, honey, and apples.
Brew Dr. was born out of Townshend’s Tea Company in Portland, Oregon. This kombucha is made from black, green, and oolong tea blends and features flavors like ginger turmeric, island mango, and clear mind (an amazingly refreshing combination of rosemary, mint, sage, and green tea). They also offer kombucha fortified with CBD or caffeine. Dr. Brew is the first major kombucha company to become a certified B corporation. The alcohol from their brews is gently removed and repurposed for biofuel, 85% of their ingredients are locally sourced from the Pacific Northwest, and they operate on 100% renewable energy.
Live Soda began as one man’s mission to improve the health of his family by creating a kombucha that tastes like soda. With 8 grams of sugar and 35 calories per serving, this USDA organic, 99.7% raw kombucha offers familiar flavors like Cola, Doctor, Ginger, and Root Beer. In addition to their kombucha, this company offers Live Probiotic Soda, a canned soft drink with no sugar and billions of probiotics, and Live Drinking Vinegar, a bottled tonic made with a 2 tbsp blend of raw apple cider vinegar and coconut vinegar. We recommend you try them all, but if you’re looking for a place to start, we suggest the Doctor kombucha or the pomegranate and elderberry (another great immune booster!) drinking vinegar.
Brewed and bottled in Louisville, Kentucky, Elixir started as three friends home-brewing kombucha for their family members with digestive and autoimmune issues. Their operation has expanded into the rest of the Bluegrass state and beyond, but they continue to source ingredients locally and advocate for small businesses like themselves. Elixir offers unique flavor combinations made from organic fruits, juices, herbs, and spices like Lavender Lemonade and Gonzofruit (a ruby red grapefruit brew named after the infamous Louisville writer, Hunter S. Thompson). We highly recommend their bittersweet Hemp Hop for IPA-lovers.