Rooibos kombucha


Kombucha is twice-fermented tea, made by adding a live yeast and bacteria culture to tea. The beverage is tart, slightly sweet, and carbonated. Depending on the production method, it may contain trace amounts of caffeine and alcohol. Kombucha was first brewed and bottled in the United States in the 1990s. In subsequent decades, the beverage's varying popularity has rested on a wide spectrum of potential health benefits, all widely debated.

Histories of kombucha production and consumption in the U.S. are related to histories of homebrewing and microbrewing beer; winemaking; the natural foods movement; and the relationship between food, drink, and health and wellness.

U.S. media coverage of kombucha has often exoticized it, portraying it as an "ancient" elixir from the Far East. Kombucha's initial popularity in California and the Pacific Northwest links its history to those of other food, drink, and wellness trends or fads associated with the region. In particular, these materials help document the conversion of food and medicine traditions originating with marginalized populations into American health trends. Elements of Asian cultural practices and cuisine--such as acupuncture, botanical supplements, galangal, lemongrass, Sichuan peppercorn, etc.--have long enjoyed popularity in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Americans have celebrated, enjoyed, and also appropriated these things. Kombucha offers another example, with the unique, added lens of fermentation.

Robert Deering, a microbiologist, founded Oocha Brew in Portland, Oregon, in 1995. Oocha Brew was one of the first companies to brew and bottle kombucha for American consumers. Deering and his colleagues repurposed used dairy and beer brewing equipment to make their kombucha. At first, they bottled their kombucha in long-necked brown glass beer bottles, which were available because of the region's flourishing microbrewery scene. Whole Foods Market soon invited Oocha Brew to sell at its stores, but this opportunity forced Oocha Brew to rapidly scale up their operation and pasteurize their product. To these ends, they collaborated with Bert Grant, one of the nation's first microbrewers, at Yakima Brewing & Malting Co. in Yakima, Washington. Oocha Brew did not survive these modifications to its business model and closed in 1998.

For the next twenty years, Deering worked as a biology teacher. Perceiving the public's sustained and growing interest in organic foods and the connection between diet and health, Deering founded a second kombucha brewery, Camellia Grove, in 2017. At Camellia Grove Kombucha, Deering and his colleagues brew kombucha with organic tea (Green, Oolong, Black, Rooibos, Jasmine, and Meadow) and no added sugar, flavorings, or juices.

Date Made: 2021

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: United States: Oregon, Portland

See more items in: Work and Industry: Food Technology


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: Gift of Robert Deering

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 2022.0126.1Accession Number: 2022.0126Catalog Number: 2022.0126.1

Object Name: kombucha cancan

Physical Description: aluminum (overall material)Measurements: overall: 12 cm x 6.25 cm x 6.25 cm; 4 23/32 in x 2 15/32 in x 2 15/32 in


Record Id: nmah_2018553

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.