GT's Kombucha - A Dietitian's Honest Review
So today we’re going to take the oldest and most popular kombucha brand in the USA and put it under the Essential Stacks spotlight ! Of course, that means we’re not going to do a typical review of GTs kombucha. Instead, we’re going to analyze all aspects of GTs and question everything from how long they ferment their kombucha, to exactly which probiotic species are in their drinks. Plus, we’ll even look at how GTs compare to other popular kombuchas, so you can work out which is best for you. Let’s go!
Table of Contents
So before we get into it, I just want to say that like all product reviews here at Essential Stacks we receive zero compensation or incentive from the company we are reviewing, which means we are completely unbiased.
And as you’ll see in this review, we don’t hold anything back when analyzing companies in the digestive health space.
And that’s because our missing here at Essential Stacks is to help you discover what truly works and what doesn’t for good gut health. So with that out of the way, let’s get into our findings.
Summary of our key findings on GT's
1) Who’s behind GTs?
Although we’ll dive into the nitty gritty of GTs specific products in a minute, I think the first thing you’ll find interesting is WHO is behind the company. Because this can usually tell us a lot about the potential quality of their products.
So GTs was founded by George Thomas Dave - or GT Dave as he’s most commonly known. This was back in 1995. And remarkably, 25 years on, Dave remains the sole owner of GTs.
There’s a bit to unpack here and I think you’ll quickly see why so many people like GTs kombucha.
So for starters, 1995…we’re talking about a time when commercial kombucha simply DID NOT EXIST in the USA. Meaning Dave literally single handedly built the kombucha market.
And to further put this time in context - GTs main competitors only got started in the last decade or so, with Humm in 2008, Kevita in 2009 and HealthAde in 2012, to name a few.
Now, the other fascinating detail that got our attention here, is that Dave remains the sole owner. And in a world where MOST of the top selling kombucha brands are part or wholly owned by the big beverage players or private equity funds, the fact that GTs remains 100% family owned and independent is extraordinary.
As you can imagine, this is a really important point and we’ll see what this means for the quality of their products, when we analyze them in a minute.
2) What products does GTs sell?
GTs has expanded their kombucha product range over the years and now has 3 distinct categories. And since it can be a bit CONFUSING working out what’s best for you, here’s a quick breakdown of the 3.
So most interesting to us is their first category of kombucha called Synergy Raw Kombucha.
This is their NON-ALCOHOL kombucha - meaning it is under 0.5% alcohol content and able to be enjoyed by everyone. And this is what we’ll be focusing on in this article.
GTs second category of kombucha is called Classic Kombucha and actually utilizes GT Dave’s ORIGINAL recipe for kombucha. But in doing so, it can contain ABOVE 0.5% alcohol and as such is now sold as a 21-and-over drink.
Finally, GTs offers Hard Kombucha products, which sit around 3% alcohol by volume - which is not bad. In fact it is LESS than light beer, which comes in around 4% alcohol.
Just before we start looking at whether GTs kombucha passes the Essential Stacks test, it is worth noting that GTs now offers a range of other fermented products such as water kefir, mushroom infused teas and even coconut yogurt.
Comparing GTs vs other kombucha brands
Now it’s time for us to take the gloves off and shine a spotlight on what’s actually inside GTs kombucha, so we can answer 4 questions…
1) How well is it made?
2) Does it taste good?
3) Is it in fact good for you?
4) Is it worth your money?
Of course, to make this analysis even more useful for you, we’ll also look at how GTs compares to OTHER kombucha brands.
Naturally, to make this comparison FAIR we need to make sure that we’re comparing apples with apples. And after a bit of research we found that all major brands have 1 flavor in common with GTs, which is GINGER. So in other words, we’re going to compare ginger with ginger.
In this analysis when we’re comparing brands on things like flavoring agents used, sugar content etc, we’ll be referencing GTs Synergy Gingerade, which I have here. Show gingerade
3) How well is GT's kombucha made?
Unsurprisingly, given Dave’s passion for all things fermented, GTs kombucha is made with great care.
For starters, while most of the industry has moved to brewing kombucha in HUGE vats, often around the 50 gallon mark, GTs still brews their kombucha in SMALL 5 gallon jars.
Given GTs is selling well over 1 million bottles a year - and thus making north of 125,000 gallons every single year - that means GTs is brewing over 25,000 INDIVIDUAL batches of kombucha per year! Extraordinary!
And also quite refreshing to see a big company sticking to its craft brewing roots.
Just as interestingly, GTs Synergy kombucha range undergoes a fermentation period of 30 days, which is important as it gives the SCOBY more than enough time to work its magic.
While some of their competitors do a similar brew period, such as Remedy, others simply DO NOT DISCLOSE their fermentation period. Sadly, many even hide behind statements like “Ours is a proprietary kombucha fermentation process”.
In other words, what we’re saying...thanks for being transparent Dave!
Now, when it comes to How GTs brews the tea that goes into their kombucha, well, they’re doing it fairly similar to everyone else. Which means they’re using a combination of organic black tea and organic green tea.
In fact, one trend we saw throughout the entire industry, which is worth highlighting here, is that pretty much all brands exclusively use organic, non-GMO ingredients.
Even better, most labels bear the USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified badges. Making them many steps ahead of other sectors in the food and beverage industry. So a hat tip to all you lovely kombucha brewers!
However, we start to see some DIFFERENCES when it comes to how GTs SWEETEN their tea versus the competition. You see, while GTs uses kiwi fruit juice, most other brands use plain old cane sugar.
And although most of this gets eaten up during fermentation, we think we know WHY GTs is using fruit juice and it may have to do with…
How it helps the flavor;
The fact that it's a Less processed form of sugar that fits Dave’s food-first philosophy;
And if we’re putting our cynical researcher hats on for a second - it might have something to do with marketing and nutrition LABELLING LAWS, given sugar from fruit is NOT COUNTED as ‘ADDED SUGAR’ on the label.
Okay, so the next big thing we want to look at is how GTs treat their kombucha AFTER it has been brewed. And from our research we were happy to see that GTs has stuck true to the traditional kombucha brewing process.
That means they don’t pasteurize, filter or dilute their kombucha. And while most good quality kombucha brands follow Dave’s lead here, the same can’t be said about 2 of his biggest competitors.
To find out more about them, check out our free Kombucha Brands Comparison tool.
Finally, let’s look at how GTs FLAVORS their kombucha ONCE it has been brewed - focusing specifically on their ginger kombucha.
As you can see here, GT’s Gingerade is simply flavored with fresh pressed ginger juice. That’s it! As a registered dietitian, I love Simple ingredient lists ; but even moreso, I love when BENEFICIAL FOODS are used as flavorings. And since ginger root has known anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and digestive health benefits, we love to see it included here.
By contrast, when we analyzed the flavorings used by other companies for their ginger kombuchas,we saw many adding in ingredients like ginger extract and natural flavors.
We think this is a missed opportunity by them to pack in the health benefits of ginger root. So once again, props to you, GT Dave, for choosing ingredients that deliver on more than just taste.
4) How does GTs Kombucha taste?
I hear you! So let’s pour a glass of GT’s Synergy Gingerade here and give it a try.
What’s really remarkable about GTs kombucha is that the BUBBLES - that delicious effervescence you see when you open the bottle - they’re all natural.
They come purely as a result of the brewing process.
And that’s not always common with commercial kombuchas. In fact, many of the other leading brands PUMP their kombucha with CARBON DIOXIDE to get the same level of fizz. And although carbonation is not inherently a bad thing, it does beg the question...Why can’t their brewing process naturally deliver the same level of fizz?
Also worth noting is that GTs kombucha range tends to be a little LESS SWEET and a little more vinegary than other brands. That’s not surprising given Dave doesn’t use extracts or additional flavoring agents. In other words, GTs tastes like REAL kombucha should!
And once again, we find ourselves saying ‘Well done Dave’ for not pandering to a sweeter flavor profile that would SURELY attract more mainstream palates - something many of his competitors have done.
Finally, when you drink GTs kombucha, you might see some strands or floaties in it, which are perfectly fine. In case you don’t know, they are actually Colonies of bacteria & yeast from the SCOBY. And an ENCOURAGING sign, as it shows GTs is making real, traditional kombucha.
5) How healthy is GTs kombucha?
So we’ve already touched on a few things that relate to HOW HEALTHY GTs kombucha is. We also looked at the quality ingredients used like organic tea and fresh pressed ginger juice. But now let’s go even deeper to find out whether GTs kombucha is really good for us or not.
So this is going to be a big section, and we’ve tried our best to break it up for you. Nevertheless, get your thinking caps on as this information is important!
a) Probiotic count
So I want to cut straight to the chase here, and look at the probiotics inside GTs Synergy Gingerade. After all, these are perhaps the Number one reason people are drinking kombucha these days.
If you look at the label of GTs Gingerade, which I’ll bring up on the screen now, you’ll see it claims 9 BILLION organisms of probiotics are present in 1 bottle, which is approximately 16 fluid oz or 480 mils.
Before we look at them, we found it interesting that GTs didn’t use the term CFUs or Colony Forming Units to describe the 9 billion probiotics. Instead, they simply said ‘organisms’. This might be due to the fact that they CAN’T GUARANTEE the viability of ALL 9 billion by the time you go to drink it.
Interestingly, other companies have approached this issue by simply disclaiming that the CFU count is measured at time of manufacture, not expiry.
b) Types of probiotics
So, back to the types of probiotics in GTs kombucha...well as you can see here, GTs come from 3 groups of beneficial bacteria & yeast:
- B Coagulans
- L Bacterium
- S Boulardii
With B Coagulans and L Bacterium being types of bacteria and S Boulardii being a type of beneficial yeast.
All 3 have been clinically studied to confer BENEFITS on humans when administered in adequate amounts, and thus meet the WHO’s TECHNICAL DEFINITION of a PROBIOTIC.
In terms of Acid resistance, both B Coagulans & S Boulardii will likely stand up well to the LOW PH or HIGHLY ACIDIC environment of both kombucha and your stomach. But we CAN’T CONFIRM THIS for L-BACTERIUM, because GTs does not specify it - on the species or strains level.
Meanwhile, all 3 groups of probiotics should be EASILY TOLERATED by most people. But that said, they may take some getting used to - in fact, GTs mentions on their site that people should ease into drinking kombucha by Starting out with 4 oz or 120 mils per day.
All things considered, GTs kombucha contains 3 solid probiotics.
c) Natural probiotics vs standardization
Now, before we look at how this COMPARES to their competitors, I want to explain something here that may come as a BIG SURPRISE to you.
The probiotics STATED ON GT’s LABEL are most likely added into the kombucha AFTER it has been brewed. Meaning, they are NOT naturally produced by the fermentation process itself.
And before we look at WHY we believe this to be so - I want to be really clear here on 2 things:
- This finding applies to ALL kombucha brands that state specific probiotics and amounts on their labels. Meaning it is not just GTs doing this.
- It is not necessarily a bad thing. You see, while we all generally prefer products with the least amount of additives, sometimes thoughtful additions - like probiotics in this case - can actually Improve the quality & health benefits of the product.
Okay, so HERE are the 3 main reasons why we believe the probiotics you SEE ON THE LABEL of GTs kombucha are ADDED IN and NOT the result of NATURAL KOMBUCHA FERMENTATION.
- For starters, their labels state the EXACT same probiotic SPECIES AND in the EXACT SAME AMOUNTS across MULTIPLE flavors. That doesn’t really make sense to us, because the research shows fermentation ingredients, like flavors, or even the ratios of ingredients, can Change the overall bacteria & yeast makeup in the finished product. So in other words, we believe the chance of GTs getting the exact same amounts of probiotics across multiple flavors...NATURALLY… is very UNLIKELY.
- Secondly and more obviously, the B Coagulans bacteria found in GTs kombucha IS MADE by a company called Kerry and is something you actually find in probiotic supplements, as well as fortified foods.
Even more interesting, in looking through studies detailing the bacteria and yeast makeup of kombucha, we haven’t seen ANY evidence that this specific strain in B Coagulans is Not naturally present in kombucha.
- Meanwhile, the OTHER 2 groups of PROBIOTICS in GTs kombucha further reinforce our belief that they’re ADDED IN, and I’ll quickly touch on them now.
- Lactobacillus bacterium - So firstly with the Lactobacillus Bacterium in GTs...well, yes it’s true that some Lactobacillus species are present in kombucha. But the bacteria that naturally reign supreme in kombucha are known as Acetic acid bacteria, which are a completely DIFFERENT type of bacteria. And from what we’ve seen in analyzed kombucha samples, even these dominant acetic acid bacteria are present in relatively LOW quantities. So that makes us believe that it’s HIGHLY unlikely that GTs kombucha would NATURALLY contain Lactobacillus bacteria AT THE LEVEL suggested on their label.
- S boulardii - And in regards to the S Boulardii in GTs...while our research revealed that yeasts are not only present but likely the dominant microbes in kombucha overall, we DIDN’T FIND ANY EVIDENCE that S. Boulardii was the Primary yeast making up the yeast population in kombucha. Perhaps most interesting to us - S. Boulardii is a strain that is known to produce hefty amounts of CO2. And so if we put our detective hats on here for a second, we have a HUNCH that GTs smartly chose to add S. Boulardii to their kombucha, because of its ability to give their kombucha that EFFERVESCENT and carbonated mouth-feel that we all enjoy so much. So while it’s likely added in and not naturally occurring from fermentation, we have to give credit to GT’s for formulating their product in a way that Improves not only the quality but also the potential health benefits of their kombucha.
So with all of this research taken together, it is HIGHLY LIKELY that a STANDARDIZED PROBIOTIC FORMULA is being added to GTs kombucha AFTER fermentation.
So just to reiterate here, GT’s fermentation process MAY NATURALLY PRODUCE beneficial bacteria and yeast.
But the reality is WE DON’T KNOW. First of all, they HAVE NOT been identified. Also, for them to be technically defined as “PROBIOTICS”, they need to have been studied to see if they confer a BENEFIT to humans. Which, from what we have seen, hasn’t been done.
However, when it comes to delivering on consumer expectations of probiotics, we’d actually like to APPLAUD GTs. They’ve Thoughtfully processed their kombucha by increasing the benefits & quality of their product.
One might even argue that they’ve done this in a way that makes their product even MORE BENEFICIAL than home-brewed kombucha.
But once again, if you’re drinking commercial kombucha because you think it's ONLY PACKED with NATURALLY-OCCURRING probiotics, just understand that there is NO SUCH PUBLISHED DATA from GTs or ANY OTHER kombucha company.
ALL WE KNOW FOR SURE is that GT’s kombucha contains the THREE PROBIOTICS listed on the label and they have most likely been added in AFTER fermentation.
All of this does make us wonder - given kombucha is a multi-billion dollar industry, surely some Companies can fund studies to better understand the health impacts of the bacteria and yeasts naturally found in kombucha.
Now with that out of the way, let’s see how GT’s Kombucha competitors COMPARE on the PROBIOTIC front.
So overall, they offer significantly LESS probiotics, with some stating 1-2 billion CFUs, others simply saying “billions”, and the rest not even claiming ANY specific probiotic count.
And before anyone argues, “Hey GTs bottles come in a bigger serving size!”, well, let me assure you - even when we STANDARDIZE the CFU count of all the different brands to a COMMON serving size of 12 fluid oz or 355 mils, the results remain the same. GTs, beats them all BY A MILE.
d) If probiotics are the #1 reason you drink kombucha, then consider a probiotic supplement
Photo: here we compare the probiotics you'll find in GTs kombucha versus a powerful probiotic supplement, like our Smart Probiotic, which you can buy on Amazon or direct from us
6) Is there anything unhealthy in GTs kombucha?
Now, let’s look at the DARKER side of kombucha and analyze the POTENTIALLY bad stuff you will find in GTs kombucha, being alcohol, caffeine & sugar.
So first up alcohol. Yes, there is some in kombucha, including in GTs Synergy line. But that’s totally understandable given it is a by-product of the natural fermentation process
Thankfully over the years, GTs, along with the other leading brands, have FINE-TUNED their manufacturing and fulfilment processes, such that this amount is UNDER 0.5% alcohol. This is both when bottles come off the line AND when you consume them.
So as long as you’re fine with trace amounts of alcohol, there’s NOTHING WRONG with GTs Synergy kombucha range.
Now, what about caffeine? After all, we are talking about a tea based product. Well, once again, you’re pretty safe here. For example, GTs Synergy range contains JUST 8 to 16 milligrams of caffeine PER 16 fluid oz or 480 mil bottle.
Making it a FRACTION of the caffeine you’d find in an equivalent serving of coffee.
And this is a similar story for most other brands, with the exception of Kevita, which comes in at roughly 70 mg of caffeine per bottle - or said differently, roughly 5 - 8 x’s more than GTs.
Lastly, what about sugar? Well, as we saw earlier, a lot of the sugar added in during the brewing process WILL GET EATEN UP by the SCOBY. But not necessarily ALL of it.
So if we look at GTs Synergy Gingerade, we can see 12 grams or 3 teaspoons of sugar is expected to REMAIN in 1 bottle of their kombucha when you drink it.
If you standardize the serving size against its competitors, GTs is pretty LOW in sugar. For example, it’s roughly equal to Health Ade and Humm, and about 30% LOWER in sugar than Kevita.
That said, if you want zero sugar, then GTs is not the brand for you. Instead, Humm’s ZERO kombucha range or Remedy kombucha are the best bets.
But of course, this DOESN’T take into account ALL the things we mentioned earlier in this article - such as Brewing process, probiotic content & so on.
So if you want to see exactly how all these brands compare and which is best for you, then check out our kombucha brand comparison tool.
7) How much does GTs kombucha cost?
Finally, let’s look at price...after all, kombucha is one of the priciest drinks you’ll find in the grocery store!
So looking at GTs website, at the time of this article, we can see a bottle of their GT’s Synergy Gingerade Kombucha costs $3.30. Which is not cheap. But since we are talking about Real authentic kombucha, it is not unreasonable.
Meanwhile, GTs competitors all come in around a similar price range, starting at $3 with Kevita and going up to $4 with Health Ade.
But interestingly, if we Standardize them all to an EQUAL serving size, then we can see ONLY 1 brand is ACTUALLY CHEAPER than GTs, and that is Kevita - which as we talked about before, might fall a BIT SHORT of the quality standard set by GTs.
So what we’re really saying here, is that in the kombucha world, GTs represents Great value for money & best quality kombucha on the market and at the same time the 2nd most affordable.
8) Our conclusion
So we’ve been on a bit of a journey. And along the way we’ve seen that GTs has an AMAZING founder behind it in GT Dave, who makes kombucha in line with the traditional brewing process, and that their end product is as authentic a kombucha as you can possibly buy.
We even saw that it's almost the most affordable too, when you standardize the serving size.
For us here at Essential Stacks, GTs is the Number 1 commercial kombucha brand.
Of course, if probiotics are the #1 reason you're interested in kombucha, then consider trying a probiotic supplement like our Smart Probiotic, which can deliver 5-10x more probiotics and at a fraction of the price.
An evidence hierarchy is followed to ensure conclusions are formed off of the most up-to-date and well-designed studies available. We aim to reference studies conducted within the past five years when possible.
- Systematic review or meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials
- Randomized controlled trials
- Controlled trials without randomization
- Case-control (retrospective) and cohort (prospective) studies
- A systematic review of descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method studies
- A single descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method study
- Studies without controls, case reports, and case series
- Animal research
- In vitro research
How much should I be drinking? And is there a preferred time to drink. Morning vs bedtime?
I never even tried kombucha until a few years ago, when I was left with chronic diarrhea after a course of antibiotics. I read somewhere that of all probiotics that might help, S. boulardii might be the most important one to look for. So I looked at EVERY pill-form probiotic in Walmart and a bunch of other products in the health isle … no S. boulardii. I almost left, but something drew me to the cold juice section, and though I knew NOTHING about kombucha, it was like my hand just reached for it, a bottle of GT Synergy (Guava flavor). I read the tiny fineprint of organisms and couldn’t believe my eyes —the creature I sought was THERE.
Now I know this will be hard to believe, but I drank that bottle (LOVED it by the way) and my weeks-long, frustrating, exhausting (and honestly getting a bit scary) ordeal with diarrhea ENDED COMPLETELY, OVERNIGHT. I still drank an additional bottle the next day, just to reinforce the goodness. Then just a couple months ago, I had the whole thing repeat: antibiotics….diarrhea that wouldn’t quit …… bottle of GT Synergy …BAM, overnight cure. Again I know that’s hard to believe and might not work so well for everyone, but it’s worth a shot. And so delicious, I will occasionally spring for it just for enjoyment (guava is still my favorite).
Well written article. When I travel to different parts of the US, kombucha is always on my mind. I try all the local brands but I still come back to GTs. In Ohio, I have tried GTs hard boocha and really enjoyed it. Thanks for the review.
GT’s was my first ever and my favorite for the reasons you’ve discovered and mentioned here, for nearly 20 years. I remember the adjustments made in 2012, which was stupid to me, honestly. The original is a superior product to me. I wrote to them once a few years ago just to thank them for making a quality product and to let them know just how much I love their “root beer” mushroom elixir and they wrote me back and sent me a letter with coupons and GT’s actual signature on it. I just say, an ACTUAL penned signature is VERY cool in an age when no one is running a company and caring anymore. It’s a replaceable person just doing a job. GT’s cares about life. Product. People. I love that. Thanks for this article. And if you haven’t seen that funny YouTube video of the guys poking fun of GT’s interview with Forbes, watch it. What’s more funny is that GT reached out to them and invited them over! A guy with a sense of reality and humor. Love that!