Kombucha – a lightly fizzy, fermented cold tea drink – has soared in popularity in recent years in the UK, with many more pre-bottled options recently popping up on the market.
The boom has likely been fuelled by several factors. Firstly, interest in fermented foods in general is on the increase, in part due to their gut-friendly credentials, and kombucha is no exception – it’s said to have some interesting health benefits.
Secondly, with headlines focusing on the dangers of sugar-laden fizzy drinks, kombucha presents a lower-sugar, altogether more natural alternative.
Thirdly, recent reports have suggested that millenials in particular are turning away from alcoholic tipples and looking for low or no-alcohol options, with the result that more bars, pubs and restaurants than ever are now choosing to stock kombucha as part of their soft drink offering.
What is kombucha?
To make kombucha, firstly, the tea is brewed and sweetened with sugar to help feed the fermentation process. Next, a scoby is added (an acronym that stands for ‘symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast’) along with some starter liquid.
A permeable lid is attached and the mixture left to ferment for several days – this is the primary fermentation. When the kombucha is bottled for its secondary fermentation, flavourings can be added, including fruit, herbs, spices or other ingredients such as coffee, coconut water or rose petals.
The end result? A live, fermented drink that is effervescent, slightly sour, and can be flavoured with a huge variety of ingredients. Just like wine or beer, every kombucha recipe is unique, with the flavour profile, appearance and level of fizz depending on which ingredients and methods have been used during the brewing and fermentation process.
Left Field Sencha Green kombucha, £2.50 for 330ml bottle
Left Field pride themselves on their unfiltered, raw kombucha, unadulterated with juices or flavourings, and it’s easy to understand why – this green-tea-based brew is really something special. In the glass, it’s pale, effervescent and almost champagne-like in appearance. The light aroma is delicate on the nose, with hints of apple and honey. To drink, it’s clean and crisp with just the right amount of fizz. Full marks for this one and well worthy of a toast.
Real Kombucha Dry Dragon, £30 for pack of 12 bottles
Deliberately targeting the discerning drinker, Real Kombucha now find themselves on the drinks menus of some of the best bars and restaurants in the UK, including The Fat Duck, L’Enclume, The Hand and Flowers and Le Manoir. Their Dry Dragon kombucha is particularly delicious – delicate, bright and sparkling, with a dry finish. Walking the tightrope between acidity and sweetness with ease, it’s a well-balanced flavour profile with lovely lemony notes. A great alternative to sparkling wine with a meal.
Genie Crisp Citrus kombucha, £25 for pack of 12 bottles
Don’t let the intense orange colour fool you – this Genie kombucha has a refreshing, sophisticated flavour profile. The fruit flavour packs a real punch but, thankfully, lacks the synthetic aftertaste of some flavoured kombuchas. It has a vibrant aroma with hints of lemon, orange peel, and grapefruit, along with an inviting sweetness. The taste is complex – not too sweet but well-balanced with a zesty tang and a lime kick. It has a pleasantly dry finish and a subtle fizz. Crisp, lively and alert.
No. 1 Living Passion Fruit kombucha, £2 for 275ml bottle
This light, bright kombucha from No.1 Living boasts a gorgeous passion fruit scent with floral hints on the nose. It’s pale yellow in the glass with only the slightest hint of fizz – which is more than enough, as more might overpower the fine balance of flavour. Sweet and sour play perfectly off one another here, with a tangy aftertaste that leaves you reaching for another sip. This one is reminiscent of a sweet fruit cider – ideal to refresh and revitalise you on a hot summer’s day.
Clever Kombucha Original, £35 for pack of 12 bottles
Brewed in Glasgow, Clever Kombucha is currently available in four flavours – but the original was our pick of the bunch, brewed with Assam tea in oak barrels. In the glass, it’s a bright, golden colour, with a very unusual scent reminiscent of demerara sugar. Fine, delicate bubbles give a gentle burst in each sip, and stay stuck to the glass as it’s swirled – if it were a wine, you’d say it ‘has legs’. On the palate, it’s oaky and full-bodied, with an almost alcoholic kick that makes you think of dark rum. There’s very little acidic aftertaste, so if you prefer your kombucha with less ‘tang’, this might be a winner for you.
Captain Kombucha California Raspberry, £2.99 for 400ml bottle
Resembling a medium rosé in colour, this fruity kombucha is delicately flavoured and well-balanced, with a slightly perfumed scent and subtle fizz. Sweet, but not unpleasantly so, it has a true raspberry flavour, with hints of strawberries too. One to savour on a bright summer’s day.
Equinox Pink Grapefruit & Guava kombucha, £36 for pack of 20 cans
Bold, bright and confident, this Equinox kombucha is one for fans of strong, citrussy flavours. Brilliant pink in colour, it packs a really punchy grapefruit scent. On tasting, an enjoyable sharp and sour tang awaits beneath the fruity top notes. Vividly tropical and truly moreish.
Real Kombucha Royal Flush, £30 for pack of 12 bottles
This variety is brewed using first flush Darjeeling, which is hand-picked early in the spring for a delicate flavour – and it really shines in this kombucha. Pale yellow and lightly sparkling, it has a soft, peachy scent with a tangy undertone. It’s more sour than some – but not in a bad way – with a crisp, dry finish that’s altogether extremely enjoyable.
No. 1 Living Ginger kombucha, £2 for 275ml bottle
You get a real stem ginger aroma with a heady base of turmeric on opening this kombucha. It has a great balance of flavours – a subtle sweetness, a tang of acidity and a gentle heat from the ginger with a peppery finish. Pale yellow and translucent, its robust fizz really adds to the warming effect with each sip. A flavour-packed treat.
How we tested kombuchas
As kombucha is a live product that continues to ferment once it’s bottled, it’s important to store it correctly to slow the fermentation process and to avoid changes in taste – so all the samples were chilled immediately on delivery.
On the testing day, all samples were served chilled and poured into wine glasses with nothing added – no ice, lemon or straws. Notes were taken on the packaging, appearance, smell, taste and fizz and a score given to each kombucha. We included 33 samples from a variety of price points and brands for this review.
How to make your own kombucha
The health benefits of kombucha
A beginner’s guide to fermented foods
The best non-alcoholic beer
The best non-alcoholic wine
The best no and low-alcohol drinks
Non-alcoholic cocktail recipes
Are you a fan of kombucha? We’d love to hear your product recommendations in the comments below.
This review was last updated in September 2020. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lead image: Getty