What is kombucha?
Kombucha is fermented sweet tea.
The fermentation process brings good yeasts and bacteria into the sweet tea, and that’s what differentiateskombucha from just plain old sweet tea. We eat and drink a lot of really great fermented food: wine, beer, bread, chocolate, cheese and pickles are just a few examples.
And kombucha is another one to add to the list.
All you need to make kombucha is tea, sugar, water and some kombucha culture (a SCOBY + starter tea).
Similar to how sourdough bread bakers require a little bit of a “mother” or “starter” dough from a previously fermented batch of sourdough to create a new loaf, kombucha requires some kombucha “starter” to create more of itself. It requires a bit of itself to replicate itself. This is why it’s important to get a quality culture (a SCOBY) with a good amount of “starter tea” which is basically just another word for plain kombucha that’s successfully gone through the fermentation process. You can use that “finished” kombucha to inoculate a new batch of tea with bacteria and yeast to turn the sweet tea into kombucha.
At the end of the first fermentation process, you end up with fully drinkable (albeit unflavored) kombucha. You can undergo a second fermentation process to bottle-condition your kombucha in a sealed container (like champagne or beer) if you want your kombucha to be bubbly.
Kombucha's supposed health claims
There are a lot of people out there that tout kombucha’s health benefits. There are also a lot of naysayers that say that it’s all a lot of nonsense. The truth of it is that there’ll always be a “well-researched” article or two that can “prove” pretty much whatever point you want to make.
My perspective on this is that in its most basic terms, kombucha is simply just fermented tea. I don’t believe that it cures anything or that it’s guaranteed to help any medical ailment. I do believe that like any food we consume, it affects our bodies in a unique and individual way. We’re all different after all. I personally experience health benefits from the homemade kombucha I make, but my body is different than your body, and my kombucha will likely be very different from any kombucha you make or buy.
So if you have serious concerns about your own personal health, you should always heed your doctor’s advice and listen to your own body above all else. If you want to read more about my in-depth perspective on kombucha’s supposed health benefits, you can read on here.
Kombucha’s historical origins and how it’s progressed over time
It supposedly originated in China, though some recounts
claim origins in Russia, Japan or Korea. Various cultures
all over the world have been consuming fermented foods
for hundreds of years, dealing with all sorts of unique
(good!) bacteria and yeasts.
I think kombucha exists in various forms in many
countries. When I was a kid, my mother used to buy
fermented tea from the Asian market and have me drink
it in small amounts like a tonic to help with my digestion.
It wasn’t labeled “kombucha” and it wasn’t flavored and
fizzy. I actually remember not liking it at all! But I have a
strong suspicion this fermented tea was kombucha by
another name. They probably just stopped at the first
fermentation stage and didn’t bottle condition it for bubbliness and flavor!
My mother brewed kombucha in the Philippines when she was in her 20s (I guess I’m more like my mother than I originally thought!). It wasn’t called kombucha, but she says her cultures looked exactly like mine do today. She would let it ferment for months at a time until it got really, really acidic. Her culture was given to her by a friend who told her that it would aid with digestion if she drank a few tablespoons per day. I believe that kombucha cultures have been passed on from friend to friend for generations. And it takes various forms and names depending on the country you find it in!
Today, kombucha is becoming more and more commercially available, so it’s not limited to home brewers and Asian mothers! With an endless variety of flavors and ranges of acidity, we have more options available to us than ever before. And I’m biased here, but in my opinion, they taste better than any overly acidic kombucha I’d ever had as a kid.
Today, brewers stop the fermentation process earlier so there’s still some residual sugar left in the brew. This way you’re not drinking kombucha that tastes like straight-up vinegar. And we go through a second fermentation process (a.k.a. bottle conditioning) to add bubbliness and fruit flavorings.
You Brew Kombucha's homebrew process is modernized and made simple for today’s homebrewer. This is not your mama’s kombucha! And it’s not my mama’s kombucha either, thankfully!