What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a tart, fermented drink made from brewed tea with a unique cult status among its die-hard fans. If you haven’t added kombucha to your beverage menu yet, it’s probably time you did. This beverage has been growing steadily in popularity since the early days when it could only be found in specialty stores and juice shops. Now you can find kombucha almost everywhere. Read on to learn more about this drink and what makes it so appealing.
What is Kombucha Tea?
Kombucha is made by adding sugar, yeast, and a bacteria culture to black or green tea. The bacteria consumes the sugar, causing fermentation and creating the signature vinegar-like taste and effervescence that kombucha fans love. Juices and other flavorings are added to create special kombucha blends.
Kombucha is pronounced kuhm-boo-chuh. You may also see an alternate spelling of kambucha, or hear it referred to as booch, mushroom tea, or fungus tea.
Is Kombucha Safe?
According to the FDA, brewing kombucha poses no health risks if it’s properly prepared. So if you plan to sell your homemade kombucha to customers, you need to make sure it’s done safely. Producing a fermented beverage is considered a specialized process by the FDA and requires a license in most states.
First determine which authority enforces food regulations in your area, then contact their main office to speak with a specialist who can guide you through the process. Be prepared to submit a food safety plan outlining any potential risks in the brewing procedure and the preventative measures you’ll take.
Keep these two issues in mind as you begin the brewing process:
- Contamination - With any type of food preparation there is always a risk of contamination and foodborne illness. Work with sanitized materials and monitor your product for any signs of harmful bacterial growth.
- Acidity Level - Be aware that longer fermentation times create a more acidic product. Some individuals are not able to process high levels of acidity so you should always follow kombucha recipe guidelines for safe fermentation. Using pH testing strips is the best way to monitor the pH levels of your kombucha.
Brewing Your Own Kombucha
If you’re ready to add kombucha to your beverage menu, you have options. You can purchase kombucha bottles, cans, and even kegs for serving kombucha on tap. But if you really want to buy into the artisanal aspect of kombucha, save a lot of money, and take advantage of the high markup, you can brew your own. To get started with kombucha brewing, you’ll need to get acquainted with the SCOBY.
What is a SCOBY?
SCOBY is an acronym for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. It’s also referred to as "the mushroom" or "the mother." In appearance, the SCOBY looks like a milky-brown, gelatinous disc, but it’s actually a living environment full of beneficial bacteria and yeast. Have you ever forgotten a mug of tea and come back days later to find that a disc of mold is growing on top? A SCOBY will grow in a similar pattern, forming a round shape that fills the cup or jar.
The circular mass of bacteria and yeast that makes up the SCOBY seals off the liquid inside the cup and protects it from airborne contaminants. While the bacteria feeds on the sugar in the liquid, it produces the acid and carbon dioxide that transform the sweetened tea into tart, bubbly kombucha. Scobies can be reused many times as long as they are fed a constant diet of sugary tea. As they grow older, they develop layers that can be peeled off to use for other batches.
Make Your Own SCOBY
The SCOBY is the key to kombucha brewing, so it's important to handle it with care. Always work with sanitized materials and clean hands to prevent contamination. A healthy SCOBY will be tan or light brown and have a wet, slimy appearance. If you notice dry, fuzzy patches or spots of green and blue, the bacteria culture has been contaminated and must be thrown away. Dark brown spots or streaks are normal.
To begin, you'll need a kombucha starter culture. This is simply a portion of kombucha that already contains the beneficial bacteria you'll need to grow the SCOBY. A bottle of store-bought kombucha will work as a starter, or you can use kombucha from a homemade batch you've received from a friend. Stay away from flavored kombucha for your starter liquid and use raw, original flavor for the best results. Follow the steps below to create a thriving SCOBY that will help you produce batch after batch of kombucha:
- 7 cups water, non-chlorinated
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 4 bags of unflavored black tea
- 1 cup of kombucha starter liquid, bottled or homemade, original flavor
- 1 gallon jar, sanitized
- Breathable fabric, not cheesecloth
- Rubber band or string
- Boil water in a large saucepan. Add sugar and stir until completely dissolved. Remove pan from the heat and add tea bags. Let the tea steep for 5 minutes and bring it to room temperature. Remove tea bags.
- Pour kombucha starter liquid into a sanitized 1 gallon jar. Add room temperature tea and cover jar with breathable cloth secured with a rubber band.
- Place jar in a location out of direct sunlight where it won't be jostled or disturbed. The SCOBY will form over 2 to 4 weeks, beginning first as stringy particles and then thickening to form a disc. You’ll know it’s ready to be used when the disc becomes about 1/4” thick. This liquid can be used as a “SCOBY hotel” but can’t be consumed because it will be too sour.
How to Make Kombucha
Once you have a living SCOBY, you’re ready to begin brewing your own kombucha. You’ll use the same ingredients you used above, only in larger quantities. During this round of fermentation, you can experiment with other types of tea like green tea, white tea, or oolong. If you use a decaffeinated herbal tea, make sure to add in a couple black tea bags because the SCOBY thrives in caffeinated liquids.
- 14 cups water, non-chlorinated
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 8 bags of black tea, green tea, or white tea
- 1 SCOBY
- 2 cups of kombucha starter liquid
- 1 gallon jar, wide
- 6-8 16 oz. flip top glass bottles
- Breathable fabric, not cheesecloth
- Rubber band or string
- Boil water in a large pot. Add sugar and stir until completely dissolved. Remove pot from heat and add tea bags. Let tea steep for 5 minutes and bring to room temperature. Remove tea bags.
- Pour kombucha starter liquid into 1 gallon jar. Add room temperature tea and gently place SCOBY into the jar. Cover the jar with breathable cloth and secure with a rubber band. Place jar in a location out of direct sunlight where it won't be jostled or disturbed.
- After a week, push the SCOBY aside and perform a taste test. If the kombucha isn’t sour enough, let the SCOBY continue to do its work. The longer it sits, the more sugar it will consume. Do a taste test every day until you find the sweet-and-sour balance you desire.
- When the kombucha tastes balanced to you, remove the SCOBY along with 2 cups of the liquid and place in another jar. This can serve as your starter liquid for future batches.
- Strain the kombucha into sanitized flip top glass bottles for the second fermentation. Add flavorings like juice, fruit puree, or ginger. Try different sweeteners like honey or agave. Fill the bottles almost to the very top.
- Let bottles sit for 1 to 3 days. Check frequently and open the lids to release excess carbonation. Be careful not to let the carbon dioxide build up too much or the bottles could explode.
- When you are satisfied with the carbonation level, place the bottles in the refrigerator to halt the fermentation process. You now have your own home brewed kombucha!
Is Kombucha Good For You?
Kombucha has a reputation for being a restorative drink with loads of benefits, including the ability to detoxify the body and prevent diseases like cancer and diabetes. So far these claims have not been proven in controlled studies of humans, but kombucha does have qualities that may make it beneficial for your health.
- Antioxidants - Kombucha contains the same blend of antioxidants found in the tea used as its base. These substances fight free radicals that cause illness and aging.
- B Vitamins - Small amounts of the vitamins B1, B6, and B12 are released into kombucha during the fermentation process. B vitamins help to support healthy bodily functions like cell production.
- Probiotics - Like other fermented foods, kombucha contains the “good” strains of bacteria that are referred to as probiotics. These living microorganisms are believed to help support a healthy microbiome within the body.
Does Kombucha Have Caffeine?
Yes, kombucha contains caffeine, but not as much as a cup of coffee or tea. Kombucha is made with caffeinated tea, but during the fermentation process, most of the caffeine is consumed by the SCOBY. On average, only about 1/3 of the amount of caffeine used in the fermentation process will remain in the final product.
Is Kombucha Alcoholic?
Yes, kombucha contains a small amount of alcohol, a by-product of the fermentation process. By law, kombucha labeled as non-alcoholic must contain less than 0.5% alcohol. If you are producing kombucha commercially, you’ll be required to prove your product falls within the regulated threshold.
Boozy kombucha blends with alcohol percentages upwards of 5% have recently become a bar industry trend. If you plan to brew kombucha with an ABV over 0.5%, your processes will no longer be regulated by the FDA. Instead, they will fall into the realm of the TTB, The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
Whether your customers believe the health claims surrounding this fizzy drink or they just like the taste, kombucha can be a highly profitable item to add to the menu. Brewing your own “booch” is a cost-effective method that provides you with a neverending supply of the popular beverage. Take the correct precautions and follow the guidelines of the FDA to ensure your processes are safe and the risk of foodborne illness is eliminated.