KOMBUWHA?! Kombucha my friends. Recently the motherload of booch magic landed on my doorstep, and I was an instant convert. Kombucha has been sweeping across the states, and of course, it’s now starting to take off here in the UK.
What exactly is it? Well, essentially it is fermented tea. Tea is steeped in hot water with raw organic cane sugar, and then cooled. The tea is then removed and an active SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria & yeast) is added. I always find it helps to think about Pac-Man when discussing fermentation. In this scenario, the SCOBY plays Pac-Man and the sugar are the Pac-Dots that are consumed throughout the game/fermenting process! The SCOBY is an active, living thing, and so can be used repeatedly. Kombucha has been homebrewed for centuries, and now we see many new brands making commercial success of this ancient drink. Of course as with any fermented food or drink there is a minute amount of alcohol present, but this is less than 0.5%, no more than a banana (a favourite fact from Club Soda Laura).
What do I need to know about kombucha?
Always keep your kombucha chilled. This is a live product, and if it is left to get hot for too long it can begin a secondary fermentation, which would result in a gradual increase in alcohol content. Don’t worry, this would take quite a while, but it’s definitely worth thinking about how you store your kombucha if you bulk buy. You’ll know if a secondary fermentation has happened because more sugar will have been fermented and you’ll be left with a heavily acetic drink, almost intense vinegar flavour. Of course, this is made with tea, so there is going to be some caffeine. Just keep that in mind if caffeine is something you like to keep an eye on. Most kombucha products will have some sediment or lumps in them, this is because most producers don’t filter their product. This is absolutely fine to drink, but avoid shaking your bottle if you don’t want to consume this!
Kombucha is renowned for its health benefits, and while there are no scientific studies that delve into this, it’s easy to see why. Fermented foods are high in probiotics, the good bacteria that help to maintain a healthy gut. This is great for your digestive system, and many people swear by it. I’ve also spoken to people who are certain that the kombucha has also had a positive impact on conditions such as IBS and acid reflux. Kombucha opens up a whole new world of delicious sparkling flavour, so even if you’re sceptical about the health benefits associated with it, you should just give it a try. I don’t think you’ll regret it!
Equinox Kombucha is one of the largest kombucha brands in the UK, they’ve even won two Great Taste awards. From humble beginnings in a bedroom in Yorkshire, Equinox has now grown and is available on Amazon, in Waitrose and at health food stores, cafes, and bars across the country. I tried a variety of their flavours and found the carbonation across their whole range to be spot on, very fine and delicate fizz, but no nose tingling! The branding is colourful, with bright mandalas emblazened across the bottle. On the whole, I found the kombuchas by Equinox to be a little heavier on the tart vinegar qualities than the other brands reviewed, which I still enjoyed, but thought worth noting.
This is made using green chun mee tea and spring water. This tea imparts slightly more acetic flavours and this translates in the kombucha also, but there is a pleasant sweetness that balances this. It’s light and crisp, with a slight aroma of apple cider vinegar. There is a pleasant savoury quality to this too.
A little more fire and warmth from this one, again with a fine carbonation. The ginger is very strong on the nose but quite soft on the palate, very smooth. Usually, I expect gingery drinks to be a little more aggressive but the slightly more delicate nature of this is actually really enjoyable.
I find Equinox, in general, to be a little heavier on the vinegar notes than other brands that I’ve tried. With this flavour I find that slightly overpowering, and it’s only when you get a few sips in that the berry comes through. This is a careful balance between sweet and sour, which I enjoy, but would say may not be the best flavour for a first time kombucha drinker!
Raspberry & Elderflower
This is probably my favourite from Equinox. You can really smell the raspberry when you open the bottle, it reminds me of drinking cold brew raspberry and echinacea tea in the summer. The elderflower is very subtle, and there is just a hint of sweetness but balanced well with a soft tangy character.
Clever Kombucha (Glasgow)
Clever Kombucha use simple branding, their bottles remind me of expensive soap brands! You feel like you’re getting a high-end experience when you open the fridge to find a shelf full of this stylish booch. I tried three of their flavours…
Ginger & Pear
This one has a fantastic orange colour to it! They’ve used their original oak and added cold pressed pear and ginger. The ginger is warming and there is a real spicy element to this one. There is also quite a pithy citrus quality, almost like orange peel.
Aged in oak barrels, this is brewed using Assam tea. Oak, when used in wine or beer production, does one of two things; if it’s new it will impart a woody character, and if it has been used it will allow oxygen to further develop and soften the flavours that have been created. If I had to guess I’d say we are going with the latter of the two with this kombucha. The Original Oak from Clever Kombucha carries those buttery, creamy attributes associated with Assam tea really well, this is very smooth and mellow. This was my favourite in the range.
Watermelon & Mint
The mint really comes through here and is pleasantly clean. The watermelon is quite a natural flavour, though it’s not as light and refreshing as I expected. Both flavours have been added as cold-pressed juice, and while this is enjoyable I just don’t think the watermelon flavour is quite as fresh and satisfying as other flavours I’ve tried.
Real Kombucha are bringing kombucha to high-end restaurants around the country, from Nathan Outlaw to Sat Bains and The Fat Duck. It’s brilliant to see then sitting alongside wine or beer pairings as a sophisticated option for non-drinking guests. Their flavours are pretty exciting, and I like that they’ve been creative with the names for each bottle.
This is made using Dragonwell, a pan-roasted green tea from the area around Longjing Villange in Zhejiang, China. This is a really delicate drink, a little light citrus with a slight sweetness. There is a slight hint of buttered corn, which may sound strange, but it’s a fantastic vegetal character. I found this to be a really mature drink, I felt like I had to give it as much though as I would a wine, which is perhaps why it’s gaining such popularity in the fine dining scene.
This was another treat! The aroma is just that of a cold brew berry tea and this translated on the palate too. There are hints of rhubarb and soft stone fruit, but also a deep earthy note and a little tanic quality too. This was one of my favourites out of all of the booch, and that’s a bold statement!
I’ve decided that Real Kombucha is the tea lovers kombucha, it’s for purists and loose leaf fiends, it’s for me! This puts me in mind of a Lapsang that hasn’t been brewed for too long. It’s round and smoky, but not aggressively so. It’s soft and oaky. A little orchard fruit and a soft rich sweetness. This is perfect for dessert, it makes me crave crème pâtissière… but maybe I’ve just had too much kombucha and the caffeine is catching up with me.
SODADA is fairly new on the block, and at the moment is supplied locally to cafes and bars in and around Leeds. But keep your eyes peeled because Zach has distribution plans afoot! Zach has gone to extra lengths to develop a top secret filtering process, so you won’t find any sediment in his bottles. I really like this, sometimes the ‘blobs’ in kombucha can be quite large and while they’re 100% fine to drink, I tend to avoid them if possible!
This is lovely, really refreshing. A small amount of elderflower syrup is used to mellow the tang of the kombucha, and the resulting drink is light and easy drinking. Elderflower can sometimes be too floral and overpowering but has been used really well here. SODADA only ferment and store in glass, which makes for a very clean taste and a high-quality brew.
SODADA do a secondary fermentation on all their kombucha, further reducing the sugar content and creating a smooth, richness of flavour. They use a cold pressed ginger root, which really adds a kick and enhances the natural tea flavour. I like that the ginger is bold and warming, this is one of my favourite ginger kombuchas on the market.
I love the shape of the Jarr bottles, there’s something a bit nostalgic about them. The branding is modern and simple, and Jarr actually share their production unit with a fantastic brewery called CRATE, who have a fantastic taproom. So if you get chance to visit, you’ll find some top quality beers available, as well as a great booch selection for anyone who isn’t drinking. Oh, and pizza too! Win!
I love this. It has just the right amount of tang, just a cheeky hint of that cider vinegar aroma and taste. It’s apply, citrussy but smooth and mellow.
This was really enjoyable. Often with passion Fruit flavours there is the potential to produce something too sweet or artificial tasting. But Jarr have got it just right with this one. The flavour is light, authentic and tropical, and you can taste the rich tea flavour beneath this. Really beautifully balanced and with soft carbonation.
Lo Bros started in Melbourne and have some really exciting flavours in their range. They use oolong and green teas as their base before adding cold press juices to jazz things up a little. They have quite a broad range of flavours available, I feel like these would be really appealing to kids as well as adults. All of their fruit flavours are very clean and fresh, no danger of artificial flavours here.
I hope this doesn’t offend the producer, but I feel as though this tastes like a more sophisticated appletiser! It’s really light and delicate, and the vinegar note that can be quite heavy with kombucha is really subtle. In fact that’s the case with all of Lo Bros booch. This is a crisp orchard tipple with a moderate carbonation.
Raspberry & Lemon
Again, flavours here are light and delicate. Think lemon sherbert and turkish delight! There’s something a little leafy and green about this too, which balances out the sweeter fruit qualities.
Ginger & Lemon
The ginger here gives a different feel in the mouth to the rest of the range, almost a little warm and fluffy but in all the best ways! The lemon cuts through this and lifts the drink with a citrus zing, a really interesting balance of flavours.
This is probably my favourite watermelon drink to date! Light, crisp, refreshing. This perfectly captures the flavour you get when you bite into a big slice of watermelon. Absolutely lovely!
Wild Fizz was founded by couple Gina and Luke. Gina first discovered Kombucha on a very special journey in the desert, which you can read about here, it’s pretty exciting stuff! This is the fizziest kombucha I have tried, and I can imagine serving it instead of prosecco, there’s something about bubbles that makes people feel fancy, so this is great for entertaining guests at a special occasion.
I love jasmine tea, and the pearls used here are lovely. A danger with jasmine tea is that it can easily become very tanic if the brew time is too lengthy. Luckily that isn’t the case here. Turmeric is also added, giving a warmth and bitterness that offsets the floral jasmine. This was sophisticated and clean, a firm favourite with me!
This is made with lavender buds, rosemary, pressed lemon juice, beetroot, and apple juice. I was a little skeptical about the lavender but have been happily converted! This is gently citric, with a fantastic herbal note from the rosemary and a nice earthy quality too. The lavender is very subtle, not at all overpowering. A soothing cup, best enjoyed while indulging in a good book on a warm afternoon!
Ginger, turmeric and black pepper unite to create a kombucha with plenty of oomph! This has quite a lot of heat to it, but the carbonation lends itself well and the spice isn’t overpowering. I’d like to drink this in the morning instead of my coffee for a little get-up-and-go!
I love Left Field, because they really highlight the tea as the star of the show. There are no additional flavours, just classic quality teas. I think this is quite a nice way to get into kombucha, the tartness is really very subtle here, so it’s a good route in if you’ve previously enjoyed cold brew tea.
No 1. Yunnan Black
What a treat! This has some lovely honey flavours, it’s a little darker in colour than a lot of other Kombucha, and has some really rich flavours of malt, it has a sweetness that counters the tannins really nicely. This is earthy with a bit of smoke too. Would highly recommend!
No 2. Sencha Green
This green tea brew has subtle notes of soft stone and tropical fruit. It is often described as tasting of the ocean, a fresh breeze, and a little seaweed! It has a slightly buttery character too, which balances out some of those grassier flavours.
No 3. Oolong
This is listed on the website as the ‘sassy’ floral one, and this couldn’t be truer! This is really light and has floral flavours and a little grass, but again an underlying sweet quality. The bubbles in Left Field are really fine, and this works perfectly with this delicate fruity number.
No 4. Darjeeling
This might be my favourite, I love Darjeeling! This is quite a robust pour, with some deep dark fruit sweetness. Darjeeling is often called the champagne of teas because of its similarity to muscat, often used in sweet wines. There is a higher level of tannin here and an almost vegetal quality. I’d say this is for the hardcore tea lovers who enjoy a variety of loose leaf brews regularly. This was definitely another favourite!