What is Kombucha?
Basically, it’s a fermented tea. That can be confusing for those that are newer to fermenting foods….so, I sometimes also explain it as a carbonated, sweetened tea drink that is made with good probiotics for your stomach. Some friends even look confused when I say probiotics, so I explain that you can take probiotic pills, or eat things like yogurt, kimchi or sauerkraut– which are things that are fermented, and therefore have a healthy-for-the-stomach bacteria in them.
Kombucha isn’t a new thing- it’s actually been around for centuries. It is experiencing a bit of a spotlight lately though, with the new wave of healthy
Maybe you have seen, (or love to buy) some of the commercial Kombucha brands, like this one:
I do love these drinks! Buuuuut, they cost like $6 per bottle….so that put a damper on our relationship. And I live in Vietnam right now. While there are a lot of American goods available over here, (thankfully for my bank account), commercial Kombucha is not available.
Why drink Kombucha?
First of all, because it’s tasty! And a great alternative to drinking soda or whatever drinks you frequently drink.
Second of all, for the health of your stomach.
The ways to make Kombucha: Continuous Brew or Batch Brew
Continuous brewing is a traditional method of making kombucha. After I had spoken with numerous native Russians and consulted with a few different reference works, I realized that the liquid was kept in some sort of fermenting container and a portion was drawn off for drinking or other uses as needed. As liquid was drawn off, fresh replacement was added, sometimes soon after or sometimes a few days later. Thus, in traditional brewing, the culture is fermenting continuously, without interruption, at all times—a constant mixture of predominately older and some younger liquid.
Benefits, (or reasons to choose this method):
The benefits of continuous brewing are both practical and nutritional. They include:
Less risk of mold and other contamination in kombucha batches, as once established, the liquid maintains a far more acidic environment, more hostile to outside invaders because of smaller amounts of free sugar and a greater population of good bacteria and yeast.
• Less overall work to produce more overall volume.
• More consistent supply of kombucha (a few bottles every day or every few days rather than having a large batch all at once).
• A broader array of bacteria and other beneficial compounds in the final product.
Tips for using this method:
Continuous brewing is a big time-saver and allows a more consistent supply of kombucha. We can bulk brew our concentrated “replacement” liquid once every two weeks, then as needed add the concentrate and additional water to our fermenting vessels.
Our basic kombucha recipe follows a ratio of 2 to 1 to 1 to 1; that is, 2 cups water for every 1 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon each organic green and black tea. Three-fourths cup of this concentrated liquid plus 3 1/4 cups water can then be used to replace 32 ounces of liquid in your kombucha jar.
We brew about two gallons replacement liquid at a time and store it in half-gallon mason jars in the refrigerator. (It could also be stored in a cold cellar, garage or other cool place—just be very careful that the place is cold enough to inhibit the growth of mold.) The replacement liquid keeps for up to two weeks, saving time and dishes. This also makes our every-other-day kombucha routine very compact—add flavoring to bottles, decant the appropriate number of bottles (10-20 percent of total volume), add concentrated replacement followed by additional water to the fermenting vessel, and enjoy!
Benefits, (or reasons to choose this method):
What about the sugar?
The second question that often comes up with kombucha in general, and continuous brewing in particular, concerns the residual sugar content. Again, since kombucha is a living product, affected by seasons, temperature, humidity and other factors, the amount of sugar present in the final product is very hard to determine. If you have concerns about residual sugar in your brew, you can reduce it through a number of approaches:
1. Allow the mixture to ferment longer and draw it off less often or in smaller amounts (remove 10 percent rather than 15-20 percent of the volume, three times per week).
2. Allow a longer second ferment once bottled (the result will be more of a kombucha wine, vinegar or beer).
3. Choose a sweetener like white sugar, which breaks down more thoroughly and is more easily digested by the culture.
4. Choose flavorings that do not contain large amounts of additional sugar and/or allow the second ferment in the bottles extra time to break down this sugar.
5. Check for sourness; the more sour the beverage, the less residual sugar it will contain.
What about the caffeine?
A number of families in our group expressed concern over the amount of caffeine in kombucha, especially since very young children were drinking it daily. Kombucha is relatively low in caffeine, especially compared to mainstream beverages, although the amount of caffeine in a particular serving will depend on the types and amounts of teas used and the length and strength of the ferment.
On average, one serving of kombucha will contain approximately one-third the caffeine (or more precisely, of caffeine-like substance) than a similar tea beverage of the same size. Also, is converted into other substances during the fermenting process, but this conversion is both unpredictable and highly debated. Furthermore, the caffeine reduction appears to be largely related to “starving” the culture for many days (not adding any new sweet tea mixture to the ferment), and thus would probably have a negligible effect on the caffeine content in a continuous brew that was drawn down more than twice per week.
Thankfully, tea leaves are easy to partially decaffeinate, since caffeine is highly water-soluble, allowing removal of between 40-70 percent of the caffeine in three minutes of steeping (see side bar page 68), while the poly-phenols and many other beneficial substances in the tea leaves remain because they are less soluble. Many Internet sources claim much higher rates of caffeine reduction via this home method (as high as 80 percent in under one minute of steeping), but this is not the true. Caffeine reduction of 70-90 percent requires a second steeping with fresh, hot water after initial the steep, lasting another three minutes, which would have an uncertain, yet surely negative impact on the beneficial compounds in the final product, not to mention the taste.
Thus, if caffeine content is a concern, lower caffeine varieties of tea can be employed or the tea leaves can be decaffeinated prior to brewing. If you need to completely avoid caffeine, then commercially decaffeinated teas are the only sure option, although these will have a negative impact on the health benefits of the finished beverage. Also, we know a few people who prefer to preserve the inherent caffeine content of kombucha, as this makes the drink a great, natural replacement for those who are required to work at night and may need a natural, low-caffeine drink to help them stay awake and work safely.
How to Decafeinate Tea Leaves
We use loose leaf teas, as they are far less expensive than their packaged counterparts and can be easily strained out of the tea mixture before adding the sugar.
To decaffeinate, place 8 tablespoons each green and black tea into a one-quart glass container or ceramic bowl. In a teapot or saucepan, bring a few cups of water to a boil. Let the water just