There's a reason kombucha is often referred to as an "acquired taste."
Bacteria tea hardly sounds appetizing, and the visceral-looking scoby floating around in the bottle only makes the drink more daunting. Plus, the flavors kombucha drinkers swear to love don't sound that good, either—"vinegary," "earthy funk."
In an attempt to see what's really behind the hype and wellness-industry branding, we rounded up eight kombuchas made by Oregon companies for a blind taste test conducted by 10 kombucha-obsessed WW writers and staffers. Since there's not one standard kombucha flavor, each company selected the flavor it wanted to submit. The samples were given a score of 1 to 100 by each taster, which we've averaged.
Given kombucha's distinctive character, we were surprised just how different everything tasted. Even a room of seasoned kombucha drinkers found many of the samples bizarre and, at times, jarring.
Here are the results of the taste test, starting with our favorite.
Camellia Grove|Green Tea
Only six months on the market, Camellia Grove is the newest local brewer we tried. It's also one of the simplest. The company bottles only four "flavors," each of which reflects the variety of tea used in the brew: black, green, oolong or rooibos. But the green tea kombucha we tried was plenty complex. The low sugar and lack of any added flavors allowed the taste of the tea to come through: gently sweet, very floral and deeply refreshing.
Taster notes: "Usually, kombucha doesn't actually taste like tea, but this does." "Hints of jasmine. Light and bubbly." "A cross between matcha and fish." "Pear and bergamot and grass." "I want to put gin in it."
Oregonic Tonic|White Peach
Founded by father-daughter duo Dave and Ally McGee in 2014, Oregonic Tonic is a small operation that's built up a repertoire of seven flavors. Their White Peach ticks all the boxes kombucha should: vinegary, pungently yeasty and a healthy amount of fizz. But the bright peach flavor is just as strong, and the evaporated cane juice Oregonic Tonic uses in all its brews made the drink delightfully sweet without crossing the line into cloying.
Taster notes: "Syrupy sunshine." "Smells like dirty socks and bad breath, tastes like yummy peach." "The Platonic ideal of kombucha." "Really peachy, pretty sweet. Makes me want vanilla ice cream."
Brew Dr.|Clear Mind
Brew Dr. makes a whopping 12 varieties of kombucha, plus seasonal and special-edition flavors, from basics like lemon ginger to signature brews like citrus hop and vanilla oak. Out of all its flavors, the local kombucha giant chose Clear Mind to battle it out in the taste test. It's easy to see why. Refreshing and palatable, Clear Mind is quintessential easy-drinking kombucha. We picked up on the hint of peppermint and a slight earthiness from the sage, rosemary and dandelion root in the fermented tea. But most of all, we just found it crisp and clean.
Taster notes: "Better than LaCroix." "Nice, mellow flavor. Classic." "Really clean and crispy. An inoffensive introductory 'booch." "Watered-down ginger ale."
Eva's Herbucha gets its name from its founder, homebrewer-turned-pro Eva Sippl, and from the fact that each 'booch is made with herbal tea. Detox is aptly named. Crisp and piney, it tasted a little like a cleaning product. Our tasters didn't mind the notes of Pine-Sol, though—instead, we appreciated the clean, subtle sweetness, mixed with the right amount of earthy funk.
Taster notes: "Tastes very raw in a good way." "Sweet and sort of citrusy." "Pleasant ginger flavor with a hint of some fruit notes. Oaky aftertaste." "Tastes like one of those pine tree air fresheners in your car, in a good way."
Yoga teacher Jean-Pierre Parent founded Soma after his students started asking to buy the homebrew he shared after class. As the self-professed "world's healthiest kombucha," Soma's medicinal intentions are evident before you even take a sip of its Lemon Ginger kombucha—to put it lightly, it smells very intense. Our testers generally liked its strong ginger taste, though, which Soma buoys by adding ginger juice to the black tea base, along with lemon juice and lemon essential oil.
Taster notes: "Medicinal cayenne. Kombucha noobs won't like this one." "Candied ginger tire." "I can't get beyond the stank." "Cayenne, feet, tastes better than it smells." "Smells the organic, probiotic way kombucha is supposed to smell." "Smells like pits."
Wonder Drink|Green Tea Lemon
One of the biggest kombucha companies in the world, Wonder Drink is an offshoot of Stash and Tazo teas. Out of all the brews we tried, Wonder Drink's green and black tea 'booch came off as the most dankly fermented, which is surprising given its wide distribution. Unfortunately, it lacked the effervescent pop of most kombuchas, which resulted in a prevalent, stale sweetness.
Taster notes: "Aftertaste of sweet throw-up." "Vinegar- and piss-forward, old juice, currant, cloying." "Smells and tastes like prunes."
Happy Mountain|Peach Blossom
Less than a decade after Happy Mountain was founded, the Southeast Division Street-headquartered company has become ubiquitous on taps around the city. The brew we sampled was certainly peachy and didn't have much of the vinegary quality that 'booch heads crave but skeptics often find off-putting. However, the heavy flavor—intensified by peach, orange and tangerine extracts—was a little much for us.
Taster notes: "Diet peach Snapple." "No vinegar flavor, bubbly." "Robitussin flavor." "Chemical peach."
North Portland's Lion Heart makes some of the lowest-sugar kombucha you can find. While many brews have grams of sugar in the double digits, all of this company's year-round flavors have only 4 grams or less. Lion Heart's Jazzberry didn't score low because we disliked the taste but because most of our tasters couldn't detect much flavor at all. Made with marionberries and jasmine tea, Jazzberry has a gorgeous, deep rose color and a fresh, berry scent, but to us, it tasted surprisingly bland.
Taster notes: "Gross watermelon Jolly Rancher." "Is there a flavor? The vibrant color is deceptive." "Smells and looks like pretty raspberry, tastes like tonic water gone flat."