Kombucha is a fermented tea drink. Drinkers of kombucha enjoy the benefits of antioxidants, probiotics, and B vitamins.
Lactic acid probiotics form during the fermentation process and are the most common form of probiotics in fermented dairy products such as yogurt and kefir.
Probiotics improve digestion and balance the population of bacteria in your gut.
Benefits of Making Your Own Kombucha
Enjoying this delicious beverage has its benefits but it also comes at a price. Looking at national chain store prices, store-bought kombucha retails for around $4 for a 16-ounce bottle.
If you consume one bottle a day, you’re spending nearly $1500 annually. This expense increases if you drink multiple bottles of kombucha a day.
Making your own fermented tea is much more cost-effective. You get to learn about the fermentation process once you delve into the world of creating your own fermented foods.
Being your own kombucha supplier also gives you the freedom to create flavors that you may not find on store shelves.
What Do You Need to Make Kombucha?
The three main proponents of every kombucha recipe are:
- Starter tea
- Sweet tea
What Is Starter Tea?
The most important element of these three parts is the starter tea. Kombucha starter tea is the base of all good homemade kombucha. Starter tea is a liquid made of previously fermented tea.
Experienced creators of kombucha always leave some of the liquid behind and save it to use as starter tea for their next batch. Starter tea is great kombucha and it helps produce more great kombucha.
This essential base can be achieved a few ways. You can buy already-made kombucha from a grocery store or from a local kombucha producer.
You could also lower the pH of sweetened tea by adding vinegar to it and allowing time for it to ferment. It is recommended that beginners use previously made kombucha. Using the pre-made stuff will lessen your margin of error.
Do I Need a Starter Tea?
Crafting kombucha is a delicate process. While there are a lot of chemical processes involved in making the drink, there is no exact science to brewing your own kombucha.
This lack of rigidity leaves you the freedom to create your own way of fabricating the tasty, carbonated beverage but it also gifts you the responsibility of carefully monitoring your creation. You wouldn’t want to make a drink that was harmful to yourself or others.
Safety concerns are what prompt most kombucha makers to use a starter tea. Using a starter tea also supplies the benefit of making your brewing process more time-efficient.
Starter tea makes the fermentation process more efficient by jump starting the fermentation process through immediately lowering the pH of your concoction. This pH drop speeds up the synthesis of good bacteria. A lower pH also helps kill bad bacteria that may grow or already exist in the mixture.
Kombucha contaminated with harmful bacteria poses a health risk to healthy individuals as well as those who are immunocompromised or pregnant. Immunocompromised persons include children, the elderly, and those with conditions or taking medications that weaken the immune system.
Do I Need a SCOBY to Make My Own Kombucha?
A symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast is an important part of the fermentation process. You have to possess some form of cultures to add to your fresh tea. Without cultures present, you’re just brewing tea.
You are not limited to established colonies that are found in commercial SCOBYs. You can create a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast by using a starter tea as the base of your kombucha.
Research suggests that a kombucha starter tea has a more diverse colony of bacteria than separately grown SCOBYs. This means that you can even use starter tea in place of a SCOBY.
Using a starter tea instead of a SCOBY releases you from the financial constraint of having to purchase a SCOBY. SCOBYs also require care and feeding to continue the cycle of bacterial growth.
Simply allow your starter to bloom in a dry, warm environment for several weeks. You will begin to see a bacteria buoy forming.
Once it has achieved a solid form and contains no mold, you’re ready to go! Now you have a homemade SCOBY and a starter tea to hasten the fermentation process of your kombucha.
Starter teas enable your homemade kombucha to start off on the right foot. Utilizing a starter tea slashes the fermentation time, which not only brings you closer to your end goal but also reduces the risk of contamination.
Good and bad bacteria both need time to grow. A shorter processing time gives less of a chance for the harmful microbes to bloom.
Qualities of a Good Starter Tea
If you want the best kombucha, you have to start with the best base possible. Starter tea is comprised of previously fermented tea. Whether you’re making your own or using store-bought kombucha, your foundation should include the following qualities.
Your starter tea should ideally be made from black tea. We may think of green tea as the “healthiest” option when choosing a tea but black tea has been shown to contain a similar amount of polyphenols.
Polyphenols are antioxidants that provide us humans with many benefits but they also feed the bacteria in kombucha.
Another source of nutrients for the bacteria colony is caffeine. Black tea has a higher concentration of caffeine compared to its green and red counterparts. Without the proper nutrients, your bacteria will fail to thrive and the fermentation process will come to a screeching halt.
Another excellent quality in a starter tea would be the volume of microbes. If utilizing store-bought kombucha, you will need to select a type that is unpasteurized. Pasteurization is the process of heating up a liquid until all bacteria present in the liquid are exterminated.
While this process makes cow’s milk safer to drink, it’s the polar opposite of what we want in our kombucha. Pasteurized kombucha serves its place in making the drink safer to consume for those who are immunocompromised but it does no good when creating homemade kombucha. Without bacteria, there is no fermentation.
Your starter tea will need to be free from flavoring. This eliminates the use of any flavored teas or teas containing oils, such as Earl Grey tea. Glucose is an essential part of the fermentation process.
Other ingredients to avoid in pre-made kombucha include artificial sweeteners as well as honey. Honey can potentially contain Clostridium botulinum, which can lead to botulism, a rare but potentially fatal condition. This is not the kind of bacteria that we desire to grow.
Artificial sweeteners do not metabolize in the same manner as plain sugar. Sugar is the only recommended sweetener in kombucha. Cane sugar is composed of sucrose, which is glucose bound to fructose. This type of sugar is the easiest for the bacteria to break down.
The acidity of your starter tea is also crucial. The pH of kombucha is typically between 2.5 and 3.5. If using previously homemade kombucha, measure the pH by dipping a pH test strip into the liquid.
Should the test strip show that your kombucha is too acidic, just add water to dilute it and attempt the pH test again.
If the pH is too alkaline, let the mixture ferment further or add vinegar to the substance. The pH being in the correct range is crucial not only to start your kombucha off on the right foot but also to limit the growth of bad bacteria.
The FDA states that food and drink products with a pH below 4.6 do not require preservatives because the acidity inhibits bacterial growth.
The volume of your starter tea is another element to be considered. The ratio of starter tea to fresh sweet tea should be 1:10. One part starter tea to ten parts of your new tea ensures that the acidity of the mixture stays within a safe range and helps keep your process on track.
Using a lesser ratio of 1:20 would make the kombucha too alkaline, leaving it susceptible to contamination. Having your kombucha contaminated would result in loss of materials and time as you would have to discard the entire batch.
Kombucha starter tea is the most essential part of making kombucha. It is the crux of the process. It is difficult to make kombucha without a starter tea. The next time you find yourself sipping the tangy, bubbly drink, reserve some of your kombucha.
Consider using this leftover liquid as a starter tea for your own batch of kombucha. You will still get all of the benefits of store-bought kombucha but your wallet won’t feel as strained.
When you have a great foundation to build upon, you’re sure to succeed. The same can be said for kombucha crafting.
If your base is a starter tea made from black tea, sweetened with sugar, and with a pH between 2.5 to 3.5, you’re already on your way to producing great-tasting kombucha.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.