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An Open Letter to Kombucha: Why Are You So Addicting?

It's the grossest thing I've ever loved (and where to find it in San Diego)

By Troy Johnson

Let’s be honest. The first time we met I was skeptical. First of all, hippies like you. Hippies have great taste in ethics and camping gear. They do not have great taste in music or food. They focus too much on nuts and essential oils, too little on bacon and essential donuts.

Second, I’d heard how you were made. A brewer (also a hippie) uses what’s called a SCOBY, floats it in tea, and lets it sit for days. SCOBY is an acronym for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. Yum! Sounds like a delicious disease!

I googled your SCOBY. I shouldn’t have done that. A SCOBY looks like a cross between a depressed jellyfish and a freshly drowned flan. This bacterial yeast flan—which is a living, breathing thing, by the way, so now there’s a creature in my beverage—floats on top of tea and oozes out “beneficial gut stuff.” When you drink it, some of that SCOBY is included with your tea, which is now fermented, bubbly, and lightly sweetened. Someone described it having the consistency of an oyster. That’s like a Tinder profile that says “Got rid of the shingles and ready to mingle!”

People also describe you as an “acquired taste.” When people say that, they mean your mouth will actively revolt against a flavor. BUT! If you repeatedly violate your mouth with that flavor, your mouth eventually gives up and tries to cope!

But friends said you were good for my stomach. I’ve always had an estranged relationship with my stomach. Basically, I’m not nice to it. It’s where I send all my instant gratification, because, like pigs and politicians, stomachs are good at destroying evidence. All those empanadas and donuts and bad wine with cursive on the label. As such, my stomach has expanded its operational square footage, and labor disputes often occur.

When I finally summoned the nerve to try you, I learned that you smell kind of bad. Not offensive, like old eggs or alcoholics. Just kind of vinegary. Some beverages smell amazing. Coffee smells like the rich dawn of life. Horchata smells like cinnamon. Wine smells like berries and cantaloupes. But vinegar? They don’t put vinegar in cologne for a reason. You smell like a lightly sweetened cleaning product. A bit sour. Not sour like lemonade. Sour like yesterday’s workout clothes.

Regardless, I tried you. You’re puckery. I don’t even particularly like tea. To me it’s like a half-ass coffee with weeds and dirt in it. But, then it hit me. Your weird, acidic, sour allure. The same reason why balsamic vinegar, or vinaigrette, is compelling. It’s acidic. It’s like putting jumper cables to your salivary glands. My mouth waters. My mouth wants this bacterial yeast flan, even though my mind is telling my mouth it’s a gross, crude little mouth.

Plus, you contain alcohol. Very little. Not so much that I wouldn’t be able to drive, or end up texting “You up?” But even a tiny bit of alcohol is nice.

Friends I respected kept singing your praises. So I kept on trying you. Then I went to Portland to the famed Thai restaurant Pok Pok. The owner has his own line of drinking vinegars. I tried them. They were even more acidic and sour than you. I started to develop a taste for sour. Like when, as a kid, I fell in love with green apple Jolly Ranchers and Sour Patch Kids.

And then it happened. I fell in love with you. You became my soda replacement. You’ve got about half the calories, nowhere near the sugar, and a ton of “probiotics.” No one knows what probiotics are, but we know they’re amazing and will one day replace Ralph Nader as the Green Party candidate of choice.

Now I have a kombucha addiction. You may be the grossest thing I’ve ever compulsively loved. I know how that feels. I’m undoubtedly the grossest thing a few people have loved. You and me, bud. You and me and your awesome bacteria yeast flan.

My personal favorite brand is GTs, because their carbonation is higher than most you can find on the shelves. I like carbonation. Carbonation is how you give your throat a nice little scratchy massage. I started with the flavored ones (Trilogy is still my favorite), but now I’ve gone hardcore and love the Original flavor. No B.S. Just straight up bacteria yeast flan bubbles.

Where to Find Kombucha in San Diego

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An Open Letter to Kombucha: Why Are You So Addicting?

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