Quest week 1: kombucha

My pitfall, as it turned out after more than two months of (almost) total abstinence, is that I am too busy not drinking alcohol. So I imagine myself as a quest '40 Days not a drop!' to explore exotic alternatives, ignoring anything that even smells like beer, wine or spirits.


My quest brings me first to the drink kombucha. A few years ago it was revived from 'the east' (the hippies from the sixties already discovered it) and found its way to the western market, where it was embraced by hipsters and health freaks. The drink is almost magically potent and is said to be good for -and these claims are not even exhaustive-: the immune system, the intestinal flora, calorie burning, the skin, the energy level, the joints and mental resilience.

With such a magic potion you would never want to drink alcohol again, it seems to me.


The origin of kombucha is unclear. China seems to be the cradle, but other countries from the east also claim the origin. The fact is that it has been drunk for centuries.

How it could have come into existence is just as much a mystery. Kombucha is a combination of -originally- black tea with sugar and a fungus called SCOBY, which stands for: Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. -I think the name was made up after the drink made its way west, because it doesn't sound very Asian-. The fungus's lively bacteria and yeasts trigger a fermentation process that turns the sweet tea into kombucha, a slightly sour drink with a little bit of prick.


That the drink is immensely popular can be read from the huge range that I find in the four supermarkets within walking distance of my home. I came across six brands (Batu, Butcha, Captain Kombucha, Equinox and Mana Kombucha) with a multitude of exotic flavors ranging from raspberry with magnolia, passion fruit with hops, apple with cinnamon, to 'normal' natural. So there is plenty of choice, and that makes it potentially an exciting alternative to a specialty beer: you drink it chilled, it has a small prick, it contains sediment and it is not (too) sweet.


My first kombucha feels exciting, so do the next four. The smell is full, a bit sweet and the carbonation tickles my nose. The first sip is a bit disappointing; does not seem to deliver on the promise of the fragrance. A bit like eating cotton candy: just when you think: now I'm going to enjoy it for a while, the experience is over. The funny thing is, that's exactly why you keep taking a sip: the smell promises something different than the taste and that makes you want to test it again and again. Funny! What makes me happy is that it's not sweet junk, not even the pink-red raspberry drinks that look and smell sweet. Also nice: the prick is subtle and very different from, for example, orange or cola. The first kombuchas I drink are somewhat bland, like a watery ice-tea or lemonade. And yet: the more varieties and flavors I drink, the more delighted I become. Apparently it's like 'learning to drink beer'.

The fact that in the end it turns out that you probably have to drink a few buckets of kombucha every day to experience the health claims, does not detract from the fact that I am excited about my first exploration. Kombucha is going to be a keeper in my fridge, perfect for a thirsty summer day.

Margreet (51) lives with her husband and teenage son in the middle of the country. She is now an experienced IkPasser, and during 40 days she does not go looking for alcohol-free alternatives that make her happy.




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