I tried kombucha for the first time at Cloud Mountain Kombucha in Lincoln Square Mall. The new kombucha place opened in October. Don’t know what kombucha is? I didn’t either. Read on to see the kobucha I tried and what I liked about the locally brewed drinks.


 A glass door with a white Cloud Mountain Kombucha sign on it. Photo by Tias Paul.Photo by Tias Paul.

Just past Stango Cuisine, Cloud Mountain Kombucha is located on the right side when you enter the main South entrance to Lincoln Square Mall. The kombucha bar is located in a large space shared with Reg Cakes. I am told the space was previously occupied by the Spark Children's Museum + Play Cafe.

A black chalkboard folding sign with colorful lettering reads Photo by Tias Paul.

A chalkboard sign at the entrance of the storefront explained to mall-goers that kombucha is “a non-alcoholic fermented tea.” Definitely good to know.

Brown bar counter with clear glasses in front of a wall of taps and glass-front refrigerators.Photo by Tias Paul.Photo by Tias Paul.

Walking up to the bar at Cloud Mountain, you could easily mistake it for a beer bar, with its wall of taps and refrigerators stocked with amber bottles. There were a number of tall, round tables surrounded by bar stools for seating, but patrons are also welcome to park directly at the bar. That’s what I did because I anticipated needing help with my beverage selections. 

Tall, round tables surrounded by barstools. The floor is checkered black and orange. Photo by Tias Paul.Photo by Tias Paul.

The kombucha makers at Cloud Mountain were happy to explain that kombucha making is similar to beer making. The brewers flavor and ferment various teas with a number of locally sourced ingredients to achieve a drink that has a healthy balance of sweetness and acidity. They also use carbonation to add to the natural effervescence of kombucha.

Their flavor selections were conveniently listed on a printed menu at the bar.

A brown piece of paper behind plexiglass listing the flavors of kombucha available. Photo by Tias Paul.Photo by Tias Paul.

The flavors were also listed on a large sign above the bar.

The main menu over the bar listing the flavors of kombucha available. Photo by Tias Paul.Photo by Tias Paul.

Since I had not tried kombucha — before this, it had always a strange beverage to me — I asked one of the makers for recommendations. He suggested a free tasting to get me started: any four of their current flavors.

He pointed to the 586 Experimental Hops as a customer favorite. I ended up choosing the 586 Experimental Hops plus the mulberry-cardamom-vanilla, the carrot-turmeric-mandarina balm, and the lemon balm-ginger-cayenne.

Tasting glasses - Four clear glasses, three with a pale yellow kombucha and a fourth one with a burgundy colored kombucha. Photo by Tias Paul.Photo by Tias Paul.

The first kombucha I tried was the 586 Experimental Hops. With hops in its name, I was expecting something heavy like beer, but instead, it was very light and refreshing. It tasted a lot like a champagne with peach undertones but without the nasty hangover of champagne. It looked a lot like champagne, too.

Then, I sipped the carrot-turmeric. It smelled like fresh carrots, but it tasted like turmeric, and it certainly had a good bit of tartness. The next flavor in my kombucha tasting was the lemon balm-ginger-cayenne. This one was the most acidic, but the powerful low notes from ginger balanced out the sharpness.

The last flavor I sampled was the mulberry-cardamom. I loved the burgundy color of this kombucha. This one was more acidic than the 586 Experimental Hops, and the most prominent flavor in it was cardamom. It reminded me of spiced wine but with more acidity and effervescence. 

The 586 Experimental Hops turned out to be a clear winner for me.

Photo from Cloud Mountain Kombucha.

The bottles of kombucha are $5 each plus a $2 deposit on the glass bottle which you get back when you return the bottle. The kombucha can also be purchased to drink at the kombucha bar by the pint ($5) and half pint ($2.50).

Since kombucha is a fermented tea, I was expecting to feel a caffeine hit, but that didn’t happen; I’m happy to report that I lost no sleep from it. And for you folks who like a mixed cocktail now and then, I was told that kombucha functions well as a shrub, lending its flavor and acidity to mixed drinks.

Curious? Consider giving it a try.

Cloud Mountain Kombucha
300 S Broadway Ave 
Urbana
Tu-W 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Th-F 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sa 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Top image by Tias Paul.