SCOBY SCOBY do’s and don’ts: Notes on the Kombucha craze

Pub date June 21, 2010
SectionPixel Vision

By Katie Gaydos

For me, the words “kombucha on tap” evoke images of endless streams of free-flowing fizzy ambrosia. Unfortunately, while many San Francisco health food markets and juice bars now carry kombucha on tap, kegstands are not an option. Alas, a mere 12 oz. cup of the stuff sets you back anywhere from $3 to $6. Kombucha may be on tap, but as long as it remains on its designer drink pedestal, it’ll cost you. But wait a second, kombucha is virtually cost-free to make. It’s only tea, sugar, water and a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture/Colony of Bacteria and Yeast). So what’s the deal? How did kombucha become a trend to the degree that people are willing to empty out their wallets?

With health benefits that supposedly include aiding digestion, increasing metabolism, detoxifying the liver, and promoting an overall sense of well-being, it’s no wonder that kombucha has long been considered a valuable elixir. But in the past ten years, ever since G.T. Dave started packaging his Synergy brew in signature bottles, the drink has initiated a consumer craze. More and more health food stores, restaurants, and even liquor stores boast a quickly growing selection.

This is certainly the case in health-conscious, trend-setting San Francisco. In search of all the kombucha this city has to offer, I embarked on an epic hunt and found a wide range of choices (both on tap and bottled) and prices.

Want a fresh ginger elixir? Or perhaps an apple-lemon-ginger kombucha? You got it! Sidewalk Juice (3287 21st St, 415.341,8070) has Lev’s Original Kombucha on tap. The small walk-up bar serves up half-kombucha, half-fresh juice concoctions. Prices range from $4.25 for a 12 oz. serving of coconut kombucha (a.k.a. “The Hangover”) to $7 for a 16 oz. cup of green tea kombucha.

Heading to the Ferry Building? The market Farm Fresh To You (1 Ferry Building #9, 415.834.9981) offers Lev’s original kombucha on tap. For $5 you get a 16 oz. cup with fresh-squeezed apple or orange juice. Farm Fresh also carries 16 oz. bottles of Lev’s (with flavors like mango, fresh mint, and hibiscus) for $4.49. Beware, though: bottled kombucha at Farm Fresh is priced significantly higher than at other SF health food stores — Synergy runs $4.19, and House Kombucha is $5.89 a bottle.

Where can you find the cheapest bottled kombucha? Rainbow Grocery (1745 Folsom, 415.863.0620) offers the widest selection of bottled kombucha at some of the lowest prices I’ve seen: High Country is on sale at $2.59 a bottle; Synergy and Vibranz are $2.99 a bottle; Healing Springs is $3.18 a bottle; Lev’s and Kombucha Botanica are $3.69 a bottle; Rejuvenation Company is $3.79 a bottle; and House Kombucha is $4.69 a bottle.

Where can you find the cheapest kombucha on tap? The Whole Foods Market branches in Potrero Hill and Noe Valley sold Kombucha Botanica at $2.40 for 16 oz., and $3.60 for 24 oz. (Note: Kombucha Botanica on tap is significantly less strong and less carbonated than Lev’s.) But on June 17, the Associated Press reported that Whole Foods temporarily stopped selling kombucha on tap and bottled kombucha for fear that it may contain elevated levels of alcohol.

Will other health food stores follow suit? We’ll have to wait and see. Perhaps the time is right to start brewing your own kombucha — it’s easy to do, and significantly cheaper than store-bought kombucha. You can order a starter kit online for $25 at Bay Area Kombucha Kollective