It’s a tale of two kombuchas as Mr. Sato tries a canned kombucha imported from the U.S. that startles his taste buds and blows his mind.

Recently, our Japanese-language reporter Mr. Sato took shelter from the cold weather by ducking into the food section of the swanky Isetan department store in Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighborhood. Eventually, he figured he should buy something to justify all the loitering he was doing, and as he looked over the drink shelves, his eyes landed on this snazzy-looking can.

Mr. Sato’s command of the English language is less than perfect, but the can clearly said “kombucha,” and since he’s a big fan of the Japanese tea called kombucha, he figured this would be a tasty way to wet his whistle. But this wasn’t just any old kombucha, as the canned beverage was imported from the U.S.A., Oregon to be precise, and flavored with lemon.

Being the enthusiastic internationalist that he is, though, Mr. Sato wasn’t intimidated, and so he paid for his can of Oregon Roots-brand kombucha and took it back to SoraNews24 headquarters. As soon as he popped the top, though, he got another surprise, as the drink was carbonated, a big departure from the way kombucha is served in Japan.

But even more than the fizz, the flavor shocked him…

…because this American kombucha didn’t taste anything like the kombucha Mr. Sato has been drinking for decades in Japan.

The American kombucha didn’t taste bad, mind you. It just had a flavor profile that was completely alien to Mr. Sato’s palate, and not just because of the sharp taste of lemon. No, it wasn’t just the addition of citrus that made the American kombucha unfamiliar…something was missing.

So Mr. Sato turned the can around to the backside, where the importer had placed a translation sticker detailing the drink, and was shocked to discover that the American kombucha has absolutely no kombu in it!

▼ 原料に昆布は作用しておりません。 = No kombu is used in the making of this beverage.

But…how could this be possible? The Japanese tea called kombucha gets its name because it’s a tea (cha in Japanese) that’s made with kombu. Mugicha, barley tea, is made with mugi (barley). Genmaicha is made with genmai (brown rice). So how can a company sell something called kombucha without even a trace of kombu in it?

Then Mr. Sato dug a little deeper, and had the tatters of his already blown mind exploded once again when he found out that American kombucha never contains kombu, because American kombucha and Japanese kombucha are entirely different kinds of drinks, altogether.

“American kombucha and Japanese kombucha are entirely different kinds of drinks!”

See, in English-speaking regions, the drink called kombucha is made with a fermented mushroom culture, which is also called, in English, kombucha (which is why the beverage should technically be called “kombucha tea”). But here in Japan, the drink called kombucha is a tea made with kombu, the Japanese word for “kelp.”

▼ What Japan calls kombu, used in making Japanese kombucha

▼ Japanese kombucha, which is different from overseas kombucha

Again, Mr. Sato had no complaints about the taste of the Oregonian kombucha, once he got over the shock of it not being at all what he’d been expecting. So if you’re thirsty in Japan, keep in mind that American kombucha and Japanese kombucha, just like the American and Japanese Dangerous Beauty, are two very different things.

Kombu image: Wikipedia/FlickrLickr
Japanese kombucha image: Wikipedia/Tawashi2006
All other photos ©SoraNews24
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