The process of fermenting foods and beverages has taken place since the Neolithic period. Some of the more popular fermented edibles today include wine, beer, vinegar, yogurt, cheese, kimchi, and sourdough bread.
The list of popular fermented drinks would not be complete without mentioning kombucha. Also commonly referred to as kombucha tea, this beverage originated in China and, over time, spread around the globe. Wildly popular today, it can be bought commercially or brewed on a smaller scale at home with the help of special kits. Although there is little scientific evidence, kombucha is often enjoyed for the potential health benefits that have been associated with it.
Neolithic China, which dates to 10,000 BC, has been credited as the birthplace of this popular beverage. Specifically, it is believed that kombucha was first developed in a district on the east coast of China near the Bohai Sea.
From there, it is said to have made its way to Russia and then Europe. Although it cannot be verified, it is also believed that kombucha traveled along the Silk Road. Even though it grew in popularity on that side of the world, it didn’t become popular in the U.S until the 1980s.
Science and Food
Fermentation is a chemical process that takes place with the help of yeast, bacteria, and mold. Those microscopic organisms produce proteins called enzymes, which then break down food and transform it. In other words, fermentation is when a food or drink is altered or changed for a specific outcome.
Kombucha is made most commonly by fermenting black or green tea. This process uses a fermentation starter of bacteria and yeast. This close and long-term interaction of various types of bacteria and yeast is commonly referred to as SCOBY. This disk-like blob is described by some as a spongy pancake that resembles a mushroom cap.
The two most used types of bacteria for fermenting kombucha are lactic acid bacteria and acetic acid bacteria. Both are believed to be probiotics, which is one reason why this beverage is popular with people who practice traditional medicine.
The process of making kombucha takes time and patience. It also requires special ingredients and equipment. The items you will need to make homebrewed kombucha include:
- 1 SCOBY
- 1 to 2 cups of kombucha starter liquid (aged kombucha tea that is full of living bacteria and yeast)
- 8 tea bags (unflavored traditional black or green tea)
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1-gallon glass jar or container
- Breathable towel and a rubber band
- A large pot
Once you have gathered all the necessary materials and measured out all the ingredients, it is time to make the kombucha. From start to finish, the whole fermentation process can take anywhere from 7 days to 4 and a half weeks for the beverage to fully ferment. Be patient; it’s worth it!
- Boil 4 cups of water in a large pot on the stove. Once the water starts to boil, add in your tea bags. Removing the pot from the stove, allow the tea to steep for 5 to 10 minutes.
- When the time is up, remove the tea bags and stir in the sugar. Make sure all the sugar dissolves before moving on to the next step.
- Pour the sugared tea into the large glass jar. There should still be some empty space at the top of the container. Allow the mixture to cool until it reaches room temperature.
- When the mixture has cooled, gently place the SCOBY on top of the liquid. Then, pour the starter liquid overtop of the SCOBY. The jar should be about full when you are done.
- Cover the glass jar with the towel and secure it with a rubber band. Place this covered jar in a location where it will not be disturbed and where the temperature will remain between 75°F. and 85°F. Maintaining the correct temperature is important as it helps the bacteria thrive.
- Allow the mixture to ferment, checking every couple of days until the desired flavor is reached. It should sit for a minimum of seven days.
- Before bottling up your kombucha, remember to collect the SCOBY for your next batch and measure out at least one cup of the liquid. This will become the starter liquid for your next batch. Then, using containers with secure lids, bottle up your kombucha.
If you want to have a more flavorful beverage, additives such as fresh fruit, herbs, and syrups can be used before bottling is done. Also, if you leave the bottled kombucha on the counter for a few days before refrigerating, carbonation will build up and make the drink fizzy.
Appearance & Flavor
The look and taste of Kombucha can vary depending on which type of tea is used as the base. For example, if black tea is used, the kombucha will be dark golden color and have a strong flavor like apple cider. Comparably, if green tea is used, the color is lighter with a flavor described as grass-like, vegetal, and sweet.
Caffeine & Nutrition
Since kombucha is made with traditional tea, there is caffeine in this beverage. Which type of tea is used directly relates to how much caffeine is present. The caffeine content also varies depending on how long the kombucha is fermented and how long the tea bags steep.
On average, it is believed that kombucha has 1/3 of the caffeine of a regular cup of tea because the fermentation process reduces the caffeine content. For those who like numbers, it is estimated that 15 mg of caffeine is present in each serving of kombucha.
While the nutritional values of homebrewed kombucha are harder to identify, store-bought kombucha comes labeled. In one serving, there are approximately 30 calories and anywhere from 2 to 8 grams of sugar.
The concept of fermenting food and beverages has been around for many years. One popular fermented drink that can be both bought globally and concocted at home is kombucha. With the most popular varieties made with a base of black or green tea, it’s slightly caffeinated.
Known for being potentially beneficial for one’s health, kombucha is a versatile beverage that can be customized to fit your personal taste. Whether you like fruity and vegetal tea or a deeper and more complex flavor, this fermented tea can be tailored just for you, especially if you are adventurous enough to make it at home.