Water Kefir or Kombucha

Kombucha vs Water Kefir

Water kefir or kombucha?  Which do you prefer or do you drink both? And how does water kefir compare to kombucha?

I like to think one isn’t necessarily better than the other, they are just different.  Like comparing apples to oranges. This comparison is mostly opinion.  For an excellent, more scientific comparison, check out Common Sense Homesteading’s post “Water Kefir vs Kombucha

If you have no idea what either of these are, check out Kombucha health benefits or Cultures for Health’s Water Kefir FAQ.

Bacteria Content

The main difference between water kefir and kombucha is the bacteria in them and what they produce.  Water kefir is a lactic acid ferment where kombucha is more of an acetic acid ferment.  This is what gives them their distinctive tastes.

Water kefir wins hands down when comparing the number of lactic acid bacteria.  When looking through my microscope, I have no problem finding the little buggers.  They are everywhere.  Kombucha, on the other hand, not so rich.  Of course this varies from batch to batch and can differ depending on how old the ferment is.  I also found in my kombucha, the tea harvested from the bottom of the jar had more bacteria where the tea from closer to the top didn’t.  This is just my experience.

Kombucha Kamp

Which Tastes Better?

Of course taste is very personal.  What is good to one person isn’t to the other.  Taste wise, kombucha tends to be more vinegary/tangy sour since one of the bi-products of its fermentation is acetic acid, which is vinegar.  As water kefir sours more, it begins to taste more like a dry wine to me.  So it’s just a different kind of sour.

My husband doesn’t care for the taste of vinegar so he prefers water kefir over kombucha.  I love both fairly equally.  The tang of kombucha is nummy and I love the more tart wine like taste of kefir.  My boys say water kefir tastes too much like wine for them so they prefer kombucha.  So, I make both.

Which is Easier?

As far as which one is easier to make, in my opinion kombucha is easier.  While brewing the tea concentrate does take a little more effort, it’s a once a month effort rather than daily.  I make a big batch of tea concentrate (one gallon which will make 4 gallons of tea when reconstituted) that lasts me about a month.  About 2 times a week, I drain off a bunch of kombucha and refill with my concentrate.  If I get busy and forget to drain it off, I either just have really strong kombucha or I turn it into vinegar.  If I need a break from making it, I can just leave it in the pot for many weeks without worry. I’ve been really busy lately and haven’t had a chance to make more tea concentrate.  I haven’t drained my kombucha in over 2 months and it’s just fine.  I have a very yummy vinegar brewing right now (anyone need a gallon or 2 of kombucha vinegar?).

If you forget about water kefir, it will die.  Been there, done that.  It can handle a little bit of neglect but not nearly as much as kombucha can withstand.

Time wise, water kefir brews much faster than kombucha (especially batch brewing kombucha).  Water kefir is ready in as little as 24 hours where kombucha can take between 1 and 3 weeks depending on the temperature and how tart you like it.  Getting a continuous brewer set up reduces the amount of time it takes to brew significantly.  When you first set up your brewer, it will take the 1-3 weeks to get it started but after that you can drain off a few cups here and there either daily or a few times a week.

So tell me, are you a water kefir freak or a kombucha kook?  Or both?




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45 comments to Water Kefir or Kombucha

  • Marie

    Very interesting post!
    I have kombucha and kefir brewing at the moment. So far, I prefer kombucha.
    I’m pretty new to kefir. I still haven’t found a way to drink it that is not too sweet for me. Also, the smell is talking me some time to get use to. It doesn’t stink, but it is distinctive… Is that normal?
    How do you make yours that it tastes like wine?

    • It does have a certain smell, doesn’t it? I had a friend who thought it smelled like a fart when she opened it, lol. When I first open a bottle, I have to let it air a little before drinking.
      I didn’t like kefir for a long time because I thought it was too sweet. I had heard never to let it ferment longer than 48 hours but it was always so sweet still. I finally just tried letting it ferment longer and that’s made a huge difference. As long as there is some sweetness to the water, there is enough food to keep the kefir grains happy. I let mine ferment for nearly a week because my house is pretty chilly. If you take the grains out and let it ferment without the grains a little longer, it will get more wine like. You can also make it with grape juice. Straight grape juice will even get pretty alcoholic but if you dilute it half with water, it will taste a lot like wine but without the alcohol.

  • I make both and like both. Actually, the two together taste great! My water kefir is more of a vanilla soda taste. I do the continual brew kombucha and taste test by day 5, usually tapping it all off by day 7, adding back in another sweetened tea to brew a week before tapping off again. I often let my water kefir brew 48 hours to eat more sugar, especially over winter – making more in the summer.

  • Joel

    I’m a kombucha kind of guy! But, I think that’s mainly because I’ve been making it for years and really have it down. I’m newer to water kefir, and haven’t quite figured out the tricks as well.

    Thanks! By the way, how do you know the bacteria you see are actually LAB? I know that a lot of bacteria look the same, and I wonder if you’re making an assumption or if there’s something special you’re looking for. Thanks again!

    • I actually just googled before reading your comment and you are right. I wanted to see what acetic acid bacteria looked like and they look like…lactic acid bacteria which also look like a bunch of other different kinds of bacteria. I can safely assume that the water kefir bacteria are indeed LAB’s because of the environment (anaerobic, low pH) but it is just an assumption.

  • nichole

    What do you use Kombucha vinegar for? I have a bunch that has been sitting far too long. Before I toss it and start over….I’d love to know if it’s useful

  • MF

    I’ve heard that you can use milk kefir grains to make water kefir. have you had any experience with this?

  • Sue

    Melanie, would you share with us your recipe for your tea concentrate for the kombucha? Also how to use the concentrate, how to store the concentrate, and how long the concentrate will keep? Currently, I make 3qt of tea/sugar solution and brew with the scoby for 10 days. I think it would be nice to have the concentrate pre made and on hand for starting the next batch. Thanks.

  • I love water kefir, as do my kids. I let it brew 48-60 hours, then I “bottle” it in pint mason jars. I add 1/8 cup of juice, spent fruity/herbal tea grounds, dried fuit, spices, you name it. I then pour in the kefir, cap with a metal canning lid, and let sit on the counter 8-12 hours. While it is still out, it is very bubbly. After going into the fridge, it looses some of the bubbly. I keep a close watch on the lids. Once they lose flex, into the fridge they go. I had a jar bust with pineapple after only a few hours, so I am careful! If you have extra grains, you can combine them with your sugar water and spent tea, I have a chai blend I like to do this with. After a two day ferment, it is ready to drink. Only do this with extra grains though, you can’t really get the bits of tea out of the grains!

  • I’ve never tried either of these – but would love to try both! I’ve heard from a friend though that the water kefir grains are VERY VERY picky and die super easily. Is this true? Also – what do you use to make your water kefir with? Just plain sugar? Or molasses? The same friend who said they are very finicky said that molasses seemed to work well for her…wondering what you use though? And if they really are that finicky?


    • Yes, water kefir grains are “high maintenance”. They are the trickiest ferment for me to keep happy. Not everyone has trouble with them but I definitely do. They don’t like it too hot and they don’t like it too cold, between 68-72 plus or minus a few degrees is their happy place. Filtered water is important and adding minerals is the most important. Molasses gives them the minerals they need but using only molasses tastes yucky. I use plain white sugar with either 1/2 tsp of molasses added or a couple squirts of Concentrace (a liquid mineral supplement). Adding a clean egg shell works as well.

      • Ric

        Try Brown Sugar instead of refined white! Add just a drop of Molasses every other or third batch seams to do well. I use distilled water due to the city waters here sucks. I don’t trust filtering it. My kefir crystals are reproducing at almost a doubling rate per batch.

  • Great post! I love both of them equally, but I had some issues with my water kefir, maybe your experience can lend a suggestion. My water kefir was kept in my outdoor kitchen and I found that the taste was more alcohol-y than I desired. Maybe it has something to do with the temperatures outside? We have no heating or air conditioning so it was at the mercy of the weather and it did end up dying from the cold. Also, my partner really loves the very intensely bubbly drink Kevita and I tried to make the water kefir very bubbly and “feisty” for him by using a secondary fermentation after taking the “grains” out, and I didn’t manage to get it more bubbly and carbonated like we wanted. We want our water kefir to be extremely carbonated! Any thoughts on how we can manage this?

    Thanks for the great blog I subscribed!

  • Abra

    I make both. I prefer kombucha, my hubby prefers water kefir.

  • Tara

    Key to water kefir becoming highly carbonated is to add some fruit & bottle it in an air tight bottle, (flip top glass bottles work wonderful). I use apples or strawberries, (our preference) to the “strained kefir” and put it in the glass bottles letting it sit out another 24 hours and then refrigerate for taste. It is “explosively carbonated”! We’ve learned to always open it over the sink.


    Hi I brew both kombucha and water kefir. We drink kombucha daily, and I drink a little water kefir. The main way we use the water kefir, is in fresh veggie juice (I also use kombucha this way if it gets too vinegary to drink). It makes the juice taste great. If it’s a little bitter, the kombucha (and lemon, which I also use), mellows it out. If it’s a little sour, the kefir sweetens it up.

    Next, I’m going to try drinking them both together. I had a little of a new batch of each together tonight and it was great.


  • Vicki

    Jackie, do you ferment your veggie juice?

    Kefir sodas have quickly replaced our kombucha consumption. We drink about 32 ounces each daily of the effervescent delight. Very fizzy! Things ferment fast here in Florida. I cannot let my first ferment go over 36 hours or it thickens the liquid and reduces grain growth. If I bottle then with 20 percent fruit juice – we do organic grape and cherry pretty often, it will usually be nice and fizzy after 24 hours, and if not its just a matter of waiting another day. With ginger ale, I so the second ferment with grated ginger root and a bit of lemon juice. After 36 -48 hours I bottle and it takes at least two more days to get fizzy. Adding a little sugar or fruit juice would definitely speed up the third fermentation. This is WAY fizzier than Kevita and has hundred times more different strains of probiotics. Amazingly healthy and fun, too.

  • Sarah Ferguson

    So, this is kind of off the subject, but it dawned on me the other day, as I make my own dishwasher powder & use vinegar for the rinse cycle…why not use my kombucha vinegar instead of the distilled stuff? It’s free for crying out loud! So, I tried it, and it gave the same exact results as the distilled….good way to use that stuff up & save money on vinegar 🙂 Just strain it before you dump a cup in the bottom of the dishwasher – also cleaned my toilet bowl with it, with baking soda – works pretty good!

  • Angie

    Pickle Me Too,

    I enjoy drinking wine and I never thought in a million years I’d hear that I can make my own this day and time… but since YOU brought it up; how do you make water kefir with grape juice? What’s the recipe that straight grape juice will make it pretty alcoholic? An inquiring mind want to know. ~smile~

    • Straight grape juice does turn to alcohol pretty quickly. Either do a very short ferment (like 12-24 hours) or dilute it in half. I measured the amount of sugar in a typical juice and it turned out to be double what my normal water kefir recipe is. So mix 1 part grape juice with 1 part water and add the water kefir grains for a non-alcoholic grape water kefir. To make it alcoholic on purpose, just straight juice. I usually leave the grains in for 2 days. To avoid damaging the grains, you can strain them out and let the grape kefir keep fermenting without the grains for as long as you wish.

  • Brian

    I make both. I drink the kombucha plain. I add pomegranite juice and brew one more day with water kefir. I enjoy both totally but I tend to gravitate to the kombucha for health benefits. The water kefir tends to be refreshing like a fruity carbinated drink to me… rather than wine. I wish there were studies on health benefits. It’s kind of like waiting for the stock market to make me rich.

  • Brian

    Has anyone freaked out at the flourescent yellow urine from the excess B12 vitamins that Kombucha has? Also does anyone experience a funny urine smell? It might be from veggies I eat too maybe.

  • I have been hearing more about kefir in my research for G.I health and tried it from the store the other day and it tastes about the same as Kombucha. I have been brewing my own and drinking it slowly.

    I do feel Komucha has that more intoxicating effect to me but will try to start brewing my own Kefir.

    If only I could find a way to keep the heat of my brews warmer so they multiply faster. I live in Southern California but it still takes very long to get my kombucha to carbonate in the bottles

    thanks for sharing the valuable information

  • Bonnie

    Great website! Thanks. I’m new to milk and water kefir and also kombucha. Could I mix the water kefir and kombucha in a class covered pitcher in the fridge? I have so many bottles!

  • Bonnie

    Second question: My water kefir tastes like watered down 7-Up. Is this normal? I let it brew for 48 hours.

  • nadia

    Please anyone can tell me if the bacteria formed on the top from the jam kept opened in the frige but for a long time is a combucha one? Is it good to use to make the tea combucha one?thanks

  • nadia

    Thanks for the unswer…I would love to know who I can make the bacteria my self to start the kefir? Anyone know please?

    • Bonnie

      I mix the two together because my husband originally didn’t like the taste of kombucha. My kombucha doesn’t get very bubbly but I think I’m doing everything right. I culture the water kefir for 48 hrs. and that doesn’t have a very strong flavor, something like weak 7-Up. I don’t bother second fermenting or flavoring. I figure the two mixed together taste fine and we get the broad spectrum of good things from each.

  • Lorie

    Been making and loving my water kefir for about six months. My grains don’t really grow thow 🙁 and fermentation takes about four days, here in cool Sausalito, CA. Strawberries for my second ferment is a favorite. Only trouble? After consumption, my urine smells horrible! I imagine it to be a de-tox thing… It’s almost putting me off a favorite beverage! Any comments?

    • Rene Dohan

      Right temperature (home temperature), hard water and brown sugar are best conditions for growth and brewing of water kefir…

      • Ric

        I too concur with Rene on the temp, brown sugar, hard water, spring water, or distilled. I use distilled but I also add a drop of molasses to have the necessary minerals. My kefir is almost doubling per batch!

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  • Hi:

    I made water kifer, but I let it turn into vinegar. I drained and I am using the vinegar just like I would use apple cider vinegar. Is that OK, I mean am I drinking poison or is my vinegar loaded with friendly bacteria? Furthermore, are my kifer seeds dead now, that I let them sit in the brown sugar for 3 weeks. I obviously don’t know what I am doing, that is why I am asking questions.

    Thank you

  • Moragh

    Awesome stuff. I cannot drink much of it at the moment as I am trying to loose wait. But is very yummy. And agree kefir is more like wine and kombucha is more like cider.

    Thank you for your post

  • StayC

    I’ve been successful with my water kefir, but not so much with kombucha. My kombucha SCOBY started growing at the bottom of the jar and never really amounted to anything solid enough to use; even after 4-5 weeks of fermenting. I gave up and used the kombucha water for my plants. My water kefir doesn’t taste much different than store bought kombucha.

  • Emi

    Do you always have to purchase water Kefir grains if you want to start this “hobby”? I have tons of SCOBY… would that ever work to brew water Kefir?

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