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Buying guide for best shelf-stable kombucha drinks

Kombucha is a popular fermented beverage made of sugar, tea, bacteria, and yeast. People drink it not only because they love the taste but also because it boasts numerous health benefits and can help you feel great. This drink can be made at home with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, also known as a SCOBY. If you don’t have a SCOBY handy — or one to four weeks to spare — you can simply buy a shelf-stable bottle of kombucha from a retailer.

Before you pick up a shelf-stable bottle of kombucha, there are factors to consider. Kombucha naturally contains alcohol; if that’s off-putting, you can opt for a low-alcohol version. You may also consider flavoring, sweetener type, sugar content, caffeine level, and any additional nutrients that are provided.

Even if you can’t ferment your own, there are more than enough kombucha brands to satisfy your craving for the fermented drink.

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One of kombucha’s benefits is digestive regulation. For maximum benefit, try drinking a bottle before or after lunch.

Key considerations

Kombucha’s origins date back over 2,000 years, to Manchurian China. The drink spread through Asia and was brought to Europe in the twentieth century. It gained popularity in the United States during the 1990s when users became intrigued by its health properties. 

We’ve come a long way since the previously unregulated kombucha industry. Today, you can find several varieties and flavors of kombucha. Most are suitable for vegans and those who follow a gluten-free diet. Buyers have tapped into the numerous nutritional benefits that kombucha offers, including probiotics for healthy gut bacteria and antioxidants that prevent your cells from becoming damaged. There are studies that also link kombucha consumption to lower levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and higher levels of good cholesterol (HDL). 

When made at home or in small batches, kombucha starts as a SCOBY. Hot tea, once somewhat cooled, is added to a jar with a SCOBY along with sugar, which is then covered with cheesecloth, coffee filter, or something similar. The jar is kept in a cool, dry place as the kombucha ferments for seven to ten days. Once it has fermented, it can be bottled and stored in the fridge for up to several weeks. Outside of a refrigerator, however, it will spoil rather quickly.

Enter shelf-stable kombucha. These kombucha formulas have been pasteurized (i.e., heated) to kill bacteria. Quite a few brands of pasteurized kombucha are then supplemented with probiotics to add beneficial bacteria to the drink. Some shelf-stable kombucha beverages last up to a year without refrigeration and are easy to take on the go. What’s more, shelf-stable kombucha bypasses the risks of homemade kombucha. For example, if not brewed carefully, an excess of bad bacteria in homemade kombucha can make a person ill.

Liquid or powder

The majority of shelf-stable kombucha drinks come in powder or liquid form. Liquid kombucha drinks are common; these products don’t require mixing and are ready to drink out of the bottle. Powdered kombucha drinks are essentially like probiotic powder, and you’re free to add water to taste. For those who don’t like the fizzy, tangy taste of kombucha, a powdered form may be pleasing. That said, liquid kombucha generally has a fresher taste and is more convenient.

Sugar content

Though plenty of sugar is critical for the kombucha fermenting process, that sugar is meant for the culture to consume. In other words, sugar content in a shelf-stable kombucha drink is at the manufacturer’s discretion. Manufacturers may add sugar to balance out the tangy, sour taste that naturally occurs in kombucha so it appeals to buyers. Some drinks may include up to a whopping 20 grams of sugar per 16-ounce bottle. Excessive sugar has a number of negative health consequences, including blood sugar imbalance and weight gain. A low-sugar kombucha drink helps you avoid that while allowing you to taste the delicacies and nuances of the kombucha drink. 

There are plenty of brands that boast 10 grams or less of sugar per bottle of shelf-stable kombucha. Be sure to read the nutrition label before committing to a bottle. 


Kombucha is frequently brewed with green or black tea, both of which contain caffeine. Black tea has about one-third the caffeine content as coffee, while green tea has less than a quarter. But some caffeine does become lost in the fermentation process. It’s not an exact science, but up to two-thirds of the original caffeine content is lost with the final product. Therefore, you shouldn’t depend on kombucha for a caffeine jolt (though it's entirely possible for someone who is more caffeine sensitive).

For those who wish to avoid caffeine altogether, there are plenty of herbal tea kombuchas from which to choose.


Alcohol is a naturally occurring part of kombucha’s fermentation process. After all, the base of alcohol is fermented sugar! But the levels in kombucha are rather low. For homemade kombucha, it depends on how the kombucha is brewed. Shelf-stable versions have low alcohol levels across the board. Because of laws related to selling alcohol, the majority of kombucha sold in stores has 0.5% (or less) alcohol. Any higher than that requires age verification.

If you’re looking for more of a buzz to go with your kombucha drink, you can opt for a “hard” kombucha with 3% ABV or more. Be warned that these drinks may contain more sugar than a regular shelf-stable kombucha. 

Certified organic

A certified organic product will not include any genetically modified organisms, meaning that the tea leaves, sugar, and anything else harvested from the kombucha are GMO-free. The farms at which these materials are grown follow particular protocols that are seen as better for the environment, the planet, and your health. If these concerns are close to your heart, keep an eye out for the “USDA organic” label on shelf-stable kombucha bottles. Several popular kombucha brands offer this guarantee.

Kombucha with green tea may pack an extra punch: green tea’s health benefits, such as antioxidants, are amplified in a kombucha drink.




The flavor options for kombucha are seemingly endless. Many popular shelf-stable kombuchas are flavored with fruit essence, herbs, and other ingredients. Ginger lemon is a popular flavor that complements the natural tang of kombucha. Additionally, the ginger has its own benefits that enrich the beverage. 

It’s also common to pair an herb like lavender with a fruit flavor, such as lime, peach, or blueberry. Even the pickiest drinker will be able to find a formula to their liking. It’s worth noting that some flavors do have extra sugar, so remember to check the nutritional label first.

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Pregnant women and young children are often advised against drinking homemade kombucha since the levels of bacteria during fermentation, along with the alcohol and caffeine, can pose health risks.

Shelf-stable kombucha drink prices

Store-bought shelf-stable kombucha can be pricier than other drinks, but it’s still possible to buy some at a reasonable price. Expect to pay anywhere from $2 to $8 for a single bottle of shelf-stable kombucha.

Low-end: The $2 to $4 range has plenty of options. Closer to $2, the majority of bottles won’t be USDA organic, but you’ll still be able to find bottles with fruit and herbal flavors. These bottles typically contain 16 ounces.

High-end: Toward the higher end, between $4 and $8, you’ll find more organic options. You may find some adventurous flavor pairings as well. Larger kombucha bottles of up to 48 ounces may be found closer to $8.

If you see a price tag greater than $8 for shelf-stable kombucha, the beverage is probably being sold in bulk, either in liquid or powdered form.

It’s common to find kombucha in dark amber bottles. The dark glass protects the probiotics in the bottle from light damage.



  • Shelf-stable kombucha drinks are safe to drink for six months to a year if unopened. If opened, store the bottle in the refrigerator and drink within three to four days for the best taste. 
  • If the kombucha tastes overly fizzy or you notice floating mold pieces, throw the bottle out. This is rare with shelf-stable kombucha drinks, since they’re made to stay on shelves for months. 
  • People with sensitive stomachs may wish to consult a doctor before drinking kombucha regularly. The carbonation and probiotics can wreak havoc on delicate digestive systems, especially for those on a low FODMAP diet.
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Kombucha is great for weaning soda addicts, though there might be a learning curve. Try substituting soda with flavored kombucha, which still has the carbonation you may crave.


Q. Does kombucha taste good?

A. That’s subjective. Kombucha is known for its tangy, fizzy, somewhat sour taste. For some people, kombucha is an acquired taste. Shelf-stable kombucha often tastes milder than the homemade varieties. With plenty of flavor options to choose from, it’s quite possible to find something that even the pickiest consumer would enjoy. 

Q. How much kombucha is safe to drink?

A. The answer depends on a number of factors, like the type of tea that’s involved, the amount of sugar, alcohol content, and your own personal health concerns. We recommend that you use your best judgment. Two bottles of shelf-stable kombucha in a day probably wouldn’t hurt you, but all products are best consumed in moderation. 

Q. Can kombucha help you lose weight?

A. Kombucha may help regulate your digestive system and give you more energy, but it won’t help you lose weight on its own.


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