Tea Time: What I Learned about Kombucha


My addiction to kombucha is not something to be taken lightly, and in fact, it’s something which causes my family to complain at least once or twice a week. Not just any kombucha – Kevita cherry kombucha is the root of my addiction. An entire shelf in our fridge is dedicated to the bubbly sweet cherry flavored drink. I get one or two stares from the other shoppers at Market Basket when I fill my cart with 10 whole bottles of the stuff. The casual side eye from the lady at checkout, however, isn’t nearly enough to deter me from hoarding this product and I even take several bottles in my bag from home when I go to college.

I didn’t start drinking it because I saw articles saying kombucha is good for my health or anything. I’m just addicted to the taste and the refreshing feeling that comes from drinking it. I gave up alcohol a few years ago after binge drinking throughout high school, and since then I don’t really crack open a cold beer to relax after a long day. Instead, the most relaxing thing for me is to have a bottle of kombucha while watching TV or playing video games. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that kombucha is actually quite good for your health. I had many questions about the drink and was curious to learn more about it. To that end, I reached out to a brewer of kombucha and had a chance to gain a deeper understanding of my favorite refreshment.

Matthew Glidden is the owner and brewer at KraftTea Kombucha in Worcester, MA.

Glidden got started brewing kombucha after tasting a product from Maine based brewery Urban Farm Fermentory at a festival. “I was like this is amazing. This is the best drink I have ever drank.” He wanted to drink more kombucha from Urban Farm Fermentory, however he found it hard to gain access to the product. Though he tried many ways to get a hold of it, the company was based too far away from him. “They didn’t distribute this far down, it was just outside of their range. That was when I decided I needed to start figuring out how to do this myself. So I did.”

How does one get started making kombucha? For Glidden it started with the most straightforward way possible – checking Google. “How do you research anything these days? You Google it. I looked at every YouTube video available, I looked at different resources. I found a couple of good books and read books about it, read forums. You just find every resource you can.”

An interesting method which Glidden told me about was setting up an alert on Google for the keyword ‘kombucha’. Google compiles all daily news about kombucha and sends it in a daily email so that he can keep up with any new news or methods related to brewing kombucha.

The next thing I was curious about is what exactly is kombucha and how is it made?

“Essentially what it is is a sweet tea that has been fermented through a 2-stage process. So the fermentation process that you would go through for beer or wine or drinks like that is stage one. Yeast eats sugar and makes alcohol and carbon dioxide. What makes kombucha different is that there’s a bacterial complement to it that will consume the alcohol along with the nitrogen and the caffeine to transpose those into probiotics, antioxidants and other amino acids that – turns out – are pretty good for humans.” The bacteria he spoke about using is called SCOBY – an abbreviation for ‘symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast’. Using the SCOBY is what transforms tea into kombucha. Glidden spoke at length about the organic chemistry involved in fermentation and brewing of kombucha, and how the bacterial interaction yields the sweet, bubbly drink.

Glidden and I also spoke about the difference between two styles of brewing kombucha—traditional and commercial. The kombucha sold in stores is the commercial method, which is brewed to ensure that there isn’t any potential for it to have alcohol in it. Brewing kombucha can yield up to 3% alcohol content, which would lead to companies being unable to distribute on a large scale to a wide audience. “You can pasteurize it by heating it to 200 degrees for a certain amount of time, you can filter it to get all of the yeast out of it or you can in some other way inhibit the yeast interaction. However, what you’re doing when you’re doing any of these things is making an inferior product.” Glidden maintains that the traditional method – which does not filter out the alcohol – is the best way to consume kombucha.

I, myself, have only ever tasted the commercialized version of kombucha and had never taken the opportunity to buy the product from an independent brewery. After hearing Glidden speak about the difference in quality between commercial and traditional brewing I decided to take a trip down to Worcester, Massachusetts, and try his kombucha myself. I picked up two flavors he recommended – blueberry lemon and apricot mango. I found there to be quite a few differences between the commercial kombucha I usually drink and the traditional kombucha brewed by Glidden.

The first difference I noticed was that there was significantly less carbonation in Glidden’s kombucha. There is usually an overwhelmingly bubbly taste when drinking Kevita kombucha, but Gliddens’ was much more flat and subdued. This also was true for the taste itself. The taste of Kevita kombucha is definitely boosted artificially because when drinking naturally-brewed kombucha, the flavor is much more subtle. I could also slightly taste the influence of alcohol in the fermentation, which was a new experience. While tasting the traditional kombucha, I could see the validity of some of Gliddens’ points regarding the commercialized vs traditional brew of kombucha. Though I may not be able to break my Kevita addiction, after my conversation with Glidden I might just reach for a traditional brew from time to time.