In any case, while we were out gathering samples at Major Market, she spotted and acquired one of the weirder sodas we've seen. It comes in a very small bottle (8.5 oz) and advertises itself as "Kombucha Wonder Drink: A Sparkling Himalayan Tonic". Closer inspection reveals that it claims to be a blend of Rooibos (a South African red herbal tea) and "essence of red peach". This rated high on the Weird Soda scale (and claiming to be from the Himalayas adds extra weirdness), so we decided to try it out.
So this one is the special pick of the Kibbitzer-In-Chief. Let's see how it goes.
Where and when: purchased 2/28/09 at Major Market, Escondido, CA
Color: Opaque light reddish brown, with sediment. Sediment is unusual in Weird Soda, so we approve.
Scent: Tea, earthy, with vinegar. Kibbitzer-in-Chief: "It smells like someone was trying to dye their Easter eggs with Snapple."
Taste: Oh God.
K-i-C: "It tastes like my grandfather's morning health tonic. I swear it has apple cider vinegar in it, even though it doesn't. I'm guessing 'Kombucha' is secret code for 'apple cider vinegar.'"
Very, very tart. I can taste the peach. It is lightly carbonated, which adds to the acid bite. There is a clear note of tea, and it is recognizably rooibos (amazingly enough, I can actually recognize rooibos, although not as well as the K-i-C). It's carbonated peachy vinegar with tea.
Rather intensely foul at first taste, gets better with repeated exposure (or maybe it just numbs you).
K-i-C: "It would make an interesting salad dressing."
The K-i-C hypothesizes that it has a very small bottle mouth because smelling it while drinking it would make it much worse. Being who we are here at the Weird Soda Review Tasting Labs, we immediately get a wide mug to try it out. It turns out that she's right.
After offering some to Freya (the Lab's resident Chihuahua-Dachshund crossbreed), we can confirm that it makes excellent Dachshund repellent. She actually got up off the couch to get away from it, which is nearly unprecedented.
The ingredients label is informative:
An infusion of (filtered water, organic rooibos (red) tea leaves)
Kombucha concentrate (filtered water, organic cane juice, organic oolong tea leaves, yeast and bacterial cultures)
Organic cane juice
Natural peach juice concentrate
Natural peach essence
I'm guessing the complex tartness comes from baterial and yeast metabolism. Interestingly, the exact types of bacteria and yeast remain unspecified (more on that below).
K-i-C: "If I could be guaranteed that it would extend my life 2 to 5 years, I'd drink it."
As to exactly how the ancient residents of the Himalayas managed to get their hands on a South African herb to make this "wonder drink", I am baffled. However it came together, though, perhaps it shouldn't have.
A bit of research (i.e. entering "kombucha" into Wikipedia) gives us a fascinating and upsetting article, with paragraphs like these:
- Kombucha is the Western name for sweetened tea or tisane that has been fermented using a macroscopic solid mass of microorganisms called a "kombucha colony".
- Biology of Kombucha: The culture contains a symbiosis of Acetobacter (acetic acid bacteria) and yeast, mostly Brettanomyces bruxellensis, Candida stellata, Schizosaccharomyces pombe, Torulaspora delbrueckii and Zygosaccharomyces bailii. The culture itself looks somewhat like a large pancake, and though often called a mushroom, a Mother of vinegar or by the acronym SCOBY (for "Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast"), it is clinically known as a zoogleal mat.
Weird Soda Review: We drink it so you don't have to.
Quaff rating: 1. This does NOT go down easily, although the taste is not wholly unpleasant
Cough rating: 3, until you read the Wikipedia article, at which point it goes to about 4. It's strong stuff, but not actively vile after the first taste. And then you learn about zoogleal mats.