What are you drinking? Sweet tea, coke, or lemonade? Beer or a cocktail? Coffee or tea?
They might taste good, but sugary, highly caffeinated, and alcoholic beverages can leave you feeling bloated, wired, or tired. Kombucha, a lightly carbonated beverage made from fermented sweet tea and often infused with natural flavors, makes a great alternative for your cup. If you haven’t tried kombucha, you may want to give it a taste. If you’ve tried kombucha and found it too vinegary, consider a small, locally brewed and reliable source.
Erika Galloway, co-founder of Figment in Athens, Georgia, didn’t like kombucha the first time she tried it. “This is awful,” she said. It tasted too much like vinegar.
Galloway, who had been working with beer for years, was interested in taking on a new challenge. The friend who offered her that first funky taste of kombucha thought Galloway might be able to figure out how to make it more tasty. Galloway and co-founder Jason Dean, who also had experience in beer-making, took on the challenge, and together they developed kombucha recipes that are refreshing, flavorful, and smooth.
It’s no surprise that Galloway thought kombucha tasted like vinegar. If it is left to ferment too long, kombucha will become vinegar. Galloway noted that the kombucha sold in most grocery stores is made in such large batches it is hard to regulate the acidity.
At Figment, they ferment their kombucha in small batches, using stainless steel containers designed for beer. Although kombucha can produce its own bubbles, Galloway says they add carbonation so the batches don’t over-ferment. This protects delicate flavors, and keeps the vinegar taste at bay.
Many people turn to lacto-fermented foods and kombucha as a health tonic because it is high in antioxidants, probiotics, and vitamin B. “It helps to populate your gut with flora,” Galloway said.
The sweeteners used to ferment kombucha are consumed in the fermentation process and the alcohol content is “under .5%,” Galloway says. Colors and Shapes, one of Figment’s offerings, is infused with dry hops. It has a flavor similar to beer, but none of the side effects. “There’s nothing beneficial about beer,” Galloway notes. Some home-brewed kombuchas can have higher alcohol content, so it is important to check your sources.
More research is needed to verify all of kombucha’s benefits and risks. But we do know the hazards of drinking sugary sodas, alcohol, and too many caffeinated drinks. According to the CDC, “weight gain, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney diseases, non-alcoholic liver disease, tooth decay and cavities, and gout, a type of arthritis,” are all associated with regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. And the adverse effects alcohol has on our brain, heart and liver function along with that tell-tale “beer gut” are well-documented. Too much caffeine can cause insomnia, tremors and headaches. Although it can vary depending on the tea used and the exact production process, kombucha generally contains about one-third of the caffeine content of a regular cup of tea, offering the antioxidant benefits of tea without the tremors.
With an open taproom and tastings of flavors like Orange Blossom, Strawberry Meyer Lemon and Blueberry Lavender, you might discover a flavor that suits your palate. And you may get to the bottom of that cup or can and feel good inside.
Josina Guess is a writer based near Athens, Georgia. She is a contributor to several publications, including the anthology Bigger Than Bravery: Black Resilience and Reclamation in a Time of Pandemic (Lookout Books) September 2022.