Kombucha, this delicious fizzy fermented tea, has gained the world’s attention over the last few years. The drink made of sweetened tea and a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, dubbed SCOBY, piqued the interest of health enthusiasts and gourmands worldwide. But what makes it the talk of the town? Let’s give this exciting beverage a closer look, explore its unique characteristics, potential health benefits, and most importantly learn how we can make it ourselves. Welcome to the ultimate Kombucha guide!
What is Kombucha?
At its essence, Kombucha is a fermented beverage on the basis of tea. The heart of the Kombucha brewing process is the SCOBY, an acronym for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. While the SCOBY is a fantastic organism, its look might be a bit less appealing.
Looking like something between a rubbery pancake and a jellyfish, this organism ferments the tea and sugar, transforming the mixture into a beverage loaded with probiotics, beneficial acids and a characteristic tangy taste.
The artistry of brewing Kombucha lies in the careful balance of its ingredients. The type of tea (black, green, oolong, or a blend), the quality of sugar, and the health of the SCOBY, all play pivotal roles in crafting a well-balanced drink. Add to this the duration of fermentation, and you have a beverage that can range from sweet and mildly tangy to one that’s intensely sour and vinegary.
The Science Behind the Fermentation
The process kicks off when the SCOBY is introduced into the sweetened tea. This symbiotic culture feeds on the sugar, sparking a process known as fermentation. As the tea ferments, the bacteria and yeast multiply and produce a spectrum of organic acids, vitamins, and enzymes, transforming the sweet tea into a beverage that’s tangy, slightly effervescent, and full of potential health benefits.
The fermentation process can last anywhere from a week to a month, depending on the temperature and the desired taste profile. Throughout this period, the SCOBY thickens, sometimes developing brown stringy bits of yeast and potentially forming a new layer or “baby” SCOBY that can be used for future batches. This you can see in my case. I started with only a quarter piece of SCOBY, and you can see some new, round SCOBY having formed from it. By the end of the process, the once sweet tea has morphed into a complex beverage that’s ready to be flavoured, bottled and enjoyed.
The SCOBY is feasting on the sugar and caffeine: It is really cool to see it grow! (I know it might be hard to understand how to be this excited about something that looks so disgusting, but bear with me. Once you’ve tasted a good Kombucha, you know.)
The Kombucha Story: A Bit of History.
Are you ready to travel back in time with a cup of tea? The fact that Kombucha is so popular today builds on a long history of the drink.
Kombucha’s history is as interesting as the drink itself. Believed to have originated in Northeast China around 220 B.C., it was called the “Tea of Immortality.” It’s said that the drink was named after a Korean physician, Dr. Kombu, who presented the fermented tea to a Japanese emperor as a healing tonic.
Over centuries, this ancient beverage spread across continents. Having travelled trough Asia, Russia and Italy, Kombucha is a true cosmopolitan of a drink. Today, it has reached an almost global audience, with many brewing their versions at home while others grab bottles off supermarket shelves. From being a traditional home remedy to becoming a trendy health beverage, Kombucha has come a long way.
I think it is pretty cool how this drink has persisted over such a long time, and how it probably changed through its travels. Just like wine, it is a drink that isn’t just a beverage, but a symbol for history and culture.
What Does Kombucha Taste Like?
The flavour of Kombucha can be described as an intriguing mix of sweet and sour. When you take the first sip, you’ll likely taste a hint of the underlying sweet tea. The sweetness gradually gives way to a tangy, slightly vinegary aftertaste, which is characteristic of the fermentation process.
The fascinating aspect of Kombucha is its versatility. The taste can be incredibly diverse, influenced by factors like the type of tea used, the duration of fermentation, and the additions during the second fermentation, like fruits, spices, or herbs. A well-brewed Kombucha balances the sweetness of the tea and sugar with the acidity developed during fermentation, which adds a refreshing note to the beverage.
Interestingly, the taste is something that grows on you as well. While most people prefer “light” Kombucha without a prominent fermented taste at the start, it is not uncommon to start liking stronger versions once becoming more familiar with this taste. Kind of similar to having your first cup of coffee or wine!
For example, I have been making Kombucha for a few years now, and I enjoy the strong, fermented and less sweet taste of a thoroughly fermented batch. My family, on the other side, found this too intense when trying it for the first time, and I remember needing to get used to it when starting my Kombucha journey.
The Benefits of Kombucha
Kombucha has gained widespread popularity, partly due to its potential health benefits. Numerous studies have found interesting evidence during in-vivo testing, with more research needing to be done on humans. It suggests a variety of health benefits, which are primarily attributed to beneficial bacteria, yeast, and organic acids.
1. Rich in Probiotics and Enzymes:
Kombucha, much like kimchi, is a fermented food rich in probiotics. These beneficial bacteria are thought to promote gut health, potentially enhancing digestion and boosting immunity.
2. Contains Antioxidants:
If brewed using green or black tea, it can be a source of antioxidants. These compounds neutralise harmful free radicals in the body, protecting against cellular damage and chronic diseases.
Is Kombucha Good for You?
While Kombucha offers potential health benefits, it’s crucial to remember that more scientific research is needed to definitively establish these effects in humans. However, probiotics and antioxidants have well-documented health benefits, making Kombucha a potentially beneficial addition to a balanced diet.
However, moderation is key. The drink contains sugar and a small amount of alcohol, a natural byproduct of the fermentation process. While the alcohol content is typically less than 0.5% ABV, some homemade or unpasteurised versions may contain more.
Is Kombucha Vegan?
Given Kombucha’s ever-growing popularity in the health and wellness sphere, a question that often arises is whether it aligns with a vegan lifestyle. The answer, in short, is yes – Kombucha is typically vegan. The standard ingredients used in brewing (tea, sugar, water, and the SCOBY) are all plant-based. The SCOBY, while it might seem like an animal product due to its unusual appearance, is a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, which is vegan.
However, it’s worth noting that some commercial brands of Kombucha might add non-vegan ingredients during the flavouring or processing stages, such as honey. Brewing your own Kombucha at home gives you complete control over the ingredients, ensuring that your brew aligns with your dietary preferences.
Kombucha and Caffeine: What You Need to Know
As Kombucha is brewed from tea, it naturally contains caffeine, although typically less than the original tea due to the fermentation process. The SCOBY metabolises a portion of the caffeine during fermentation, reducing the overall caffeine content. However, the final amount can vary depending on factors like the type of tea used and the duration of fermentation. Those sensitive to caffeine should consider these factors when consuming the drink.
Kombucha Recipe: A Step-By-Step Guide
Brewing your own Kombucha can be a rewarding experience, giving you the freedom to customise the flavour to your liking.
The process might seem intimidating at first, but with a little patience and care, you’ll soon be brewing Kombucha like a pro. Here’s a simple step-by-step guide to help you get started:
Ingredients and Equipment you need for making Kombucha:
- Starter Liquid
- Fermentation Jar
- Cheese cloth
To brew Kombucha, you’ll need a few essential items and ingredients. The ingredients include tea (black, green, or a mix), sugar, water, and a SCOBY with some starter tea (previously brewed Kombucha).
For the choice of tea, I like to use black tea. It gives the final drink a strong, delicious flavour. Green tea, oolong, or even white tea work well too. Usually, it is recommended to first grow with SCOBY with black tea, before trying something like green tea. My personal favourites are Darjeeling or Ceylon. You should avoid flavoured teas such as Earl Grey when making Kombucha, as the additives can produce undesirable flavours or even harm the SCOBY during the fermentation.
I’d suggest experimenting with your favourite natural teas, until you find the kind that produces your favourite Kombucha. The choice of the tea influences much of the final taste, so make sure to try some different ones!
If you are living in a location with great quality tap water, this should be fine for making Kombucha. Here in Germany, this works perfectly well for me. If you want to be on the safe side, use filtered or bottled water.
In terms of equipment, you’ll need a large glass jar, a breathable cover like a cloth or coffee filter, a rubber band to secure the cover, and bottles for storing the finished Kombucha.
2. Brew the Tea:
Start by brewing your tea. For a gallon of Kombucha, you’ll typically need around 6 tea bags or 2 tablespoons of loose leaf tea. Once the tea is steeped to your liking, dissolve the sugar into it. Allow the sweetened tea to cool to room temperature, before proceeding to the next step.
3. Add the SCOBY and Starter Tea:
Once the sweetened tea is cooled, transfer it to your large glass jar. Now, it’s time to introduce the SCOBY along with at least a cup of starter tea. This acidic environment safeguards against harmful bacteria during the initial phase of fermentation.
4. Cover and Wait:
Cover the jar with your breathable cover and secure it with a rubber band. Store the jar in a warm, dark place. The ideal temperature for Kombucha fermentation is around 70-85°F (20-29°C). The temperature determines a lot of the fermentation speed as well: It will brew much faster when in a warmer environment, and can take much longer if in a cool place. This is something to keep in mind when determining the placement of your jar, as well as for how long to do the primary fermentation.
5. Test and Bottle:
After about a week, you can start tasting your brew. Once the Kombucha reaches a balance of sweetness and tanginess that you like, it’s time to bottle. If stored in a cooler place, this process can very well take 2-3 weeks as well.
Before bottling, reserve two cups of the liquid and the SCOBY for your next batch. The rest can be poured into bottles, leaving some space at the top.
6. Clean and Repeat:
Transfer the SCOBY and the reserved liquid in a sterilised glass bowl. Clean the fermentation thoroughly with hot water and let it cool, before bringing the SCOBY back into its home. Also, make sure to keep the cloth clean.
Remember, brewing Kombucha involves working with live cultures, so cleanliness is crucial. Make sure all your equipment is clean, and avoid using any metal utensils or containers, as metal can react with the acidic Kombucha.
While this part is optional, I’d suggest trying some delicious secondary fermentations! This will yield you a fizzier Kombucha and gives you the option to introduce interesting flavours to your brew. As there are still yeasts and bacteria present in the liquid, the bottled Kombucha will continue to ferment the sugar, as well as the ingredients you add to the bottle, developing very interesting flavours! You can add different kinds of fruits, herbs, or other juices to take its taste to the next level. Here are some suggestions for flavour combinations to try:
- Strawberry, mint and black pepper Kombucha
- Peach Kombucha
- Mango Kombucha
- Pear Kombucha
- Coffee Kombucha
- Masala chai Kombucha
- Apple cinnamon Kombucha
- Quince star anise Kombucha
- Blackberry rosemary Kombucha
- Raspberry thyme Kombucha
- Ginger & chilli Kombucha
While these are great inspirations for delicious flavours, don’t let this constrain your creativity: There are so many options and combinations possible!
Incorporating Kombucha into other Vegan Recipes
Kombucha isn’t just for sipping. Its unique taste profile can make it a fascinating ingredient to play around with in your kitchen. Here are a few ways you can incorporate it into your vegan recipes:
1. Salad Dressing:
Add some to your salad dressings. The tangy flavour can liven up your salads, adding a refreshing twist. It can substitute some of the vinegar or other sources of acidity.
2. Kombucha Smoothies:
Add a sip to your morning smoothie for a probiotic boost. It pairs well with a wide range of fruits and can contribute to a more complex flavour profile.
5. Kombucha cocktails:
If you are into drinks, Kombucha makes an interesting addition for Longdrinks. Its sweetness and tang work great for cocktails.
You can even go crazy and try using it for marinades or when baking: The possibilities are endless. For the most part though, I stick with having it as my favourite refreshing drink. Kombucha simply does not get boring.
I hope you enjoyed this little Kombucha guide! Hopefully I could spark some curiosity, help you on your brewing journey, or give some inspiration. Let me know what you think in the comments!
Other recipes you might enjoy:
- Delicious spiced orange mint tea
- The ultimate guide to water kefir
- Watermelon juice recipe
- The most refreshing mint lemonade recipe
- Dirty chai recipe
- Vegan masala chai recipe:
Learn how to make one of the greatest fermented drinks ever: Kombucha. Once you got into it, you will never want to miss it again.
1 gallon water
1 cup white sugar
6 bags black tea / 2 tbsp loose tea
1 cup Kombucha & SCOBY
Boil water, and add it to a clean pot. Dissolve the sugar into the water, and add the tea. You will want to use a tea bag or tea infuser if using loose tea.
Remove the tea once steeped to your liking and allow the liquid to cool to room temperature.
Add the tea to your fermentation jar, as well as the SCOBY and starter liquid. Cover everything with your breathable cloth and secure it with a rubber.
Let your Kombucha ferment in a warm, dark place, for anywhere between a week and a month. You can check the Kombucha in the meantime to see when it is ready. The time depends on the exact ratios, temperature and your SCOBY. Make sure not to contaminate the Kombucha when you test it.
Once finished, you can bottle the Kombucha. Furthermore, you can do a secondary fermentation if you like, I’d recommend it!
Transfer at least a cup of Kombucha with the SCOBY to a clean glass or plastic container. This will act as starter liquid for your next batch. Clean your fermentation jar thoroughly, before repeating the process from the start.
It is recommended to first grow with SCOBY with black tea, before trying something like green tea. My personal favourites are Darjeeling or Ceylon. You should avoid flavoured teas such as Earl Grey when making Kombucha, as the additives can produce undesirable flavours or even harm the SCOBY during the fermentation.
Make sure to keep everything as clean and sterile as possible when doing fermentations like Kombucha. Contaminations can harm the SCOBY, cause mould, and be dangerous!
You should really try secondary fermentations when making Kombucha. It opens up a world of new, exciting flavours.
If you are living in a place with great quality tap water, this should be fine for making Kombucha. Otherwise, you should consider using filtered or bottled water.
Keywords: Kombucha, Kombucha guide, How to make Kombucha, Fermentation