Gold Kombucha creator Melanie Wade.

By Isadora Pennington

Kombucha, a sweetened and fermented tea beverage, has a long and rather mysterious history. The ancient Chinese used to refer to it as the ‘Tea of Immortality,’ and it was for a time regarded as a sacred elixir that was available only to royalty.

Though the exact origin of kombucha is hotly contested and quite vague, evidence suggests that it was being consumed in Russia as far back as 1900, and soon after it became popular in Europe. It wasn’t until the 1990s that this ancient recipe became commercially available in America, and only in recent years has kombucha become a familiar household name.

The process to make kombucha consists of fermenting teas using a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, more commonly referred to as a SCOBY or a ‘mother.’ This living colony is introduced to the tea and allowed to ferment over time, which it does by consuming the sugars in the tea. It’s this process that produces the fizzy, tangy flavor that kombucha is known for. Brewers can then add flavors and tweak their recipes in order to affect the taste of their drinks.

“I was making it at home for a long time,” explained Melanie Wade, founder of Atlanta’s first local kombucha company, Golda Kombucha. “My grandma started making it a long time ago, like 40 years ago, and I grew up around it but I never knew exactly what it was.”

Intrigued by the recipe, it was during a visit to her grandmother’s house in Virginia that Wade found herself considering the beverage with renewed interest. Pulling books from the shelves and asking her grandmother about her process, she quickly learned everything she could about the drink.

“The first time I ever had it, I drank a little bit and I was up all night,” she laughed, noting that the natural processes produce Vitamin B12, which is known to be a natural, and potent, energy boost.

When heading back home again, she brought one of her grandmother’s mother cultures with her and put it in a small two gallon oak barrel on her kitchen counter, and soon she was experimenting with flavors. Wade gave some away to her friends, used some to barter, and started providing it at her booths when she was selling handmade jewelry at farmer’s markets and festivals.

The drink was instantly popular, and it wasn’t long before Wade realized she was onto something, and she set out to start her own company, Golda Kombucha.

“Golda is my grandma, she’s 95 and doing awesome. She still drives her own car, she still mows her own grass, she plants veggies in her backyard and cans them, she’s just like this wonder woman and I think it’s because she drinks Kombucha every day,” Wade said.

There are many purported health benefits associated with the tonic, and Wade is a firm believer in its healing properties. The drink is most known for being a probiotic, which introduces good bacteria to your gut, and helps with energy consumption from the food you eat.

“A lot of people, because they drink kombucha every day, they actually feel this sense of euphoria, happiness, and mental clarity,” explained Wade

Now in it’s third year, Golda Kombucha is growing by leaps and bounds, not only in popularity, but also in the scale of its production and distribution. The tonic has been available in only three core flavors; Strawberry Mint, Peach Ginger, and Lavender Lemon. Recently, Wade has introduced several more new flavors, including Blackberry Basil, Elderberry Thyme, Hibiscus Blood Orange, and Coffee.

The drink is also being picked up left and right throughout the southeast, and can be found in not only small shops, but also increasingly in major players of the grocery industry. Golda Kombucha is available in nearly 100 Kroger stores across Georgia. Their existing account with Whole Foods is also growing to include more locations, and they are in many holistic and general stores throughout the Southeast. From Pensacola to Mississippi, Golda Kombucha is quickly expanding and staking its claim in the industry.

“It’s good, it’s a really great feeling,” Wade said, with a laugh. “It’s a hard dream to live, but it’s a good one.”

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Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.