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Where Have All the SCOBYs Gone?

The most common question I got this past month was, “Where is my kombucha?!” Like many of you, I was quite taken aback when one of my favorite beverages was recently nowhere to be found. We ended up pulling all GT’s Kombucha due to concerns by our distributor over the potential alcohol content. The Co-op was initially concerned about all of our raw kombucha products but we decided that, as our locally produced brand was not being called into question, we could continue to offer it.

It was determined by GT’s that their kombucha at the time of bottling was under the 0.5% alcohol by volume required by law, but due to variables in shipping and storage, it was possible for the alcohol content in some batches to rise slightly. This prompted them, and several other nationwide brands, to begin reformulating their product to help ensure that during the life of the product the alcohol content never rises above the legal standard of 0.5%. At the time of this writing there has been no update as to when GT’s will again be offered for sale by our distributor.

So what’s a kombucha drinker supposed to drink in these troubling times? The Willy Street Co-op has some wonderful options for us to explore; but first let’s look at a little history of kombucha, what kombucha is, and why so many of us like to
drink it.   

Kombucha has been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Its exact origins have been lost in the sands of time, but it’s thought to originate in Eastern Europe or Asia. Kombucha is commonly consumed daily throughout the world as a health tonic, an addition to a balanced diet and simply as a refreshing beverage. It goes by many names throughout the world including: Manchurian Tea, Manchu Fungus, Tea Kvass, Grib, and mushroom tea. A few of these names are misleading, as kombucha tea does not come from mushrooms or fungus; it is actually derived from a Symbiotic Colony of Beneficial Yeasts (SCOBY).

Kombucha is an effervescent fermented tea. It is made by adding the culture of symbiotic yeasts to a sweetened tea base and allowing it to ferment for a set period of time. During this fermentation process, several compounds are created including many amino acids, organic acids, some vitamins and probiotic strains (namely lactobacillus and s. boulardii). All of these compounds are beneficial to those who consume them. Many of the organic acids that are created help the body with digestion and aid theliver in detoxifying our bodies. When kombucha is left raw, or unpasteurized, strands of the live culture can be seen in the finished product. These strains of culture are harmless in nature and many people actually feel the amount of strands in any given bottle allude to the potency of a particular batch.
Now that we all know a little more about this wonderful beverage let’s explore the brands and varieties that the Co-op currently has to offer.

One brand that we carry is Kombucha Wonder Drink. The company is located in Portland, Oregon and have been around since 2001. Willy Street Co-op currently offers four of their varieties of kombucha including: Asian Pear & Ginger, Essence of Lemon, Cherry Cassis and Essence of Mango. All Kombucha Wonder Drinks are certified organic and are brewed using only fresh assortments of green, herbal and oolong teas. The reason that we’re able to still offer Kombucha Wonder Drink is that their products are pasteurized and not raw. The company’s founder, Steve Lee, says on their website that they originally decided to pasteurize their products due to the potential for varying alcohol content in raw varieties. While this pasteurized product contains no live cultures, it does still contain all of the organic acids and beneficial compounds that are found in similar raw kombuchas.

The other brand of kombucha that Willy Street Co-op currently offers is the locally made Nessalla brand. The Nessalla kombucha is currently made just down the block from the Co-op, below the Weary Traveler. The women at Nessalla have been brewing kombucha for themselves for years but only within the last year and a half have they begun bottling and selling their product. We currently offer five flavors of theirs including: Traditional Oolong, Blueberry, Passion Fruit, Lemongrass Ginger, and a seasonal variety that changes quarterly on the equinoxes. The flavors all come in 16-ounce bottles but we also offer the Blueberry, Lemongrass Ginger and seasonal flavors in a returnable 64-ounce bottle.

Nessalla’s kombuchas are not pasteurized, meaning that they still contain the live cultures found from the fermentation process and they may contain trace alcohol, less than 0.5% by volume. However, given the recent climate surrounding raw kombucha they have been petitioned to submit samples for testing. At the time of this writing, they have submitted the samples but have not received any results. Nessalla is confident that given how locally their product is produced and its freshness, their kombucha will not contain any higher concentration of alcohol than the 0.5% allowed by law. If for some reason the test results come in above the legal standard, Nessalla is prepared to reformulate their product and they don’t anticipate any large gap in availability.

So take heart fellow kombucha drinkers. There are plenty of options and new flavors of kombucha out there. And to those out there that have not given kombucha a try yet, you never know, it might just be the tartly refreshing drink your body’s been craving.

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