Kombucha has become a popular source of gut probiotics but not all kombuchas are created equal. I talked to one of New Zealand’s leading organic kombucha-makers about the differences.

Since 2013, sixty-nine commercial kombucha-brewers have appeared in the marketplace. Thirty remain with only two big certified organic players left (both from Australia) plus New Zealand’s own well-known certified boutique kombucha-makers, Daily Organics. Theresa Sjoquist gets the low down on New Zealand’s pioneer of the kombucha category, Daily Organics.

Who is Daily Organics?

Daily Organics is co-owned by Delwyn Ward and business partner, Brad Gwynne who joined the brewery in 2015. They are supported by three part-time staff who brew, filter, and bottle kombucha in the 200m² ex honey-processing factory in Matakana Village.

“Brad had expertise I lacked,” said Delwyn, founder and creative director. “He set up the methodology and built systems for ease of production and  is the operations manager and managing director, while I look after branding, naming, recipes, and marketing.

In 2008 Delwyn began selling green smoothies at the Matakana Farmers’ Market. When she was experiencing low energy in combination with a restless gut her doctor recommended kombucha as a possible help. His wife gave Delwyn her first SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) and she started brewing kombucha.

“It really helped my digestion and was a good source of B12. I soon had way more energy and my system felt calmer. My family, friends and two children liked it as well.”

Selling green smoothies might have been a weird thing to do in the day but they were popular so when she began brewing kombucha, she took that to market too and developed a strong local following which is how Daily Organics was born.

Not all kombucha is ‘live’ kombucha

Three product types labelled kombucha are available on todays’ market. 1. A real, living, brewed and naturally fermented product that can grow a SCOBY. 2. Commercial synthetic versions of kombucha which are pasteurised, carbonated, and  rendered shelf-stable, some of which are classified as certified organic, and 3. Hard kombucha which is purposely made as an alcoholic beverage and has had extra yeast or ethanol added.

It can be difficult for consumers to differentiate with product stocked in supermarket aisles and in the chiller. All kombucha is not created equal and currently no industry standard exists as to what can and can’t be called kombucha. Mainstream commercial kombuchas are often blends of a tea and sugar formula which has been carbonated, bottled and labelled kombucha.

Who thought kombucha up?

No one seems certain about kombucha’s origin but it is popularly thought to have originated in Manchuria, North-eastern China around 200BCE. By the 1900s it had become a popular health drink in Russia, and by the 1960s Italy was having a love affair with the healthful elixir. It became popular in the USA and Europe and spread around the world with claims of all sorts of health benefits, many of which were unfounded.

What is kombucha made of?

Kombucha is made from water, tea, sugar, SCOBY, and a starter of live kombucha.

“Our kombucha is unique because all the flavour comes from the teas we use,” says Delwyn. “We don’t add anything – no fruit or flavourings. All three of our flavours are made from different teas – it’s not a base recipe with additives. We use separate SCOBYs for each tea to keep taste profiles distinct.”

Making kombucha seems to be a cross between science and alchemy. Delwyn says it’s a very robust thing to make but also very sensitive.

It’s alive!

She says, “You brew kombucha from the same recipe every day but in the end it’s a living organism. We do our part the best we can and leave it to do its own thing. We taste every day and get sweet tea, sweet tea, sweet tea, and suddenly it goes over to the other side and we’ve got the sweet and the sour of kombucha. Sourdough is similar. You do the best you can then let nature do its own thing.

“We brew for 7-14 days in a temperature controlled room but even with all the technical know-how in place, the final product varies depending on the seasons – slower to ferment in winter and faster in summer. We have real respect for the alchemical process produced by living organisms, and we don’t tire of the magic.”

Delwyn and Brad bought a special German pump to feed kombucha into the tanks because it could move cooked pumpkin without mushing it up. Once the brew is ‘down’, it isn’t disturbed hence the least forceful pump possible.

The kombucha is then bottled and bottle-conditioned – a process of holding bottled stock in chillers to get its ‘fizz on’ under refrigeration for up to a month. All up, it takes six weeks to make a finished batch. This is genuinely slow food.

Naturally fermented alcohol

Because kombucha contains living probiotics it requires consistent temperature, or fermentation can continue and an overproduction of alcohol can occur. In New Zealand the allowable natural alcohol level in a ‘non-alcoholic’ drink is 1.1%, but once the kombucha has been sold, Daily Organics loses control of it which means if it is exposed to different temperatures and conditions along the supply chain it can continue to ferment and increase the alcohol content. This is a natural process occurring through the sugar content feeding the yeast.

Live kombucha capable of growing a SCOBY needs to be refrigerated, but it means there is no forced fermentation, artificial carbonation, added stevia, preservatives, flavourings, or additives. Shelf-stable kombuchas are not capable of growing a SCOBY.

Testing by MPI last year saw samples of Daily Organics’ kombucha at almost 3% alcohol content, igniting a concern that young children might be exposed inadvertently to alcohol consumption. Their products were withdrawn from the market.

“To be compliant and stay at a constant 1.1% ABV or below,” says Delwyn, “we’d need to compromise our traditionally fermented kombucha by killing the living organisms and healthy bacteria, and watering it down significantly.

Late in 2022 following discussions with food authorities and without altering the quality while complying with regulations, Daily Organics kombucha was classed as alcohol. Currently unavailable in the major supermarkets, stockists of Daily Organics kombucha are listed on their website and product is also available through their online shop which has a large dedicated following.

Kombucha doesn’t go off but does have a four-month best-before date as a supermarket stocking condition. As a living product it becomes more sour over time but Delwyn says they have sampled two and three year old kombucha in their chillers which still taste good.

Prior to Daily Organics kombucha becoming classified as an alcoholic beverage, feedback from loyal customers frequently described their kombucha as a ‘delicious tonic that feels medicinal’.


Tips for making your own kombucha from the professionals

  • Make a SCOBY from real (live) kombucha (or buy one from Daily Organics) – Recipe on the site.
  • Uses artesian water for best results and to keep your SCOBY healthy.
  • Only use teas from the camellia family. Herbal teas don’t work.
  • Use tea you enjoy drinking as tea.
  • Use certified organic ingredients for a better result.
  • Use a real and living organic kombucha as starter such as Daily Organics – Original is the plainest one.
  • After Day 3 taste every day– it should be a balance of sweet and sour.

SCOBYs have a life span. They grow new ones on top of old so you can compost or share the bottom one, or put them round fruit trees as a soil conditioner. Because kombucha is a wild fermented product, when you start out it can take a while to get it to develop a good fizz. It’s a bit like compost which takes a while for the bacteria and organisms to develop. When you start it might not be very fizzy but each batch gets better. Kombucha is a ‘magic’ process and needs attention. You need to ‘catch’ it when it’s tasting good, rather than leave it another day because you’re busy.

If you haven’t made it up and the SCOBY has become sour, use it as vinegar or salad dressing, or for marinating meat.



© Theresa Sjoquist – 2023