It’s come to my attention recently that many folks don’t know what Kombucha is. I was shocked, but upon reflecting over the past decade since I first began drinking it I realized that it wasn’t until I moved out to Eugene, Hippy-Capital of the World, that I discovered this amazing fermentation.
Kombucha is a fermented drink made from tea (as in camellia sinesis rather than other types of plants) and sugar that’s been popular through out Asia and Eastern Europe for several centuries. Most sources cite the ancient Chinese with the first recorded reference to Kombucha, then called Tea of Immortality, in 221 BCE, and most folk agree that it’s probably been around a lot longer than that.
My ancestors were from Eastern Europe and in likelihood drank Tea Kvass, which is another name for Kombucha. My hubby discovered Kombucha shortly after we’d moved to Oregon. He acquired a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), which is sometimes called a Tea Mushroom, and gave it a try. To be quite honest, I was disgusted by the whole affair…which was quite amazing in itself given how much I was fermenting at the time! Now, a decade later, I’m the one doing all the brewing and I’ve even developed a taste for the results. I attribute that to being soundly of middle-age and most likely needing the boost Kombucha offers my health!
Fermenters and fans of Kombucha attribute tons of health benefits to Kombucha. We have little scientific research to back those claims…but you could say that about a lot of herbs up until about a decade or two ago, too. What we do have is a lot of experiential evidence that connects Kombucha with many positive states of health.
For instance, the women who managed to survive the Cherynoble explosion with little damage from the massive dose of radiation they received were all Kombucha drinkers, while most of the folk who didn’t fare so well were not. It’s possible Kombucha offers some kind of protection against radiation, but I’m more inclined to think it offers a lot of support to the liver and other detoxification systems. We have scientific research that’s looked at the constituents common in Kombucha. It contains a lot of acids and other constituents that support healthy digestion, healthy detoxification, and a healthy liver, so it stands to reason that Kombucha’s anti-radiation effect is likely linked to the positive effect it has on the detoxification systems.
Beyond supporting digestion and keeping the detoxification organs (most especially the liver) healthy, Kombucha is linked to helping to prevent both viral and bacterial infections. Folks have been using it as an anti-illness and anti-aging tonic for centuries. Recent studies have shown that some of the acids and constituents in Kombucha are specific to discouraging and even killing viral and bacterial cells in vitro (in the petri dish). Kombucha cultures create a vinegar similar to that of naturally fermented raw Apple Cider vinegar and thus shares some of those qualities, including the anti-bacterial and anti-viral ones.
Truly, though, we don’t have a lot of science backing the use of Kombucha to help the many conditions fans claim it cures. Most of those benefits, like increasing lifespan, improving hair and nails, increasing energy levels, improving mood, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels, balancing appetite, and healing a variety of diseases and conditions like diabetes, arthritis, Epstein-Barr (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), AIDS, Hypoglycemia and more, can be gained through better nutrition and improved digestion. Kombucha most definitely seems to have a positive effect on the digestive system, at least in my own experience and as evidenced by the many folk who’ve tried it and seen improvement.
A little goes a long way, too. I drink up to a pint of Kombucha a day when my life’s stressful or my digestive system seems to be struggling. Some experts suggest that you should drink up to 12 ounces per day spread into three 4-ounce doses at most. Others say that you can drink as much as you desire. I drink up to a pint a day, usually all at once sitting and with a meal. My hubby likes to take up to two pints per day, not necessarily with food. Neither of us have noticed any adverse effects at those levels, although occasionally I’ll notice that after the first half-pint I’m ready to be done (and I always respect it when I notice that!).
If you’re new to Kombucha, it makes sense to start with a small amount at a time and see how your body tolerates it. If you find that the flavor is repugnant or something about it completely turns you off, then don’t take it. Just like with all herbal medicines, your body knows whether or not the medicine is right. Respect your intuition!
Out West, you can find Kombucha at most health-food stores and natural groceries. Often, you’ll find it in the regular groceries, too. I’ve heard that there are a few microbreweries out East who offer Kombucha on-tap, too. It’s also available through Amazon and other sources online. If you’ve given it a try and want to brew your own, it’s actually pretty darn easy.
Brewing Kombucha is surprisingly easy. All it takes is a little time and patience. The SCOBY does most of the work!
First off, you’ll need a few basic tools, like a glass container or jar in which to ferment your tea, a pot or kettle to make the starting sweet tea, strainers and funnels for bottling and bottles, of course. Kombucha is an open-air fermentation that requires a starter culture. I initially bought my first SCOBY more than a decade ago from a source online, but if you’ve got access to raw, unrefined Kombucha through a commercial source you can get your own SCOBY growing, no problemo. I took a break from brewing for a few years, and when I started up again, I just bought a bottle of Kombucha from the refrigerated section of my local grocery store to inoculate my first batch. It worked beautifully. (Check out my Instagram Feed from April-May 2016 for pics!)
The tea you use is important. I buy strong, fairly cheap black tea from the Asian Grocery’s Indian aisle. It’s often called Black or Red Label brand and looks like rough granules. Black Tea contains the nutrients your SCOBY needs to be healthy. I’ve heard of folk using Green or Oolong teas, too, but my own experience has been that a sturdy black tea offers the exact balance my SCOBY needs. You don’t need to spend tons of cash on really good tea to make Kombucha. The flavor of the tea will be dramatically altered in the fermentation process, so don’t waste your best tea. Instead, find a good, fairly inexpensive but strong tea to feed your SCOBY and save the good teas for afternoon tea time!
Making Kombucha, like many fermentations, is a two-part process. First, you’ll make a sweet starter tea and inoculate it with your Kombucha culture (the SCOBY or your bottle of Kombucha if it’s your first-ever batch). Later, when the SCOBY has had a chance to do it’s work, you’ll bottle your finished Kombucha, at which point you can add a little more sweet starter tea to your bottles if you’d like carbonation if you’d like fizzy Kombucha. That’s why you’ll need a bit of patience. How much depends on how you like your Kombucha. The more sour you like it, the more patience you’ll need. If you let it sit super long, it’ll taste like vinegar. If you bottle too soon, you’ll have something that tastes more like sweet tea than Kombucha. It’ll depend on the strength of your SCOBY, the weather and general fermentation conditions, and of course your desired finished flavor. I find that about a week of fermenting is good in my Pacific Northwest climate through summer and I can get away with more like 10 days to two weeks through the colder months, to give you an idea of the kind of time to expect.
First: Make Your Sweet Starter Tea
- 3.5 quarts water
- 1 cup sugar (yep, the white kind)
- 2 Tablespoons black tea or 8 tea bags
- Pot large enough to hold a gallon of water
- Heat source to boil water
- Measuring spoons and cups
- Spoon for stirring
- Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring it to a boil.
- Add the tea and remove the pot from the heat source.
- Let the mixture stand until it’s cooled to room temperature. (It’s okay if you let it stand overnight.)
Second: Inoculate Your Sweet Starter Tea
- 3.5 quarts sweet starter tea
- 16 oz. Kombucha, raw and unrefined
- SCOBY (optional for your first-ever batch, but required for future batches)
- Gallon-sized glass jar (or two half-gallon jars) with cloth or similarly breathable cover
- Mixing spoons and cups as needed
- Funnel and strainer
- Strain your room-temperature Sweet Starter Tea into the glass jar.
- Compost the spent tea leaves.
- Add the Kombucha to the glass jar.
- Add the SCOBY, if you have one, to the glass jar.
- Cover the jar with a cloth or similar cover to keep dust, debris, and insects out but let air in.
- Set the jar in a safe place, like an out-of-the-way spot on the counter or on top of the refrigerator, and let it ferment for at least a week. If this is your first-ever batch, let it ferment at least 15 days so it can develop a good, strong SCOBY.
Third: Bottle Your Finished Kombucha
If you want to carbonate your Kombucha, make enough Sweet Starter Tea to do so. I have used a variety of flavored teas, including some that have no black tea in them at all, with delicious results. Since the primary work of the SCOBY is done and you’re going to move it to a whole new batch, sticking to black tea for your starter tea is optional. I’ve also tried using home-canned and home-squeezed fruit juices (also about 4 oz. per pint) with wonderful results. Play with it and see what you like best.
- Fermented Kombucha in your glass jar
- Sweet Starter tea (approximately 4 oz per pint of finished Kombucha)-Optional
- 7 Pint Jars with caps (Swing Cap bottles work really well)
- Funnel and Strainer
- Measuring cup
- Bowl to hold your SCOBY while you bottle
- Measure 4 oz of room-temperature, strained Sweet Starter Tea into each pint bottle if you want to carbonate your Kombucha. (This step is optional.)
- Wash your hands well, then remove the SCOBY from your fermented Kombucha and set it aside.
- Measure 16 oz of finished Kombucha and set it aside to inoculate your next batch.
- Fill your bottles with the remaining Kombucha, straining it as you go.
- Cap your bottles and set them on the counter to ferment and carbonate.
- Wash your glass jar, then use the 16 oz. of Kombucha you set aside and your SCOBY to get your next batch started.
- Test your bottled Kombucha after a few days. When they reach the level of bubbly you like, put them into the refrigerator to suppress further fermentation (and avoid turning them into geysers or explosive Kombucha bombs!).