Road Tested || The Great PDX Kombucha Roundup
The joke about Portland goes like this: notice some ubiquitous facet of quirky, crunchy local culture, roll your eyes and good-naturedly say, "You mean they don't have [fill in the blank] everywhere else?"
This applies to things such as sweaters on trees and fresh-made marionberry hand pies available at the 7-11.
So, yeah, after the initial epiphany that kombucha practically flows in the streets of Rose City, the insatiable human appetite turns from elation to critique.
In my defense, I was prepared to love every single local brew that I tried. But I didn't.
You might remember a mention of this fine establishment from last September. It's where White Heron Tea & Coffee owner Jonathan Reinbold consummated his love affair with tea and Japanese culture, and was inspired to found his own tea house in Portsmouth, NH. It also turned out to be just up the street and around the corner from where I was housesitting. Funny how things are like that.
I don't know as I feel entirely allowed to critique their kombucha, being as it's, like, the tao. In fact, it tasted entirely the way winter kombucha ought to, if left purely to the elements--heavy, thin, a little sweet on top of a lot of sour. Not a mind-blowing taste experience but...enlightening, perhaps? I feel as a novitiate might after her first visit to the mountain...I'm not sure what happened but I'm pretty sure whatever was supposed to, did.
Incidentally, the Tao of Tea combined forces with Kombucha WonderDrink to produce a line inspired by more of the medicinal funk that tea terroir uniquely involves. I was just excited to find WonderDrink flavors I hadn't yet tried.
These were like a (very slightly) more fizzy version of what is served at the Tao of Tea. India was the okayest of the bunch; the Japan one has matcha in it, which I ain't no great fan of.
Again, I feel a bit sheepish about not being entirely enthused. I mean, I won't drink GT's clear-bottle version anymore because it has more in common with Orangina than with the kombucha I loved in my gut before my tastebuds got on board. But I like a little bit of fun with my medicinal properties, too. So while I bow to the preeminent purity of the Tao of Tea, I'm going to pull a St. Augustine and say "Not yet."
Despite co-opting the name of the kombucha-making organism for their brand name (which I call somewhat unfair), you can taste the integrity in this bottle. It tastes like the kind I make, like fruit slightly overripe, with a heavy gravitas. It's perfectly satisfactory kombucha...which is to say I don't think I'd ever drop $3.89 on a bottle again.
This is what we talk about when we talk about kombucha. Dark, hard, spicy, and strong--you can practically see those angry little probiotics milling in a frenzy to get into some gut and clean it out. There was even a little wormy scoby on top that surprised me, going down. Hats off to Eva and her brewing team. This is the Oregon exemplar I was waiting for.
No. Just no.
This tastes like somebody's idea of "kombucha marketed to the masses." Okay, the drink is light and fizzy, which is a refreshing change in winter, but it's that thin kind of effervescence that doesn't feel naturally come by. The ingredients list is a total buzzkill--"natural flavors" have no business in a fermented beverage of any sort, IMHO. They sit on your tongue like an acid tab waiting to melt. ...Not that I'd know.
Kids, don't do drugs, and don't drink this ersatz kombucha.
Shame, because I was really excited about the idea of Chai Cola. Maybe WonderDrink will take that one up someday.
I admit to being predisposed to live this one because of its name, since my past week has been one where courage of any sort was desperately needed.
As a kombucha, this one is lamentably thin and weak...the herby funk gave it some needed oomph. I feel bad about saying this; besides Townsends's, this is the most local of the local brews, and I wanted to like it. Hey, here's a plug I just thought of! This brand would be a great intro to kombucha, for someone who wants the medicinal properties but isn't sure they can stomach the funk. Okay? Moving on.
Again, unfairly biased ...that's a kickass brand name. But this one held up under my hopes like a steel-frame foundation. It was a yin to Eva's yang...light, effervescent, insinuatingly herbal (I had the osmanthus flavor), and sneaky with the fermenty bouquet.
(Ew. I just used the word bouquet. Sorry, sorry, sorry. That won't happen again.)
This one is made not by an exclusively kombucha brewing concern, but by a whole fermented foods education and dissemination empire. Their company also makes bone broth and other stuff for sale here.
Apparently they sell bottles of it, but I got it on tap at the Sugar Cube on NE Alberta, a place definitely worth a visit, though I wouldn't recommend double-fisting one of their coffee mallow pie slices with a 16oz. kombucha. For me, anyway, that's sending the gut a mixed message.
The Tao of Tea is located at 3430 NE Belmont Street. Kombucha Wonder Drink with the Tao of Tea is sold at select New Seasons Market locations. So is Kombucha Mama. Eva's Herbucha, Clearly Kombucha and Lion Heart Kombucha is stocked at most Portland Safeway stores. The Sugar Cube is on 3039 NE Alberta Street.