Kombucha is a fermented tea drink near and dear to my heart. It is a source of probiotics (if fermented correctly) and it is a great replacement for sparkling sugary drinks. I brew mine at home (see how-to below), usually let it go a little longer than most to make it stronger and I consume about 1/4 to 1/2 cup a day for its benefits to healthy digestion. Like every new trend, there is already some contradictions when it comes to Kombucha, so here is my take on this awesome drink.
Kombucha is now so popular that, at least in Ontario, it can be found almost in every major grocery store, next to all the pop and other sugary drinks (meaning, it is now mainstream!). Costco already sells 2 brands in our local store... what?!! But are the store-bought options the same as home brewed?
Unfortunately not. There is such variety out there today that it is hard to make a generalized statement without looking at every brand (which is not the point of this article), but some commercially available options are pasteurized (so good-bye good bacteria) and others are way too sweet! I have seen labels with over 20 grams of sugar per serving, which is crazy high! When contacting the company their response was "we use sugar for the fermentation process (of course) but we are not able to confirm how much is left after each batch since Kombucha is a live food". I do agree real Kombucha will slightly vary from batch to batch as any real food should, but 20 grams?! Kombucha should taste vinegary and tangy with just a hint of sweetness!
What is in Kombucha?
The exact composition of Kombucha varies based on how it is made, so it cannot be given. Like I mentioned above, Kombucha is a fermented living food, or a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast, SCOBY for short. Some people also like to call the Kombucha "mat" a Mother, Tea Fungus or a Mushroom :) I personally call it Mother and once it reproduces, I call the offspring Kombucha babies!
Size does not matters for Kombucha, as the thickness of the SCOBY is not necessarily an indication of the potency of your batch. If you take good care of your Mother (and future babies), your Kombucha will be wonderful too.
The fermentation process happens with the help of oxygen (reason why we cannot completely seal the fermentation vessel), as the yeast needs it to thrive (and the good bacteria does not mind it). If you like some science, during the fermentation process, there will be the formation of acetic acid (hence the vinegary flavour), some lactic acid, succinic acid, glucuronic acid, malic acid, gluconic acid (and a few others), hydrolytic enzymes, sugars (such as sucrose, glucose and fructose), B-vitamins and small amounts of alcohol for a pH below 4 (Reference: Jayabalan R. et al, 2014).
So what are the benefits of home-made Kombucha?
Kombucha is a source of probiotics (if non-pasteurized), which helps the gut by producing vitamins (like key B-vitamins, required for energy and depleted during stress), breaking down our food via production of living enzymes, producing beneficial compounds (like organic acids), and in a way competing with the not-so-good microbes to keep our immune system in check. Like anything, the secret is moderation, so a small amount a day (1/2 cup or less) is all you need.
What you need to know - quick overview
The fermentation process will take 7 to 10 days, on average. You will need organic tea bags and sugar (see below for more info) and you will flavour the tea AFTER the initial fermentation is completed and SCOBY has been removed (a process we call Second Fermentation). Check the What Not To Do section below before you start and I hope you enjoy the process!
What NOT to do?
Keep your SCOBY away from metal (some say stainless steel is ok, but I prefer to use only glass). The reason for this is that metal molecules can be absorbed into your culture. So use glass for the fermentation vessel and plastic tools for short-term contact with your culture.
Avoid keeping the finished tea in hand-made pottery due to possible heavy metal contamination (such as lead and cadmium). Even after the fermented tea is moved from the fermentation vessel, it is still alive, so treat it with love!
In terms of the sugars you can use, I use organic cane sugar or organic whole brown sugar. Do not use honey, especially raw (some have anti-microbial properties and may change the composition of the SCOBY) or coconut sugar (as it can also be anti-microbial depending on the brand).
I also recommend investing in organic teas only, as conventionally grown teas are exposed to a lot of pesticides and even fluoride, making it not as healthy as one may think. Do not use any teas with added oils, such as Earl Grey as it can harm the SCOBY.
Making Kombucha - step by step guide
I made a little guide to make the process as simple as possible. It only takes me a few minutes, now that I have made it enough times! With the amounts I share below, I often get about 3 L of Kombucha per batch, so enough to last the 10 days until the next round is ready! My favorite part is the tasting on day 7 (see image below), super fun!
Flavouring your fermented tea
After the 7 to 10 days have gone by and you have tasted your Kombucha and feel satisfied, you are now ready to start the second fermentation and if you wish, you can repeat the process and brew a new batch! Please note the 2 cups of fermented tea you remove along with the SCOBY (see picture below) is what you use as the "starter" when you make it again. Here are the steps I take:
Where to get supplies?
Good places include Amazon, the website https://store.kombuchakamp.com/ (which seems quite popular in the Kombucha circle!) or a friend willing to share! I got my fermentation vessel at Indigo, but learned the hard way that it cannot be used to brew hot tea, reason why I do so in a large canning jar first and let it cool thoroughly before moving it to the fermentation vessel.
Kombucha SCOBY multiplies (the babies I was talking about), so if you know a friend that brews, you can ask them for a baby when available. I often have some for sale for about $10, so get in touch via comments, direct message or any other way you have for contacting me if interested and I can add you to a waiting list.
Is Kombucha for everyone?
No! Like everything, it is a good idea to start slow and see. Those with a compromised gut (IBS, IBD, etc.) may react to fermented foods in general, so best to avoid it. Some gas and bloating can also occur in some individuals and those doing a Candida cleanse may also be asked to avoid Kombucha. So work with your health care practitioner if not sure.
I hope you enjoyed and I would love to know what flavours you have made or plan to make. I am always looking for ideas! Also, if you have any questions on the process, just enter them below!
Big hugs and get brewing!
A review on Kombucha tea - microbiology, composition, fermentation, beneficial effects, toxicity, and tea fungus. 2014 Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. Jayabalan R. et al, volume 13, issue 4 (538-550)