Tapping into the Kombucha Culture Club

Karen Plourde, Weavers Way Communications Staff

Kombucha has become a staple in many places, including the Co-op. And yet we still get inquiries from shoppers asking what it is and why they should drink it. To mark the first anniversary of kombucha on tap in both stores, here’s an overview. 

What’s This I’m Drinking?

A sign above the taps upstairs in The Incredible Bulk in Mt. Airy describes kombucha as “a truly functional food, containing beneficial enzymes, organic acids and probiotics that restore your body’s natural balance.” 

In plainer English, it’s raw, fermented, slightly sweetened green or black tea, a beverage whose origins go back to around 220 B.C .Manchuria. Because it’s fermented, it contains a trace amount of alcohol — about 0.5 percent ABV.

Kombucha has a soda-like mouth feel, and although there are lots of flavors out there, most of them taste alike. Think of the time you took a swig of that juice that had been sitting in the fridge for a while. 

That may sound less than appealing, as might the fact that kombucha is brewed with a SCOBY, or “Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast,” and part of this slimy blob sometimes ends up in your bottle. Not to worry — those who tout the benefits of probiotics say digesting such cultures keeps our gut healthy. 

Our Brewers’ Lineup

Weavers Way’s splash into bulk kombucha started in Mt. Airy last spring; the Hill installed its setup last summer. The four taps on Carpenter Lane are occupied by three local brewers: Pheasant Hill Farm of Emmaus, Lehigh County; Inspired Brews from Old City and Baba’s Brew of Phoenixville, Chester County. (Baba’s takes up two taps.)

Pheasant Hill brews Portch Tea, a blend of organic black tea, organic yerba mate and organic sugar. There are six standard varieties, which can vary in flavor due to the SCOBY, temperature and the amount of time they’ve spent fermenting. Inspired Brews offers eight flavors; Baba’s has five. 

According to Mt. Airy Bulk Manager Luis Cruz, all three brewers are strictly small-batch, producing one keg size of a particular flavor for us at a time. So embrace variety, because it could be a while before your favorite comes back around.

It’s a different story in Chestnut Hill, which has dedicated its four taps to Aqua ViTea of Salisbury, VT. The kegs — about two a week of each selection — are delivered three days a week by UNFI, the Co-op’s main grocery distributor. Blood orange is the top seller, followed closely by ginger, according to Chestnut Hill Grocery Manager James Mitchell.

Parting Slurps

If you’ve already got a bottled favorite, and/or didn’t remember to bring your refillable bottle, no worries — GT’s brand is stocked in both stores in a rainbow of flavors. In addition, the Hill carries Capital Kombucha from Washington, DC, and the Incredible Bulk pours out a selection of their current drafts for the downstairs drink case.

Kombucha has been credited with everything from preventing cancer and hair loss to reducing arthritis pain, but there’s not much scientific evidence for those claims. You’re bound to notice, after a few swallows, that it does bring on a hefty case of the burps, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve drunk it while recovering from a stomach virus (or a hangover) and found it more helpful than ginger ale. It’s also low in sugar, with none of the weird artificial sweeteners that plague diet drinks. 

For my money, kombucha is a natural, organic alternative to soda and tastes better than plain water or seltzer. You and your innards may say otherwise.