I have been writing on Solid Gold Eats, for almost two years now, and from the past year or so, I see a comment about Kombucha almost every single day.
I was reluctant to try it, because of the idea of fermented tea, sounded a bit absurd. But I finally gave in two months ago, made my own batch of Kombucha, and ever since I had the first sip of my ‘Green Apple Kombucha,’ it has been a part of my Solid Gold Menu.
And here, is everything you need to know about Kombucha, from its benefits to how you can make the fizzy beverage in your Kitchen.
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Kombucha – What it is?
At the start, there is nothing special, and It is just your regular tea with sugar. The magic starts with the addition of SCOBY. SCOBY or “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast”, ferments your sweet tea and turns it into a low-calorie frizzy drink with a slightly sour taste. The sour taste is what turns away most people from Kombucha, but believe me, it really grows on you.
The SCOBY eats away the sugar in your tea, and after about 8-10 days, you’ll have your own freshly brewed Kombucha.
A brief history on Kombucha
The history of Kombucha can be termed as ‘gloomy’ at best. Many cultures have claimed to invent this fizzy beverage and it has been known by different names in different countries (like Russian Jelly-Fish & Manchurian Tea) (source).
There are two origin stories however which have the backing of the Kombucha cult. First is that it was invented during the Qin Dynasty. Chinese have always looked towards nature and at the time it was called ‘The Tea of Immortality’.
The other story is that it was invented by a Korean Doctor, who bought some samples for the Japanese emperor. It was supposedly used by soldiers during the war, for energy. Perhaps this is why Kombucha is also referred to as “The Elixir of Life”.
It traveled through the silk route to Russia, where it gained a lot of popularity, and later to Europe. After World War 2, its popularity severely declined.
There has been a resurgence in its popularity, at the dawn of the 21st century, in both Europe and the States. A lot of people consider it a healthy alternative to the sugar infested beverage market. Talking about health, let’s talk about some benefits that this refreshing beverage brings for you.
Health Benefits of Kombucha
Tea on its own comes with a host of benefits and has been a staple for many diets across the globe. Kombucha (which is made from tea) is no different and is a rich source of probiotics and antioxidants.
1. Improves Digestion
Your regular black (or green) tea is fermented using bacteria and yeast to produce Kombucha. The process results in the formation of acetic acid (which leads to the fizz) and other gases. Not only that, the process leads to the production of a large number of probiotics (good bacteria) too. Probiotics are super healthy for your gut and help in digestion and reduce inflammation (source). They also make your body, absorb fewer calories from food (nothing scary), and that in turn can help with weight loss and obesity.
2. Helpful for Type II Diabetes
Some studies have shown that Kombucha slows down the digestion of carbohydrates. This helps to regulate and manage blood sugar levels. It also improves the function of your liver, which again helps to manage sugar levels in your blood. Also, if Kombucha is fermented from green tea (which on its own is helpful for diabetes), it can be even more beneficial (study).
3. Reduces Heart Risk
A study in rats showed that Kombucha helps in regulating good and bad cholesterol levels in your body. It prevents oxidation of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and increases the levels of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol). This has a compound effect in the health of your heart and helps in keeping it in check.
4. Improves Immunity of the Body
Thanks to the production of acetic acid (during fermentation), Kombucha has strong anti-bacterial properties against infection-causing bacteria. It also helps in killing harmful disease-causing microorganisms. Additionally, it is rich in antioxidants which helps to eliminate harmful toxins in your liver and protect cells from free radicals (study).
5. Protection Against Cancer
Everything millennials eat or drink cures cancer! This saying might be rhetorical, but some preliminary test-tube studies have shown that Kombucha, prevents in the growth of cancer-causing cells (source). This can be linked to the high concentration of polyphenols (in Kombucha), which is known to have anti-cancer properties.
Safety Concerns for Kombucha
Although Kombucha is known as a relatively healthy drink, skeptics (like me) are always apprehensive before trying something new. So before I made my first batch, I did some digging around.
The most common concern is that ‘does Kombucha contain alcohol’? Well, due to fermentation, alcohol is a by-product. But its concentration is fairly low (less than 1%). If you completely avoid alcohol or have some sensitivities, you should stay away.
Also people with a weak immune system, pregnant (or breastfeeding women), or suffering from Irritable bowel syndrome, should avoid Kombucha (or consult their physician first) (source).
Finally, if you are suffering from Diabetes, or have fluctuating blood sugar levels, Kombucha can aggravate the problem, and you are advised to carefully monitor your sugar levels.
Can Kombucha be brewed at home?
Easily! Kombucha can be a bit scary for home cooks (since it involves bacteria and yeast). On the contrary, as long as you brew it a clean, controlled environment, you have nothing to worry about.
Also, I’ll be covering everything you’ll need to brew your first batch of Kombucha, so read on..
Things You’ll Need –
SCOBY (or Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) is easily the thing I was most weirded out by. I mean look at it – brown, stingy and slippery. But this rubbery, jerry like layer is what transforms normal tea into the Kombucha that I love.
You’ll definitely need this, and you can get it easily on Amazon. You can also make SCOBY at your home.
The best thing about SCOBY is that a fresh layer grows over the surface of the old one, and it keeps on replenishing itself after every brew. So you can use it multiple times.
To brew Kombucha, you’ll need a lead free glass jar. Again you can easily find it on Amazon. However, it is recommended to get a jar that comes with a cheesecloth and a lid. (Yes, Kombucha Jars are now a thing!)
Finally, you’ll need tea (green, black or both) and granulated sugar.
Now that you have received your crash course in Kombucha 101, its time to move onto the recipe.
Note – This recipe will help you make a gallon of Kombucha!
Water (3.5 quarts or 3.2 liters)
Granulated Sugar (1 cup)
8 bags of black tea, green tea or mix (You can also go with 2 tablespoons of loose tea)
2 cups of starter tea from the previous batch or unpasteurized, flavorless store brought Kombucha.
1 SCOBY per jar
For flavoring (Optional)
2 cups chopped fruit (of your choice)
3 cups of juice (of your choice)
2 tablespoons of flavored tea (example earl grey)
A quarter cup of honey
2-4 spoons of herbs or spices
1-gallon glass jar
Paper towels or tightly woven napkins to cover the jar.
6 soda bottles, 16 oz. (You can also use bottles with plastic lids or swing-top bottles)
Now that you have the things in place, let’s move onto the recipe. (Also, throughout the brew ensure that there is minimal to no contact between the Kombucha & metal, as it can affect the taste (& flavor) of the Kombucha, and can also weaken the SCOBY.)
1. Getting the Tea Base Ready – Take the water you have, put it in a bowl and let it boil. After you start seeing bubbles, turn off the heat and add sugar. Constantly stir, to ensure that the sugar is dissolved. Add tea bags or loose tea, and allow the water to cool down. This will take some time, as the size of the bowl is quite large.
2. Adding Starter Tea – After the tea has reached room temperature, you can remove the tea bags (or loose tea) from the bowl. Now you need to add the starter tea (which is basically previously brewed or store-bought Kombucha) and constantly stir the mix.
The starter tea is added to make the mixture acidic and prevents harmful bacteria to form during fermentation.
3. Adding the SCOBY – Pour the mixture into the glass jar. Gently place the SCOBY into the jar. Cover the lid of the jar. It is preferred to use multiple woven cloths or paper towels to cover the lid. This is done to keep the jar free from insects or flies.
4. 7-10-day Fermentation – Place the jar untouched, away from sunlight and let the tea ferment for seven to ten days.
5. Checking up with the Kombucha – You need to periodically check the Kombucha and the SCOBY. The SCOBY will tend to float at the top, bottom or sideways, and you just have to place it at the center gently. Also, a new layer of scoby (generally cream-colored) will form over the previous layer of SCOBY. However, chances are that they might separate, which again is completely normal. Finally, bits below the SCOBY or sediments at the bottom of the jar, are all signs of a healthy fermentation.
6. Tasting the Kombucha – After the seventh day, you can taste the Kombucha, by pouring it in a small cup. We are looking for an ideal balance of sweetness and sourness (that works for you). My first brew tasted perfect after 9 days of brewing.
7. Removing the SCOBY – Before you remove the scoby, you need to get started with your next batch of Kombucha. For that prepare and cool, a fresh pot of tea. Now gently, remove the scoby with clean hands and place it on a clean plate.
If the SCOBY is getting too thick, you can cut off the bottom old layer of the scoby. Alternatively, if the layers of old and new SCOBY have separated, you can discard the old one and place the new one on a plate.
8. Setting aside the Starter tea for next brew – After you have removed the SCOBY, you need to measure and set aside the starter tea for your next brew. You can separate them into small glass bottles.
9. Adding Flavor to the Kombucha (Optional) – You can do this in two ways –
First, if you want the Kombucha to be completely clean (without any pulp), you can add fruits and herbs to the Kombucha (after removing the SCOBY), and let the flavors infuse for 2-3 days.
Alternatively, you can add fruits or herbs, while the Kombucha is being bottled and stored.
10. Bottling the Kombucha – You can now pour the fermented Kombucha into bottles using a small funnel. Use a strainer, if you want to keep the sediments away from your Kombucha. Leave about half an inch of headroom in each bottle.
11. Carbonating and Refrigerating the Kombucha – We now need to set aside the bottled Kombucha (away from sunlight) for about 2-3 days. This is done to allow the Kombucha to carbonate. It is advisable (for carbonation) to pour the Kombucha into plastic bottles, as better carbonation takes place in plastic bottles.
Once you are happy with the carbonation, you can refrigerate the Kombucha. This will stop the fermentation and carbonation. Ideally, you need to consume your Kombucha within a month.
12. Making a Fresh Batch of Kombucha – You can ferment a fresh batch of Kombucha, almost instantly. Just clean the Jar (used for fermentation), and combine sugary tea with the starter tea you had set aside in the previous brew. Pour the mix into the fermentation jar and add SCOBY. Again, let it ferment for seven to ten days.
Things to Note While Brewing
Now that you know how to brew your first gallon of Kombucha, there are some issues you might face. No brew will be perfect and, I researched some common issues that you might face or things you need to keep a note of while fermentation.
- Protecting the Jar – The fermentation jar (in which your Kombucha will be brewed) needs to be protected. Firstly, you need to cover the jar with clean layers, to avoid contact of insects or flies. Usually, a single cheesecloth won’t be enough, so you need to add multiple layers. I personally use paper towels to cover the jar. Make sure to be gentle while checking up with the Kombucha. You don’t want to move the jar, and also ensure that it is kept in a clean environment, away from sunlight.
- Brewing Different Sizes – Not everyone wants to brew a gallon of Kombucha at their first go, right? When it comes to increasing or decreasing the quantity of the brew, there is a simple ratio you need to follow – For 1 Gallon; 1 cup of sugar, 2 cups of starter tea and 8 bags of tea. Alternatively, for half a gallon – 0.5 cup of sugar, 1 cup of starter tea and 4 bags of tea. You can adjust the ratio for larger brew sizes. And yes, generally a single SCOBY is enough for a batch (regardless of the size), but larger batches will take longer to be brewed.
- Tea Types – In the recipe covered above, I used black tea. But what if you have a taste for white tea, green tea or that fancy oolong tea. Black teas are the easiest to brew, but once your SCOBY gets stronger (i.e. it has been used for multiple brews), you can use other types of teas including herbal teas. But, always add black tea to the mix, to avoid ensure that the SCOBY works fine. Also, avoid flavored teas as they don’t work well with the SCOBY. (You can always add flavors later).
- Going on a Vacation? – If you are going out for a vacation, and you need to pause your brew, here’s what you can do. If you are out for less than 3 weeks, you can make a fresh batch and leave it. The taste might be a bit too sour when you can come back, but you can reuse the SCOBY, to brew a fresh batch. For longer than 3 weeks, you can mix tea base with starter tea and SCOBY, and leave it in the refrigerator. This will slow the process of fermentation.
- Floating of SCOBY – As mentioned in the recipe, the chances are that your SCOBY fill float up or sideways during fermentation. Also, you might see some bumps or holes in your SCOBY. At this stage, you have nothing to worry about, as this might happened due to changes in the environment (of your kitchen) and they are all signs of healthy fermentation.
- Health of SCOBY – A SCOBY lasts long (but that doesn’t mean forever). If your SCOBY begins to turn black or you see big molds over your SCOBY, then its time to discard both the tea and the SCOBY. If your Kombucha starts to smell rotten (or vinegary), then that’s a sign that the brew has gone wrong and you need to start it over, with a new piece of SCOBY.
Top Kombucha brands that you can TRY!
Don’t want to brew Kombucha at your home? I have ranked the top brands of Kombucha that I have tried. You can also use their unflavored variants as starter tea for your homebrew. And No, I don’t have any affiliations with the brands mentioned. Heh.
1. KeVita (site)
When it comes to bold, authentic flavor, KeVita leads the way. I love their “Master brew” flavors, but you can also give their sparkling probiotic drinks a try. Not only, that, but they have USDA organic and Non-GMO certifications, which is an added bonus for all the health nuts.
2. GT’s Kombucha
If you ask any avid Kombucha drinker, GT is a name they must have heard. Their mass distribution and branding make them the clear leader when we talk about sales. But when it comes to taste, I rate it behind KeVita. However, GT’s have the widest range and you can choose from a huge catalog of flavors.
They also offer yogurt and other probiotic drinks, that can improve your digestion. When it comes to favorite flavors, I prefer “Lavender Love.”
3. Wonder Drink Kombucha
“The First & Only Prebiotic Kombucha” – at first, this seemed more of a marketing play to me. But when I did some digging, I discovered the health benefits Prebiotics have to offer. Wonder Drink basically combines plant-based fibers with Probiotics, to create a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut. I’ll recommend this to anyone with a sensitive gut and chronic digestion issues.
Wanna go crazy with the flavors? Then Bucha will be your cup of tea. From Blood orange to Guava Mango, Bucha is for those of who like to experiment. And yes, they have all the organic certifications, so you have nothing to worry about.
5. Health-Ade Kombucha
If you have that ‘Anti Big-Guy’ kind of vibe, then Health-Ade might be the perfect alternative for you. They brew in small quantities, don’t rely on machines, and use hand-made glass. They also offer multiple flavors, but I just love the zing of their ‘Jalapeno Kiwi Cucumber’.
So yes, this is everything you need to know about Kombucha. I would love to see trying out your own recipes. Post about it on Instagram, with #solidgoldeats.