The kombucha craze: Here's what's behind the hype

Here's what you need to know about this fermented sweet tea

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Kombucha tea is an increasingly popular drink, and a variety of flavors and brands are sold in stores. Kombucha is a fermented tea with bacteria and probiotics. 

The popular kombucha trend has made its way to Columbia. DrinKraft, a local kombucha startup, is set to open in early 2018. Kombucha, however, dates back thousands of years to 220 B.C. Its popularity continued to spread throughout the late 2000s, and just last year, PepsiCo purchased KeVita, a small kombucha company, for around $200 million.

What is kombucha?

Kombucha is a fermented sweet tea that is mixed with bacteria and probiotics. The color of the drink differs depending on how long it ferments. People drink it for a variety of reasons, and the taste varies from slightly sweet to tangy and even spicy. SCOBY, which stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, is a home for bacteria and yeast to grow. When the microbes have had time to ferment, the final product is a fizzy drink that tastes similar to apple cider or wine.

Bacteria meets yeast

Simply speaking, kombucha can be made with four ingredients, says Kalle LeMone, co-owner of Nourish Café & Market. Black or green tea, sugar, SCOBY and a flavor additive make up the basis of the drink. SCOBY is a living entity for the microbes to ferment and is what transforms the tea into kombucha. “Pieces of the SCOBY — the SCOBY looks like a little sea creature — can be in the kombucha,” LeMone says. SCOBY also regenerates every time it is reused in making another batch of kombucha.

Flavors and ingredients

Kombucha comes in a variety of flavors such as fruity, flowery and spicy. For people who have never tried it, LeMone recommends a simple flavor such as grape, but there are other unusual ones including cayenne and turmeric. One of her favorites is lavender hibiscus, she says.

Pete Hinshaw and John Wexler, co-owners of a local kombucha brewery startup called DrinKraft, plan to create flavors such as grapefruit, carrot and beet kombucha. They also want to use different variations of ginger and fruits. “Ginger just goes really well with kombucha,” Hinshaw says. “It goes really well with apples or blueberries.” Other flavor ideas include chai, hibiscus, lime and beerbucha, which is hops-flavored kombucha. The alcohol content in kombucha varies according to the length of time it is fermented. Hinshaw says their kombucha is not regulated as an alcoholic beverage as long as the alcohol content is under 0.5 percent to comply with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

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