A trendy super-tea popular with celebrities is brewing up a storm in the US after investigators found that it delivered more of a kick than consumers had bargained for.
Government inspectors are conducting tests but suspect that the "buzz" experienced by drinkers of kombucha has nothing to do with the active properties of any mystic ingredients from its centuries-old Chinese recipe.
Instead, they say the kick comes from fermenting yeast that gives the pro-biotic drink an alcohol content of up to 3%, similar to that of many light beers. Although approved for sale as non-alcoholic, the drink is said to be so strong that it set off the alcohol monitoring bracelet worn by actor Lindsay Lohan, a supporter of its alleged restorative powers.
Now health food stores and popular organic grocers such as Whole Foods are pulling the drink from their shelves.
Scientists from America's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trace Bureau (TTB) have spent several weeks examining samples in their laboratories. If their suspicions are confirmed, kombucha, described by the comedian Tina Fey as tasting like "a wine cooler left in a hot car", will have to be relabelled and moved to the beer and wine aisle.
"Our concern is to ensure that consumers are not misled about the nature of alcohol beverage products that might be marketed as non-alcoholic," said Art Resnick, spokesman for the TTB.
Several companies who rushed to get their kombucha products on sale when it became popular a year ago are now hastily reworking their recipes to eliminate the alcoholic content. Kombucha sales exceeded $150m in the US last year, according to industry analysts.
Meanwhile, fans have been sharing their disappointment at the drink's disappearance from shelves on social networking sites, including one entitled: "Dude, where's my kombucha?"