When it comes to kombucha, first things first: It’s pronounced kom (like dot-com) boo (what a ghost says) cha (cha-cha now, y’all).
You may have seen kombucha in glass bottles in the refrigerator section at the grocery store or possibly heard its virtues extolled by your yogi neighbor and wondered what it was all about.
In Greenville today, kombucha has earned a bit of a cult following. When the beverage’s fan discover a fellow ’bucha lover, there’s an instant bond, a bond that inevitably leads to a discussion about their favorite flavors and brands. Some may even take a selfie of themselves holding a bottle and post it on social media to prove their dedication. There also may or may not be a secret kombucha handshake. (Just kidding, we think.)
If you were to ask a local die-hard kombucha drinker, they’ll likely tell you Greenville is still very new to the ’bucha scene, especially compared to our northern neighbor Asheville, N.C., and our southern culinary muse Charleston. But the fermented bev is becoming more widely available around here and not just by the bottle, as is most common.
On tap, kombucha is poured just like beer, and it’s now available at bar counters in at least half a dozen restaurants and breweries in Greenville. Kava Konnection on Wade Hampton claims they were the first in the area in 2015 to have Asheville-made Buchi on tap. Swamp Rabbit Pizza and Grateful Brew also serve Buchi on tap. Happy + Hale entered the scene this spring with two kinds of Raleigh-made Tribucha, and recently Pour Taproom and 13 Stripes Brewery added Asheville-brewed Lenny Boy to their lineup.
But for the rest of you uninitiated folk, you’re probably still wondering, what the heck is this trendy beverage?
Kombucha is an ancient drink. The ancient Chinese called it the “immortal health elixir,” and it has been around for more than 2,000 years. But only relatively recently has it made its way into the Western diet.
According to the official Merriam-Webster definition, kombucha is “a gelatinous mass of symbiotic bacteria and yeasts grown to produce a fermented beverage held to confer health benefits; also: the beverage prepared by fermenting kombucha with black tea and sugar.”
If some of you just had an instinctive gag reflex, it’s understandable.
A “gelatinous mass” of anything doesn’t exactly sound health promoting. And frankly, we live in a society terrified of bacteria, for better or for worse. Most of us carry around a travel size anti-bacterial hand sanitizer. But, for the official, scientifically proven record, all bacteria aren’t bad.
For instance, sourdough bread? It’s created by starting with a mixture of bacteria and yeast. In baking, that’s called the “starter.” In kombucha, it’s called a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast).
And in this case, the SCOBY is used to turn plain ol’ black or green tea and sugar into an effervescent tonic that, when produced in a sanitary and controlled environment, is believed to promote good health.
Those health benefits come from the probiotics the fermentation creates.
Probiotics are gaining more ground in not just the natural health realm but also in traditional medical circles, as more research is done on their benefits. According to claims, a lack of probiotics has been linked to everything from digestive problems to depression. There’s still a lot we don’t know, though, so do your own due diligence if you have concerns.
Also, be aware that fermentation creates a negligible amount of alcohol in each serving, similar to vinegar. In other words, it’s not considered an alcoholic beverage.
Different fruits and spices are often added to the base kombucha to create a variety of flavors that can range from refreshing mango to spicy ginger and jalapeño.
If you’re unsure about what brands or bottles to try first, go to a bar that serves it on tap and ask for a taste. For instance, Kava Konnection offers a four-flavor flight of the Buchi variety they serve for around $6. They also offer growler pours of it for $9 if you find one you really like. And it’s important to note that, similar to beer, bottled kombucha will taste differently than the draft variety.