Kombucha: How to Brew This Sparkling Black or Green Tea Drink
What Is Kombucha?
When my son told me he was brewing a batch of kombucha, my first reaction was to respond with bless you or Gesundheit. But then he explained that kombucha is a fermented, naturally effervescent, sweetened tea that can be flavored with a variety of natural ingredients. I tried his ginger, blueberry-chamomile, and honey flavors—and I have been a cheering fan of kombucha ever since.
The recipe below comes with permission from my son, Scott Mills, a kombucha brewer in northwestern Michigan.
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- 7 cups water, for tea
- 7 cups cold water
- 8 teabags, black, green, or a combination (or 2 tablespoons loose leaf tea)
- 1 cup organic cane sugar
- 2 cups finished kombucha, from previous batch or another brewer
- 1 SCOBY, from previous batch or another brewer
How to Choose Tea and Sugar
The basic ingredients in kombucha are black or green teas or a combination of the two. Sugar is added as food for the bacteria and yeasts. A small amount of kombucha and a SCOBY from a previous batch (or another brewer) are also added.
The tea must contain the leaves of the tea plant (Camellia sinensis); i.e. any black, green, white, or oolong teas.
The sugar must be organic. Non-organic residues will prevent fermentation. White or off-white organic cane sugars (no brown sugars) are best.
- First, put 7 cups of water in a small pan on the stove uncovered (leaving it uncovered allows any chlorine in the water to evaporate). Heat it to about 180 degrees, or whatever the tea box recommends.
- Once it's hot, remove it from the heat and put all the tea bags in to steep for 15 minutes. Squeeze them out into the pot as best you can once they're done steeping -- you want as much flavor out of the tea as possible.
- With the tea bags out, stir in the sugar until dissolved.
- Add the other 7 cups of cold water to the pot, bringing your volume up to 14 cups.
- Let this sweet tea cool uncovered until it comes down to below body temperature (cooler is fine, too).
- Now, pour the sweet tea into your clean gallon jar and add the 2 cups of finished kombucha. Stir.
- Finally, you'll gently grab the SCOBY (make sure you have clean hands!) and place it in the jar with the sweet tea. Don't worry if it sinks. Cover the jar tightly with a piece of cloth or paper towel and a rubber band, label it with the date, and place it in a warmish spot away from direct sunlight.
- After 7 days, taste it to see how it's progressing (we use a turkey baster to sample batches). It should taste pleasant, lightly acidic, and sweet. If you're happy with it, bottle it up! If you think it needs to go a bit longer, taste it after three more days. There's no hard-and-fast rule on how long kombucha should ferment, so let your palate be your guide.
- You can bottle it and let it sit for a week or so on the counter to carbonate, or you can filter it into another jar and put it directly into the fridge for drinking.
- At this point, you should save 2 cups of finished kombucha to start your second half-gallon batch. The SCOBY can live in this cup of kombucha for a few days until you brew your next batch. Better yet, brew on the same day you bottle.
How Long Should It Brew?
After seven days of brewing, taste it to see how it's progressing (we use a turkey baster to sample batches). It should taste pleasant, lightly acidic and sweet. If you're happy with it, bottle it up! If you think it needs to go a bit longer, taste it after three more days. There's no hard-and-fast rule on how long kombucha should ferment, so let your palate be your guide.
Ginger added to kombucha is a great combination. If you are brewing kombucha for the first time, I highly recommend adding ginger to the mix. Scrub a two-to-three-inch piece of ginger until it is clean, but don't peel it. Chop it, grate it, or put it into a food processor. At this point, I squeeze the puree in a garlic press. I prefer using the liquid only. But there is certainly no problem with putting the puree into the bottle.
What Is the Purpose of Adding Sugar?
The sugar in kombucha does not serve the same purpose as it does in soft drinks. Coke, Pepsi, and other soft drinks add sugar to give the beverage a sweet flavor. Sugar in kombucha is added as a food source for the SCOBY as it carries out the task of fermentation (culturing). If a maker of kombucha reduces the amount of sugar in a batch, he is simply starving the culture.
The bacteria/yeast combination, or SCOBY, convert sugar to gluconic acid which is the component that makes kombucha different from apple cider vinegar. It is the breakdown of sugar that gives kombucha its characteristic tang (acids) and fizz (natural effervescence).
Is There Alcohol in Kombucha?
Alcohol is the byproduct of fermentation. Kombucha is not made for the purpose of achieving alcohol content; rather, it is to produce the acids and effervescence that characterize this beverage. The alcohol content in kombucha is typically around 0.5% but may rise to 0.8% if not refrigerated.
I quickly scanned a table showing the alcohol content of many varieties and brands of beers and ales. The range was from 3.4% to 10.2%. One would have to consume about seven bottles of kombucha to equal even one bottle of beer with the lowest alcohol content. This is why kombucha, when kept under 0.5% alcohol content, is not considered an alcoholic beverage in most places.
Does It Contain Caffeine?
It is generally accepted that properly brewed kombucha contains about 1/3 the amount of caffeine as does a cup of black or green tea. Caffeine and sugar contents are reduced the longer the tea is fermented. This is because the bacteria and yeasts (SCOBY) consume both sugar and caffeine. A well brewed, eight-ounce serving of kombucha made from black tea should have about 10-25 mg of caffeine. Kombucha made with green tea should contain about 2 or 3 mg of caffeine per serving.
What Is a SCOBY?
Brewing Kombucha is a natural process. A colony of bacteria and yeast is used to produce kombucha. This colony is known as a SCOBY (resembles a pancake), an acronym taken from the descriptive phrase, symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.
The specific microbes (bacteria and yeast) in a SCOBY can be different from batch to batch and from producer to producer. Some common microbial populations are contained in the following table.
Bacteria and Yeasts: A Symbiotic Relationship
The relationship between these bacteria and yeasts is called symbiosis. This means that each depends on and supports the other. Together, the bacteria and yeasts use sugar as a food source and produce gluconic acid, alcohol and natural effervescence. Gluconic acid is what makes kombucha different from apple cider vinegar. Most Kombucha contains about 0.5% alcohol, just slightly more than what is found in a lot of the orange juice we drink.
Microbial Symbiosis: Bacteria and Yeasts Working Together
Gluconacetobacter xylinus-most common bacteria in kombucha; oxidizes alcohol to acetic acid
Brettanomyces2-produces alcohol or acetic acid
Lactobacillus2; anaerobic production of lactic acid from sugars
Zygosaccharomyces kombuchaensis3-Unique to kombucha; metabolizes sugars; produces alcohol and carbonation
Pediococcus2; fermentation of sugars to lactic acid
Gluconacetobacter kombucha-Unique to kombucha; feeds on nitrogen from tea, produces acetic acid, gluconic acid and the SCOBY
Claimed Health Benefits of Kombucha
I enjoy kombucha simply because I like how it tastes. I love the natural fizziness and the strong flavors I infuse into my batches.
Many people tout what they see as health benefits to drinking kombucha, and those benefits, or at least some of them, may be real. The evidence for most of these claims is anecdotal, but so are the claims that there are no health benefits. No clinical trials have been performed, so no categorical statements can be made by either side. If brewed properly, in clean conditions, kombucha can be a safe, delicious beverage that replaces soft drinks, energy drinks, and even alcoholic beverages. In that sense, kombucha is a healthy choice, in my opinion.
|Serving size: 8 ounces (240 ml)|
|Calories from Fat||0|
|% Daily Value *|
|Fat 0 g|
|Saturated fat 0 g|
|Unsaturated fat 0 g|
|Carbohydrates 7 g||2%|
|Sugar 2 g|
|Fiber 0 g|
|Protein 0 g|
|Cholesterol 0 mg|
|Sodium 10 mg|
|* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.|
The Art and Craft of Brewing Your Own Kombucha
There are many articles for you to read about the claimed health benefits to drinking kombucha, but I have attempted to steer away from that particular emphasis. I present you with a safe (if brewed properly), flavorful, effervescent, satisfying drink which can if one chooses, replace soft drinks and alcoholic drinks.
The art and craft of brewing your own kombucha can be a challenging and rewarding experience which yields not only a unique beverage but also increased knowledge of the natural process of fermentation.
By the way, please go back to the top and rate this recipe for kombucha.
- Scott Mills, kombucha brewer in northwestern Michigan (and my son)