When you're in Whole Foods tomorrow to pick up your organic free-range sustainable humanely slaughtered coconut chicken skewers, you might see some people staring forlornly at an empty shelf. Why? The kombucha's gone! Oh, overpriced fermented tea. Where'd you go?
Today Whole Foods, a key driver of the stuff's mass consumption, has pulled all kombucha from their shelves because testing revealed that the it might be slightly more alcoholic than permissible by law. (.05 percent.) Some extremely skinny people are extremely upset right now. But what is kombucha? Put down your Diet Coke. Place your baby in your uncool baby carrier that isn't made out of sustainable free trade cotton. Turn down your adult contemporary music. Here's what you need to know.
Kombucha tastes terrible
Objectively, kombucha tastes (and smells) really bad. It's sort of sour, sort of sharp, like cough syrup that's been in the medicine cabinet too long, or a lacrosse player's inner thigh. But nobody drinks kombucha because of the taste! They drink it because...
Kombucha is a miracle hippie drink that cures all ailments
Kombucha is what people in the beverage biz call a "functional drink." If you can get over the whole "tastes awful" thing, then you have entered a magical world of health in a bottle! Here's what one eHow user thinks Kombucha can do:
Kombucha Tea is thought to be effective in lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, helping stabilize blood glucose levels, boosting energy, softening veins, stimulating the glandular system, improving digestion, increasing the circulatory system, cleansing the gallbladder and accelerating the body's overall healing process.
In fact, Kombucha really took off in the 90s among AIDS patients who thought the drink could increase their T-cells. Nobody believes it can actually do that, though it's been shown to help repair liver damage in rats. But kombucha is also suspected of making humans die.
Kombucha is some sort of Ancient Chinese bullshit
Kombucha is made in a gross way
Perhaps you have heard of beer? Like beer, Kombucha is fermented using yeast. Unlike beer, the fermenting process is designed to be as disgusting as possible so as to scare off any non-hippies from drinking it. Here's how it works: You put a huge clump of yeast and another bacteria (acetobacteria) into a container with water and sugar. This is called the "kombucha mother" or, if you want to be really gross about it, "the mushroom." The mother sits there and rots for a couple weeks, slowly pulsing as the bacteria eat the sugar and poop it out into the water. Then you drain the water, flavor it with some elderberries or whatever and drink it. That's kombucha!
Many people grow their own
Walk into any commune or Berkley co-op and there will be a jar with a slimy kombucha mother in it. Usually, it is named after a 1940s anarchist and placed above the fridge so that when you are trying to grab a Smirnoff Ice it topples onto you and ruins your brand new polo shirt.
A guy named G.T. Dave Is getting very rich off it
Do not laugh at G.T. Dave's weird name. He is much richer than you, thanks to the fact that his GT's Kombucha is the number-one selling Kombucha brand in the US, according to the Times. He started it in the 80s because he thought it could help his cancer-surivor mother. Last year, he sold more than 1 million bottles with such flavors as "Multi-Green," "Gingerade," and "Dreadlock juice". (That last one is made up!) Lindsay Lohan loves it. Coke is planning to get in on it. Clearly, this drink has spread far beyond hippies, to young Brooklyn parents and perhaps even minorities. Perhaps even you.
It's really expensive
Our buddies at Jezebel found that kombucha, like all the fine things in life, is "fucking expensive". As much as $5 for a bottle! Let us put that into perspective for you unhealthy non-kombucha drinker: You could buy an entire Big Mac meal or half a pack of cigarettes in New York for that much.