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Kombucha 101

What is kombucha? Good question? Here are the kombucha basics, including what it is, how it’s made, and how you can make it at home!

Picture of a kombucha SCOBY in a jar with white background

Yes, friends, we will be dedicating this entire week (+ more, who knows) to the fermented tea that is kombucha. It’s not necessarily an ingredient per se, but the world of kombucha brewing is vast and fizzy and delicious and not complicated once you get the hang of it. So let’s get the hang of it.

I first experienced kombucha a few summers back while visiting the little sis on Maui. My general routine for two blissful weeks included stopping by one of the local hippie groceries each morning, picking up a bottle of strawberry chia seed kombucha, and setting up my hammock between two palm trees to lay and enjoy my tasty elixir. Ever since, kombucha has been my instant Hawaii flashback, which is why I can convince myself that paying $4 for a small bottle of it is okayevery time I go to the grocery.

But $4 for a bottle of kombucha is not okay. For a fraction of the price (like ⅛ the price) you can brew better kombucha at home. Yes, better. So this post today will just be an overview of the vast kombucha world, and in a few days we’ll jump into the process, start to finish. Sound good?

Picture of a kombucha SCOBY in a jar with white background

What is kombucha?

What is kombucha? Great question! Kombucha is a carbonated drink created by fermenting sugar + tea + starter tea + a SCOBY.

The SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), also known as the “mother”, is a thick, rubbery, pancake of sorts that rests on the surface of the brew, growing with each batch. The bacteria and yeast in the SCOBY and starter tea encourage the fermentation.

What is fermentation?

And what exactly is fermentation? It’s basically just the process of bacteria and yeast eating up sugar to produce acids, gasses, or alcohol. In the case of kombucha, we’re getting a bit of each. While the most notable byproduct of the kombucha fermentation process is the fizzy effervescence from the release of gasses, the beverage also has an acidic, mildly vinegar taste, as well as trace amounts of alcohol.

How is kombucha made?

If you’re starting completely from scratch, there are three general steps in the kombucha making process. We dive into the process of how to make kombucha here, but the general process goes something like this:

  1. Make your SCOBY (1 to 4 weeks): You’ll put this all into a big glass or ceramic container, cover it with a cloth so no bugs come stealing your juice, and forget about it.
  2. First Fermentation (about 1 week): Again, you’ll cover it, put it in a cupboard, and let it do its thing. The longer it ferments, the more the sugars are eaten by the bacteria and yeast, the more acidic it becomes…this part is just a tasty balancing act.
  3. Second Fermentation (2 to 5 days): You’ll remove the SCOBY and strain out the floaties from your first fermentation, pour the fermented tea into bottles, add a touch of sweetener for the bacteria and yeast to feed on, and seal tightly with a lid. This is the anaerobic (no oxygen) step, meaning more alcohols and acids are formed. The tight seal also prevents carbon dioxide from escaping, and thus the tea becomes carbonated.
Picture of a kombucha SCOBY in a jar with white background

The history of kombucha

I love researching the history of foods and cuisines, and I was so excited to serve you up some riveting kombucha history today….but….there appears to be just about zilch. It looks like kombucha brewing probably began in 250-ish BC China, then made it’s way around Japan and Russia and there was mention of a Korean guy named Kombu and eventually it crept into Germany and finally to America in the 1990s. So let’s just call it…**Kombucha, the timeless drink that unites us all** 🙂

What are the benefits of kombucha?

Probiotics: You know all those bacteria we’ve been talking about? Yea, they’re really good for your gut. Your gastrointestinal tract contains millions (of trillions of gazillions) of bacteria that play a role in everything from your immune system to your digestion and even to your weight. Sometimes the number of these good bacteria can dwindle, either because antibiotic use or the invasion of a bad bug (hello, Moroccan giardia) or just everyday, 21st century life. Consuming foods and drinks rich in the probiotics can help to keep your microbiome balanced and strong.

It’s an awesome soda substitute: The fizzy carbonation and moderate caffeination of kombucha makes it a great substitute for those looking to cut soda. The diet soda addicts can rest assured knowing that they can replace aspartame and non-caloric sweeteners (possible disrupters of the microbiome) with an equally delicious yet quadruple-y probiotic-y counterpart. And for the sugary soda lovers, how’s about some simple math. If you swap just one 8 oz soda per day with 8 oz of kombucha, that’s a difference of 110 calories…over a month that’s 1 lb! And that’s without missing out on caffeine, fizziness, or flavor. Woohoo!

Liver Lover: Bottled kombucha lists 10 mg of glucuronic acid as an ingredient. Glucuronic acid is a liver compound that binds to toxic substances (drugs, alcohols, just bad things in general) so they can be excreted. While your liver does make this compound naturally, it’s possible that kombucha could give it a boost…but the jury is still out on this one.

Kombucha Nutrition Information

per 8 oz (240 mL) of traditional kombucha

  • Calories: 30
  • Carbohydrates: 7g
  • Protein: 0g
  • Fat: 0g
  • 25% Daily Value (DV) of Folate (Vitamin B9): A water-soluble vitamin that helps make DNA & RNA and metabolize amino acids.
  • 20% DV of Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin): A water-soluble vitamin important in brain and nervous system function as well as red blood cell formation. It is only found naturally in meat and animal products, but can be made via bacterial fermentation.
  • 20% DV of Vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B6: water-soluble vitamins that play varying roles in energy metabolism.

Hi, I’m Sarah!

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Comments (13)

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  1. Kristin says:

    Does kombutcha brewed with black tea retain its caffeine? My little kids would love to drink it at every meal but this question give me pause. Thanks for any input and for the great article.

    1. Sarah says:

      Great question, Kristin! Kombucha has about 1/3 of the amount of caffeine than the tea it was made with. So a black tea with 30 mg caffeine would make a kombucha with 10 mg. This article has a few tips on how to make less-caffeinate kombucha if you’re interested!

  2. Pamela says:

    Any brand I can get to start the mother?

    1. Sarah says:

      Hi Pamela! I haven’t tried buying a mother before, but I have instructions on how to easily make a SCOBY mother here: http://www.liveeatlearn.com/the-simple-guide-to-kickass-kombucha/. I like to use GT Kombucha (plain) to start the brewing process (because you need a starter)

  3. Sharon Curtis says:

    Should the mother scobi be peeled of layers periodically? And if so, peeled from the top or bottom?

    1. Sarah says:

      Hi Sharon! Great question, and yes! You’ll want to separate the SCOBY when it becomes over an inch thick. The bottom (closest to the tea) will be the oldest, and that is the one you should remove (though it is still strong enough to start a new batch/give to a friend!)

  4. Since I have been approaching an age where one need’s to take care of his/her health, I have been looking for alternatives to food and drinks I used to take younger.

    Kombucha looks to be a promising alternative drink to those unhealthy ones like soda and, in a way, coffee. Thank you for this article.

  5. Stephanie says:

    OK – is there any way to make this without sugar, or less sugar or stevia?

    1. Sarah says:

      Hi Stephanie! This is one of few recipes where you really cannot use sugar substitutes. BUT you won’t actually be consuming that whole 1 cup of sugar. The sugar is food for the bacteria and yeast. They’ll basically eat it all up and produce wonderful things like acidity and carbonation, and the finished kombucha will be much lower in sugar as a result.

  6. Carol Pina says:

    Can you use a few cups of you previous fermentation to make your next one. I know this is done for the send fermentation. I’m on my 4th fermentation using a few cups from my previous. Is this ok to continue?

    1. Sarah says:

      Yes you just continue that (forever!) It freshens up a bit every time by you adding new tea. But there will always be a liiiitle bit of that first tea in there (a bit like generations old sourdough starter or friendship bread!)

  7. MAUREEN HIPWOOD says:

    Hi Sarah. Is it possible to suspend the Kombucha making process and preserve the SCOBY. We will be going away for 3-5 weeks soon and I would like to continue making the Kombucha on our return.
    I have only made 3 batches so far but each one seems to get better. Thanks so much for such great instructions.
    Maureen

    1. Sarah says:

      Hi Maureen! If you give your SCOBY a batch of fresh tea right before you go and set it in a relatively cool part of your house, 3 to 5 weeks shouldn’t be a problem. The tea won’t be drinkable when you get back, but the SCOBY should be just fine! 😀

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