The traditional probiotic drink made from fermented tea originated in China and then Russia. It is made with black, green, or white tea and cane sugar. Kombucha has a colorful history. Ancestral cultures enjoyed it for many centuries before it was “rediscovered” in the 1990’s in the United States. In China, kombucha resembled Jun tea, using green tea and honey. In Russia, fermented tea used black tea and cane sugar.
Extensive testing in Russia many decades ago proved it to be an effective overall body detoxifier. This occurs through the binding of the organic acids in the beverage to all manner of toxins present in the body. Once tightly bound to the organic acids, the toxins are rushed to the kidneys for excretion.
Russian communities that drink a lot of fermented tea do not suffer from the cancer epidemics that plague folks who live near that country’s toxin spewing factories — even when the local flora and fauna are dying!
The Soviet Union before the fall of the Iron Curtain used kombucha as one of its secret weapons in the development of its Olympic athletes. While training, athletes would drink up to 1 quart of kombucha per day to prevent lactic acid from accumulating in the muscles (lactic acid = sore muscles). Those drinking this brew were able to train harder and longer than athletes who did not drink kombucha.
The best thing about kombucha is that is is bubbly, delicious, and extremely hydrating. It very adequately replaces all the sports drinks and sodas that everyone seems addicted to today. My family has been drinking kombucha for over 15 years now. Its longstanding reputation for preventing gray hair is astonishing.
What is a SCOBY?
Sometimes you will hear a kombucha culture referred to as a SCOBY. This acronym means Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeasts. Because a SCOBY is loaded with beneficial microbes, it makes some of the best garden compost. It is also beloved by insects and other critters. So, if you happen to get a SCOBY fruit fly infestation, refer to the referenced article for how to recover without damaging your culture.
Some people are surprised that kombucha contains yeasts as well as probiotic bacteria. These yeasts are beneficial, however, and fight off pathogenic strains in the GI tract like Candida albicans.
How to Start Drinking Fermented Beverages
Kombucha is a wonderful addition to a healthy diet. One word of warning is to go slow when you first start drinking it. This advice is the same for any other fermented beverage like water kefir or beet kvass. The probiotic infusion can sometimes cause loose stools or other mild symptoms for a day or two.
Start with just a couple of ounces a day. Over the span of about a week, build up to a maximum of 8-12 oz daily. This drink is very cleansing and helpful to the body, but overdoing it at the beginning can give you a bit of a headache or other detox symptoms, so go easy!
Kombucha During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
I started drinking kombucha for the first time when 6 months pregnant with my second child. I started very slow, drinking only a couple ounces per day. After a few weeks, I consumed a maximum of 12 oz per day for the remainder of the pregnancy. Drinking kombucha during breastfeeding presented no problems. The beverage seemed to help me stay hydrated which indirectly boosted my milk supply.
The kombucha I consumed was always carefully homemade. I chose not to drink store bought kombucha as the quality of the tea leaves is unknown. Using old tea leaves that are steeped too long can lead to excessive fluoride in kombucha. In addition, brewing an acidic drink in stainless steel vats, which is the typical commercial method, can leech carcinogenic nickel as well. Flavored varieties contain an unacceptable level of sugar too. Note that high sugar store bought kombucha is a candida risk.
Kombucha Tea for Children
I started giving a couple of ounces of kombucha to my children when they were about 18 months old. Take care never to put kombucha in a plastic or stainless steel sippy cup. Acidic kombucha will leech toxins from anything but clear glass. Hold a glass yourself and let them sip it or use a glass sippy cup with a safety sleeve.
My children are now 18, 15, and 12, and I am so grateful they are healthy. They’ve never required any antibiotics for illness which I attribute partly to their regular consumption of fermented foods and drinks like kombucha.
Traveling with Fermented Tea
Transporting and packing kombucha in a lunchbox takes a bit of thought. It must ideally be packed in clear glass and protected from shattering with a foam sleeve should the bottle be dropped. Packing it in stainless steel or plastic bottles risks leeching chemicals and/or heavy metals like nickel into the beverage. Even “food grade” plastic bottles that claim to be BPA free and non-leeching must be avoided when transporting kombucha.
A number of kombucha myths persist despite attempts to debunk them from the traditional foods community. One is that the SCOBY is a mushroom. For a discussion of the 7 common kombucha myths, refer to the linked article.
Modern Uses for Kombucha
Several ingenious ways to use fermented tea have appeared in recent years. For example, fashion designers are using SCOBY cellulose to make kombucha clothing. The process is essentially the microbial version of silkworms spinning silk.
In the future, kombucha may help colonize Mars. The sturdy cellulose is perfect as renewable material for 3-D printing and other manufacturing purposes in space.
How to Make Kombucha
The two videos plus recipe below detail how to safely make a single batch of kombucha tea. If the continuous brew kombucha method interests you, click over to the linked article.
For those of you experienced with kombucha brewing already, I offer another set of videos that cover advanced kombucha topics. The videos demonstrate how to make large batches of fermented tea and other advanced techniques.
My hope is that these videos will show you how easy it is to make healthy, probiotic, delicious fermented tea in your home. Fermented beverages are critical to successfully kicking the soda habit once and for all. Anecdotally, several recovering alcoholics in my community found kombucha helpful to their journey as well.
Years ago, I used to teach Traditional Cooking classes in my home and at local healthfood stores. I was always sad to limit the number of people due to space restrictions. It is exciting to be able to post this type of information so as many people who want to see it can view it and benefit from it!
Traditional Homemade Kombucha Recipe
Basic traditional recipe for homemade kombucha using black tea and cane sugar as used for centuries in Russia.
Boil 3 quarts of water.
Add 1 - 1 1/2 cups white sugar to the boiling water and dissolve.
Continue to boil sugar water for 5 minutes.
Remove pot from heat and add 3 black tea bags and 2 green tea bags. Brew for 10 minutes.
Remove tea bags and let tea/sugar mixture cool to room temperature. Do not cool too long!
When mixture is just room temperature, add 6 oz of kombucha starter and 1 kombucha culture.
Cover with a white, prelaundered flour sack cloth (available at Walmart for $5 for a pack of 5) and attach with a large rubber band.
Leave in a quiet semi-lit room (no direct sunlight) for 7-10 days. When a new "baby" culture forms on the top of the brew and it is at least 1/8 " thick, you may harvest the brew.
Store in clear glass only in the refrigerator.
Repeat the process to brew as much as your family desires.
It is important to only use cane sugar for this recipe. If you use plain white sugar from the supermarket, be sure it says 100% cane sugar. In North America, plain white sugar not labeled as cane sugar is all or partially beet sugar made from GMO beets.
Where to Buy Fermented Tea Cultures Plus Starter Liquid
Please do not buy your SCOBY culture from Laurel Farms as suggested in the video. This company is having serious delivery problems. Please go to my Resources page to find vetted sources that will ship you a culture promptly.
Alternatively, you can find someone in your community to give you a SCOBY plus starter liquid. In a pinch, you may use 4 ounces of store bought (raw – glass bottles only) or homemade apple cider vinegar as the starter.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
Sarah Pope has been a Health and Nutrition Educator since 2002. Her work is dedicated to helping families effectively incorporate the principles of ancestral diets within the modern household. She is a sought after lecturer around the world for conferences, summits, and podcasts.
Her work has been covered by major media including USA Today, ABC, NBC, and many others.