The first time I drank kombucha was a few years ago. I had just finished my high school baseball game when my dad gave me a sip of some new drink made from fermented tea that he was trying. I hated it. It had such a weirdly bitter, unique flavor that my tastebuds were not used to nor expecting.
It's amazing how much things can change, because today I run a kombucha website, brew gallons of kombucha at home every couple weeks, and recommend the drink to friends and family all the time. Before I tasted kombucha for the first time, I wish I had an article like this one to know what to expect from the drink.
All kombucha has a sweet, bitter, alcoholic, and fizzy taste. The bitterness, alcohol, and carbonation are naturally occurring products of the fermentation process. Much of the sweetness comes from the initial sugar, and the added flavoring. Some flavors, like mango pineapple, will make the kombucha taste light and sweet, while others, like ginger turmeric, will make the kombucha taste bold and spicy.
Let’s talk about exactly what you're drinking when you sip on kombucha and what to expect in terms of taste, flavor and texture.
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a probiotic drink made from fermented tea that has become quite popular in recent years due to its great taste and many health benefits such as improved digestion and gut health, detoxification, and immune system strengthening.
What kombucha is Made of
In order to prepare yourself for the taste and flavors of kombucha, you need to understand what it's made of and how it's made.
Kombucha Ingredients List
Green, Black, Oolong or White Tea
SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast)
Flavoring (Fruit, Juice, Herbs, Roots, etc.)
How Kombucha is Made
All kombucha begins as sweet tea. What turns this sweet tea into sweet and sour probiotic kombucha is a living culture of bacteria. This culture of bacteria, known as a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), eats the sugar and caffeine from the sweet tea and produces acids, carbon dioxide, and alcohol.
Once it has eaten enough sugar to make the kombucha bitter tasting, the SCOBY is removed and the 1st fermentation is complete. At this point the kombucha can be drunk, but it's not carbonated or flavored yet.
The carbonation and flavor is added in a 2nd fermentation. During this stage, the kombucha is sealed in glass fermenting bottles that are filled with fruit, juice, or herbs for flavoring.
Over the course of a few days, the kombucha in the bottles develops carbonation and flavor. It’s then refrigerated and ready to be drunk!
What Kombucha Tastes Like
Kombucha is a really unique tasting drink that likely is different than any drink you’ve ever had before. Let's go through the different flavors you'll taste in kombucha and why they're there.
Kombucha Tastes Bitter and Sweet
Kombucha is kind of like lemonade in that it is sweet and sour at the same time. It is sweet because it’s made from sweet tea, and sour because much of the sweet tea is fermented into bitter tasting vinegar, acids and alcohol.
The longer a brew is fermented, the more sugar is going to be eaten by the living bacteria and yeast culture and the more bitter it’s going to taste.
If a brew were not fermented at all for example, it would just be sweet tea. And if a brew were fermented for a really long time, it would eventually turn into vinegar. Most kombucha brand's and home brewer's goal is to get their booch to a perfect taste balance between sweet and sour.
This bitter, slightly vinegar like taste that kombucha has is a part of the kombucha flavor profile that can take some getting used to. The first time I tried kombucha it really surprised me.
I think part of the reason I initially didn't like the bitter taste is because the diet here in the U.S.A is so full of sugar and salt. Palettes in the U.S. have become so accustomed to eating only sweet and salty foods, that when they taste a bitter food like kombucha, they reject it. Even though bitter, fermented foods are super healthy for you!
If the bitterness drives you away at first, I really recommend you give kombucha a few more chances to give your palette time to adjust. Who knows, you may go from at first hating kombucha, to making an entire website about it like I did.
Kombucha Tastes Alcoholic
One of the natural products of the process of fermentation is alcohol. In fact, alcohol is naturally occurring in a lot of foods, such as bananas, grape juice, vinegar, pickles, bread, yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi.
Although there is some alcohol in kombucha due to fermentation, the amount of alcohol in store bought kombucha is so low it's never going to get you intoxicated.
The reason you don't have to worry about getting buzzed off booch is because in order to be marketed and sold as a non-alcoholic beverage, store bought kombucha always has under 0.5% alcohol content.
For reference, most beers have an alcohol content of 4.5%. This means that in order to get the same amount of alcohol as a beer, which would still leave you far from the point of intoxication, you’d have to drink 9 bottles of kombucha!
Home brewed kombucha on the other hand, can have anywhere from a 0.5% to over 3% alcohol content depending on the type and length of the brewing process. So you'll have to be a little more careful with it.
Even though kombucha only has small amounts of alcohol in it, it still has quite an alcoholic taste. This could partially be due to the bitterness and kick it has from its acidity.
Different brands and flavors will have varying levels of alcohol taste, so if you're someone who hates the taste of alcohol, you may not love the taste of certain brand's kombucha.
However, if you're someone who does enjoy booze, you might really like the taste of kombucha!
I personally enjoy the taste and have found that a lot of times when I’m craving a drink of alcohol, a bottle or glass of kombucha can completely satisfy that craving (and leave me feeling way better the next morning)
Kombucha is Fizzy
Kombucha is a carbonated drink, but unlike artificially carbonated drinks such as Coca Cola or Lecroix, kombucha is naturally carbonated from the process of fermentation.
The carbonation is created when the yeast and bacteria in the kombucha eat the sugar in the added flavoring and produce carbon dioxide. Since during this part of the fermentation process the brewing kombucha is sealed in an airtight bottle, the carbon dioxide builds up pressure and eventually infuses into the liquid, creating carbonation.
Some brands of kombucha will be more carbonated than others, and home brewed booch can vary greatly in its levels of carbonation depending on what type of flavoring is used and the length of 2nd fermentation.
For example flavorings with more sugar like fruit or juice will usually create more carbonation than flavorings with less sugar such as roots or herbs.
Every kombucha you drink will have a sweet and sour, alcoholic, and fizzy taste to it. But the levels and strength of these things can be drastically effected by the flavoring used.
Depending on the flavoring, kombucha can taste very sweet and fruity, or more bitter and spicy.
Flavors such as Health-Ade’s Pomegranate, Pink Lady Apple, and Bubbly Rose for example, (You can find a variety pack of all 3 on Amazon here) are going to taste fruitier, sweeter, and more sugary than other flavors Health-Ade makes such as lemon ginger (which you can find on Amazon here)
One of the coolest things home brewing kombucha has taught me is how different kombucha can taste based on the flavoring used.
I’ve made light flavors such as blueberry vanilla which taste almost like candy and are loved even by my friends who don't normally like kombucha, and I’ve also made really strong and aggressive flavors such as ginger turmeric or mango habanero which taste just as good, but in their own unique way.
All of this is to say that your taste experience with kombucha is going to depend a lot on the flavor your drinking. I personally enjoy almost all the flavors you'll find on store shelves, but if your first experience drinking kombucha is a poor one, it could be a good idea to try again with a different flavor.
The Smell of Kombucha
They say half the taste is in the smell, so if we're going to talk about the taste of kombucha I think it’s important to also talk about what to expect as far as smell goes.
I personally think that kombucha tastes way better than it smells. When I drink it, I can really taste the sweetness of the tea and the flavoring. But when I smell it, the flavor is overpowered by the alcohol and yeast
The reason kombucha smells worse than it tastes could be because the sugar and carbonation in it overpower the taste of the yeast, but not the smell. Whatever the reason, I wouldn't judge the taste of booch based on how it smells.
Kombucha's combination of sweet, sour, alcoholic, and acidic flavors creates a really amazing and unique tasting drink. If you haven't tried kombucha before, I strongly recommend you give it a shot.
And if you have tried it before but didn't like it, I encourage you to give it a few more chances. You may just have not liked the flavor and your body and palette can take some time getting used to the unique bitter taste. And once they do, you won't be able to get enough.
If you want to learn more about kombucha, how it relates to your health, and even how to brew it yourself, check out the rest of my website!