Kombucha has taken over millennial diets, hipster hearts, and grocery stores cold cases by storm. But how much do you really know about this fermented probiotic tea? What exactly gives it its fame as a functional (read it actually contains nutrients like amino acids and vitamins that we need while masking itself as a soda) beverage? How does the fermentation process work and how exactly are these cultures "active"? Can this sh** last forever or does kombucha expire?

beer, cider, alcohol, juice, liquor
Arianna Gershon

Blame It on the Alcohol

In 2010, the millennial mecca that is Whole Foods exercised their extreme power and shut down the production and distribution of Kombucha for two months. Why? Because this sh** was exploding.

Essentially, Kombucha is made by a process of double fermentation wherein a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) sits in a sweetened tea mixture (harkening back to Biology 101, just a tiny bit of sugar makes for a very happy and thriving yeast!) for no more than three weeks. During this process, the SCOBY releases CO2 as a byproduct of its continuing growth. To keep this production at bay, the tea is bottled for up to two weeks (allowing for the creation of carbonation) and then stored in a refrigerated environment to slow down the bacteria growth. 

Now, remember that episode of Broad City where Abbi gets drunk off of Kombooze-cha at her Soulstice party with Trey and shenanigans ensue? According to Whole Foods, if the the second round of fermentation wasn't correctly halted then an unexpectedly boozy drink would appear on its shelves. This led to a mass regulation of the beverage's alcohol content (it must be less than 0.5% ABV), and it greatly transformed the entire appeal of the drink. 

After the 2010 scandal, more and more people became intrigued by the beverage—could you get buzzed off of it? Probably not. But it sounded cool, especially for tweens like me at the time. Now Kombucha's typical taste profile is mild and slightly sweet because companies are regulating the amount of time the drink can undergo its second round of fermentation. So, with booch no longer continuing to ferment on grocery store shelves, many companies have had free range to explore crazy complex flavors (Mint and Chlorophyll? Kombucha cocktails?) that taste the same from bottle to bottle. But...does kombucha expire?!

The Next Fine Wine?

So, we've learned that Kombucha is basically unstoppable when it comes to fermentation (a real champion), but does it get better with age? In all honesty, Kombucha doesn't even actually expire (provided you keep it adequately refrigerated), but if this fizzy drink passes too far beyond its sell by date then it quickly becomes a crappy version of a drank.

No complex notes here, just lots and lots of vinegar. But hey, if that's your cup of tea—go for it! Lindsay Lohan and Michael Floyd have both claimed that the drink was the culprit of their positive breathalyzer tests (there's a lot to unpack here. . .).

If It Doesn't Expire, Then I Can't Get Hurt — Right?

Yes and no. For the most part, don't throw your bottles out in an Abbi-esque fury if they're past their expiration date. However, keep your common sense at the forefront of your mind: if the booch has gone flat (a sign that CO2 has escaped), or smells/tastes off (heavily vinegar-y and thusly the result of too much CO2 production), then it's probably not a good idea to suck it down.

In either cases, the Kombucha's SCOBY (and subsequent probiotic contents) are no longer hosted in an environment that it can thrive, and that's typically a dicey game to play when it comes to your insides. When I tell you that Kombucha is still "good" after it's expiration date, I mean it with regards to a few days past. This is because companies date their booch months in advance with the expectation that after a certain period of time, fermentation will either increase or decline. 

For the most part, expiration dates are a suggestion based on an estimate of a food item's peak of freshness. This means that other environmental factors that meet the booch after it leaves the factory or grocery store shelf can affect this very peak of freshness. One of the most common factors is refrigeration. Lack of refrigeration can lead to mold or yeast overgrowth in the Kombucha. There have even been instances where people (especially those with weakened immune systems) have suffered side-effects from consuming Kombucha that had been plagued by mold growth (this is most common in homemade batches).


What if you don't want to drink the entire bottle in one sitting — will it go bad then? The answer here is a tentative no. For the most part, you don't have to consume Kombucha as soon as you open the bottle (in actuality, you really shouldn't). Instead, it's recommended that you drink only eight ounces of Kombucha in a day. In this same vein, overconsumption of booch can lead to yeast overgrowth in your mouth and body (trust me, I've been there—three times, and it's not fun). So, again, use common sense!  

#SpoonTip: Don't drink out of the bottle if you're going to store it because you don't want to inoculate your drink with a whole slew of bacteria that don't need to be mixed with the SCOBY.