Kombucha has taught us many things about life and ourselves since we brought it into our home. There are so many things that we are continuing to learn and observe with our kombucha, and while we do, we would like to share what we're learning so far with you.
Your own kombucha will be your best teacher, and you will inevitably find many of your answers through time, trial and error. The information below is generally agreed upon amongst the 'kombucha' community, but as a word of advice, just as in all things, use your best judgement in the end!
Remember, kombucha is not an exacting science, so relax and have fun!
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is an ancient and truly delicious tangy-sweet beverage that has many health benefits and has been passed down from generation to generation. It is the result of a fermentation process combining a Kombucha Mushroom, or 'Scoby' (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) tea, sugar and water. Authentic kombucha scoby's are self-propagating making it a wonderful sustainable, enjoyable and economical beverage to do at home.
What is the kombucha mushroom or scoby?
A kombucha mushroom looks somewhat like a pancake. Despite the name 'mushroom' it is not actually a mushroom or a fungus. Rather, it is a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. The bacteria and yeast from the mushroom / scoby work together in balance to ferment and convert the sugar and tea liquid into the final Kombucha drink. The diameter of the kombucha mushroom is based off the size of the jar used in fermenting. The mushroom will grow on the top of the kombucha drink and grow to fit the size of the jar, no matter what size it is. The longer the kombucha ferments, the thicker the mushroom should get.
What teas can you use?
We recommend starting out using green or black tea. Green tea tends to make a fatter scoby. It also creates more carbonation due to the greater amount of beneficial acids. But Green tends to sour quicker. Black tea tends to give you a smoother taste. You can try a combination of both to get the best of both worlds. Or use Oolong tea which is somewhere in between black and green tea.
White tea is younger than green and black. It will give a more delicate lightly flavored tea. You will usually get a thinner scoby. You will likely need to ferment longer as well. Recommended once established.
How do I remove the caffeine from the tea if desired?
1. Pre-steep the tea bags to decaffeinate them. Basically you just need to put the tea bags into boiling water for about 30 seconds then discard that water. Then put those tea bags into fresh hot water and steep as usual. The first 30 seconds is when most of the caffeine will leave the tea bags. It won't remove all of the caffeine, but even decaffeinated teas contain some amount of caffeine. The flavanoids and beneficial minerals take minutes to steep, so it won't affect the quality of our kombucha.
2. White tea has the least amount of caffeine, followed by Green tea. Black tea has the most caffeine.
3. Use less tea. Kombucha doesn't need that much tea to thrive. Try cutting the amount by up to 1/2.
How does the balance between the bacteria and yeast work?
Like most cultures, Kombucha consists of a balance between bacteria and yeast. The yeast uses the minerals from the tea to produce enzymes that separate sugar into glucose and fructose. Yeast creates the alcohol and small amounts of CO2. The bacteria use both the alcohol and the available glucose as a source of energy and they produce beneficial things like acetic acid and gluconic acid as well as the mushroom itself.
Not enough fizz or bubbles?
The amount if fizz or bubbles is not generally indicative of a successful brew or not. It also has minor impact (if at all) on the overall benefit you get from drinking Kombucha. Some of the best brews are flat.
Typically when you start out, it's more common to not have enough fizz. That's because the yeast is what creates the (CO2) fizz and the yeast might not have enough variety and strength. After successive batches, it will pick up more airborne yeasts and some of the yeast that has become dormant will wake up
Too much sugar, weak tea or not enough tea, and cold temperatures can contribute to lack of fizz.
Usually yeast will increase as you do several batches, and many times you start running into problem with too much yeast, fizz and bubbles. But if you want to try tweaking for more carbonation, you can try less sugar, more tea or different tea and increase the temperature if possible.
Perhaps the best remedy to a flat kombucha drink is to add a tiny bit of sugar right before bottling. Be careful not to do too much as it can really get it going.
Too much fizz / bubbles?
Too much carbonation/fizz/bubbles usually indicates too much yeast and may pre-maturely sour the drink and cause an uneven or malformed scoby.
One of the main reasons is a warm temperature. Yeast produces alcohol and CO2 (fizz), but the temperature is high, it has higher respiration which increases the amount of CO2 and less alcohol. So then the bacteria has less alcohol for fuel and it makes it harder for them because they have to compete for the same glucose and oxygen. It can then cause the scoby to significantly slow down in growth.
A few things you can do to decrease fizz and CO2:
Increase the sugar or glucose available
Use less tea or steep for less time
Reduce the temperature
Reduce the amount of yeast
Try adding a little bit of glucose in place of sugar to give the bacteria a headstart. You can use corn syrup.
Using less tea decreases the amount of nutrients available for the yeast. This can actually produce less available glucose because the nutrients in the tea are needed to convert the sugar into glucose and fructose. However, using less tea forces the yeast to respire less and convert alcohol instead of CO2.
How much should I drink when starting out?
Because of how strong it is, we recommend you start out drinking a small amount and see how your body takes to it. Start with 1 or 2 ounces and increase slowly. Keep in mind that Kombucha is a powerful detoxifier and is considered diuretic (makes you urinate more often), so make sure to drink lots of water if you decide to drink larger quantities of Kombucha.
What is growing on top? Is it Mold?
It almost all cases its simply your new baby Kombucha Mushroom. The baby Kombucha starts out like a transparent film and then slowly gets bigger. Mold is actually quite rare with Kombucha because the symbiosis of bacteria and yeast keeps the mold at bay. If there ever is mold, it will be growing on top of the baby mushroom and it will look fuzzy or colorful and you would know right away that something was wrong.
What happens if I can't separate the mother and baby mushroom?
Most of the time they will separate fairly smoothly with clean hands, but occasionally they will be stuck permanently together. That's perfectly fine and normal. You can use them together in the next batch, or if they are torn or have holes in them, they will still make delicious Kombucha tea.
How many times can I re-use the same Kombucha mushroom?
You can re-use the mushroom as many times as you like. They tend to get a little darker with each batch but will still work great. If they start looking a little too dark and old, you can easily change it out with one the new baby ones.
Can I eat the scoby?
Yes, it is safe to eat the mushroom / scoby. Although it seems that the general consensus is that most people do not usually eat them. I believe the reason is more psychological as they do not look that appetizing. Also, they are also very strongly bonded & chewy which might appear to make it a little harder to digest. Many people do give it to the pets, which love it and display no ill effect from consuming it.
Is Kombucha okay for pregnant and young children?
Cautious is advised when pregnant or nursing or giving kombucha to children under 4. During those times, your body is in higher demand of minerals such as Calcium, Potassium and Magnesium. Kombucha tea contains Acetic Acid, which is a weak acid and when consumed, it can react with those minerals causing some measure of temporary depletion. Normal non-pregnant adults are not at such risk. It's the same type of risk that soy milk and soy products have. So we do not advise consumption of kombucha when pregnant, nursing or for children under 4.
How much alcohol is in Kombucha Tea?
The amount varies, depending on factors such as the amount of sugar and length of time. Usually less than .5% but possibly up to 1.5%
Can people with diabetes drink Kombucha Tea?
The sugar gets used and converted by the bacteria and yeast during the brewing process. So the final Kombucha tea has a lot less sugar than what you put into it. Many people with diabetes report having no problems drinking it; while others may need to make some adjustments to compensate. One recent lab test confirmed a sugar content of 1.65 grams in an ounce of Kombucha Tea that had been fermenting for 15 days.
Does Kombucha have a detox effect?
Kombucha has a detoxifying nature due mostly to the acids. Primary glucoronic acid. A healthy liver naturally creates large amount of glucoronic acid. By increasing the amount, it helps to further detoxify the body. Glucornoic acids binds to toxins and flushes them out through the kidneys. And once bound they cannot escape. Glucornoic acids are water-soluable and won't be reabsorbed by the body. The acid also helps stop viral infections and can dissolve gallstones.
What is the best type of container to use when fermenting?
The best container tends to be glass. It's also the most common and easiest to purchase. You can use stone crocks, but are harder to get. Food grade plastic that is suitable for acidic foods can also work, but when in doubt, stick with glass. The highly acidic nature of kombucha can leech just about anything over time. Metal and metal containers should definitely be avoided as the metals can be leeched over time.
How do I store the extra Scobys?
There are 2 basic ways you can store scobys:
1. The "scoby hotel" method. This is the method we recommend. You can store the extra mushrooms in a large jar at room temperature with a combination of finished tea and sweet tea. And as the liquid evaporates, you need to top it off with sweet tea (every week or two) for the scobys to eat. It will continue to make a new mushroom all the time, which you can either be kept or discarded. Discarded mushrooms are great for compost. Dogs love dried mushrooms as chew toys too!
2. You can store the mushrooms in a closed jar in a little bit of finished tea (starter tea) in the fridge. If you plan to store them for a very long time, we suggest adding a little sweet tea (the original tea and sugar water) so they have something more to feed on. Keep in mind though, that the fridge does temporarily slow the Kombucha down, so expect your 1st batch out of the fridge to be on the slow side, but should be up to speed for the 2nd batch.