What is kombucha?

Kombucha is a naturally sparkling fermented tea drink, made from adding a specific culture of bacteria and yeast (a SCOBY) to black or green tea sweetened with sugar and leaving to ferment in a warm spot for 7-14 days.

Due to its live properties resulting from the fermentation process, kombucha is often recommended as part of a diet for good gut health. One of the principles of good gut health is introducing multiple different friendly strains into the gut to create diversity and kombucha will usually contain at least 10 dominant strains of friendly bacteria and yeast.

The kombucha culture is usually referred to as a ‘SCOBY’ – an acronym for ‘Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast’. The SCOBY forms on the top of a kombucha brew and looks like a creamy coloured pancake. The SCOBY will form the exact shape of the vessel that the kombucha is fermenting in.  The SCOBY is added to our lightly sweetened teas and performs a unique fermentation process in which the yeast converts the sugar from the sweet tea into very low levels of alcohol, and the bacteria simultaneously transforms the low alcohol into acetic acid.

The acetic acid is what gives kombucha the signature vinegary tasting notes that it’s famous for. Whilst low levels of alcohol are part of the fermentation process, the alcohol dissipates in the brewing process creating a naturally non-alcoholic beverage. 

Kombucha is made using aerobic (with air) fermentation which enables producers to create a non-alcoholic product if they control the fermentation process rigorously. 

You can make kombucha at home by buying a SCOBY online - we recommend Happy Kombucha for their high quality organic cultures - available both on their online shop and Amazon. You could also ask a friend who brews kombucha for one of their spare cultures (which tend to multiply quickly)! Depending on how long the kombucha is left to ferment, we would expect a healthy culture to grow around 1cm in depth over a period of 6 weeks. 

When you are ready to brew, you can simply make a litre of tea, cool it to room temperature and pour it into a large glass brewing jar before adding your SCOBY. A breathable cloth such as calico cotton or a tea towel can then be used to seal the top of the jar secured with a rubber band.

Left in a warmish dry spot, the tea will gradually ferment over 7-14 days where it can be tasted daily to test the brew and gentle acidification of the tea. 

The origins of kombucha are mysterious, but many believe that it was first consumed in China over 2,000 years ago during the Tsin dynasty and referred to as the ‘tea of immortality’. It is thought to have then been transported west by travellers, spreading across Russia and onwards to Europe and North America. 

Nowadays kombucha is hugely popular in America, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Germany. 

The first records of kombucha date back to over 2000 years ago. However, it is possible that it existed more widely across Asia before then.   

Kombucha first started to make its way to the U.K. in the early 21st century but wasn’t widely available until around 2010.  

It is commonly believed that kombucha was first brewed in China and thought to have then been transported west by travellers across Russia and onwards to Europe and North America.

Nowadays kombucha is hugely popular in America, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Germany.

Pronounced "kom-boo-cha" and originally coined the "tea of immortality" in China, kombucha has many names including ‘tea kvass’ (from the Russian), ‘tea beer’, ‘the elixir of life’ and ‘tea fungus’ amongst others. 

One story that we like behind the popular name is that a Korean doctor called ‘Kombu’ used the special tea to treat the Japanese emperor, and his name combined with the Chinese word for tea (‘cha’) gives us ‘kombucha’. 

Both kombucha and kefir are drinks fermented from a culture of bacteria and yeast. Kefir is made from milk and mineral infused water whilst kombucha is made from sweetened tea. 

The fermentation process is similar, but the microbes in the cultures used are very different. This means you can ferment kefir water or milk in just a couple of days, but you might need to wait several weeks for kombucha to develop. This creates flavour profiles for both drinks that are distinctive whilst being quite different. 

Kombucha benefits and effects

Digestion & Gut Health / Strengthened Immune system

The high levels of friendly bacteria and yeast, enzymes and organic acids resulting from the fermentation process can assist in balancing and healing gut flora because they are similar to the microorganisms found naturally occurring in the digestive track. 

As well as easing the digestion process, fermented foods are often recommended as a complimentary medicine in healing stomach ulcers and leaky gut syndrome where an imbalance in gut flora can be a contributing factor. 

Drinking kombucha on a daily basis works to contribute to a healthy microbiome (a make-up of multiple microbes) by populating the gut with friendly bacteria.  

The microbiome is made of both friendly (symbiotic bacteria) and unfriendly bacteria (pathogenic). In a healthy microbiome, these two types of microbes live together without problems 

The microbiome is sensitive and the balance can be disrupted by stress, hormones, pollution, anti-biotics and toxins and so it is helpful to consistently replenish the friendly microbes by consuming live, fermented food and drinks like kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha. 

We like to drink our kombucha mid morning, mid afternoon(some also find it can help generate good energy at these times of day) or pair it with food to elevate flavours and cleanse the palette.

Officially to date, there have been no kombucha culture strains that have been declared as having probiotic qualities specifically. ‘Probiotic’ research has been limited to dairy products like yoghurt and milk kefir so far. That is not to say there are not strains in kombucha which may behave in a similar way – certainly anecdotally many kombucha drinkers have found that regular consumption has had very positive effect on their gut health.

There is however very good research to support the anti-oxidant properties and benefits around organic acids and enzymes which are a by product of the fermentation process.

Whilst every brewer’s kombucha is different, the strains of bacteria most dominant and commonly found in kombucha are acetobacter, pediococcus, gluconacetobacter & oenoccus, as well as the yeasts: saccharomyces & brettanomyces.

Kombucha contains very small amounts of vitamins and minerals which result from the fermentation process (the process of the yeast breaking down the sugar). Depending on the fruits, herbs and flowers added to the drink you might find vitamin C, vitamin K and vitamin B but the final composition will depend on the individual kombucha.

Kombucha is brewed with tea and whilst the detoxifying properties of its live, fermented characteristics are well documented, the benefits of this and general hydration are achieved by drinking good amounts of water throughout the day as is usually recommended.

The live cultures in kombucha often help the body ease symptoms of gas and bloating. If you drink an excess of kombucha, then the natural carbonation may lead to bloating and gas. As with all things, it’s good to drink in moderation!

Research continues as to whether the fermentation process itself removes the small amount of caffeine naturally present in the teas we brew with. Kombucha does not usually keep people awake at night, but if you have a high sensitivity to caffeine then it might be better consumed earlier in the day.

Commercially brewed kombucha is classified as non-alcoholic and you cannot get drunk on it. The reason for this is the ABV (alcohol by volume) naturally created through fermentation is so low that any alcohol is being processed by your body as quickly as you can consume it. So, you can enjoy it on a night out and drive home afterwards without concern. 

Home brewed kombucha is also very unlikely to get you drunk – but as it is a natural brewing process it will depend on how long it is fermented before consumption as to how much alcohol may be present. 

Kombucha contents

Kombucha requires sugar to enable the vital fermentation process. The yeast ultimately breaks down the sugar to create alcohol which is then converted into bacteria.

Without real sugar (and not sweeteners) being added, the SCOBY cannot perform its unique transformational process which produces the beneficial acids and cultures. The final kombucha has very low sugar levels. 

This will depend on the homebrewer or manufacturer who will leave in the amount of sugar they deem appropriate taste-wise to balance out the acidity of the drink. 

We like to leave around 3-4% of sugar in our drinks. Less than 3% can taste too acidic or vinegary for consumers and 5% feels too sweet. Fermentation will naturally continue gently over time. If you store your kombucha for a number of weeks, you may start to notice a subtle change in its taste as the sugar content naturally drops over time – like a fine wine.

Pasteurisation would put a stop to this process, but it’s what makes our kombucha live and all the micro biotical benefits this brings, so we don’t pasteurise. 

The calorie content of each kombucha is individual to the brewer and depends on the amount of sugar left in the finished drink. 

L.A kombucha has typically around 15 kcals per 100ml. 

The caffeine content in kombucha is minimal. Generally during the fermentation process of the tea, the bacteria and yeasts will break down the naturally occurring caffeine and ultimately reduce the final amount significantly.Most kombucha as you find in the shops have around 8-10mg per 300ml which is a lot less than a cup of coffee (95g) and about equal to a Decaf cup of coffee.

Commercially produced kombucha is usually non-alcoholic (unless specified otherwise) residing below 0.5% ABV. This is achieved through advanced filtration methods which remove the yeast to prevent further alcohol production once the product is bottled.

A home brewed kombucha might rise to around 2% if unfiltered and if fruit juices are added. The sugar in oranges or fresh strawberries for example will turbo the ferment and feed the unfiltered yeast to product higher levels of alcohol and carbonation. 

L.A Brewery kombucha resides around 0.2-0.3% ABV which is classified as non-alcoholic.

Kombucha taste and flavour

We like to start with a crisp fresh almost apple like tart kombucha and then infuse it with flowers, fruits or botanicals depending on the final drink we are trying to create. L.A brewery drinks are all very different but the characteristic moreish tang runs through them all.

We are biased but we are not the first people to find the tart fizz very moreish and addictive on the palate.

Kombucha has a ph of around 2.8-3.2 which makes it a weak acid but actually has an alkalising effect on the body much like lemons.

Yes. Home brewed kombucha and commercially made kombucha are both made with great care. It is fun to experiment to find one that suits your taste buds perfectly. We enjoy making it at home as well as buying it when we are out and about.

How to drink & store kombucha

We like to drink it nicely chilled straight from the fridge whether that’s mid morning, with our lunch, as an afternoon pick-me-up, an aperitif or with our dinner. 

You shouldn’t need to shake it, but as it’s a natural brewing process, if you do find any settled sediment then we suggest a gentle180 degree tilt back and forth before opening.

You can happily drink kombucha every day. If you have never had kombucha before and you are drinking a homebrew version then you may want to start on 150ml per day and work your way up to 250ml after a week. The reason for this is that home brews have high levels of bacteria and yeast therefore it’s advisable to introduce slowly into your diet if you are not accustomed.

Commercial kombucha is lighter and therefore you can consume much more.

We find people drink 1-2 bottles a day of L.A Brewery – sometimes more! The important thing is to listen to your body.

As a rule, all kombucha needs to be kept refrigerated as it is a live drink which continues to ferment and refrigeration moderates this process (and it tastes best chilled). 

There are now kombuchas available which have been filtered (removing the yeast) and so these types can be stored at room temperature and chilled just prior to serving. Our craft kombuchas and larger sparkling bottles can be stored and served this way, but as a general rule with kombuchas - always check the label. 

When brewing kombucha, we recommend keeping it at a comfortable warmish room temperature. When drinking kombucha, we recommend serving it cold straight out of the fridge. It just tastes better chilled.

We would recommend consuming L.A Brewery kombucha within 3 days of opening it.

It doesn’t go off but the repeated exposure to oxygen will reduce the fizz and turn the product more vinegary.

Kombucha doesn’t spoil or go bad like a more perishable food. Due to low ph (around 2.8-3.4), the acidity preserves the drink and the drink turns more vinegary over time rather than going off.

Commercial kombucha usually has a shelf life of 6-12 months depending on the brand so always best to check the label. It doesn’t go off but rather gets more vinegary over time as the residual sugar in the bottle turns to acetic acid.

Home brewed kombucha should be consumed more quickly as it is unfiltered and if any fruits or juices are added, then the carbonation levels will accelerate quickly. We recommend opening bottled home brew every few days to release the CO2 as it develops.

Kombucha can be consumed at home, at work, outside and whenever you feel like a refreshing pick me up or as a wonderful alcohol alternative.

Who can drink kombucha

In the first instance, we would always say you should consult your doctor before drinking kombucha if you have diabetes. Kombucha contains some sugar which means it should be consumed with caution. On the other hand, kombucha is rich in anti-oxidants from the tea which are believed to help regulate insulin levels therefore stabilising blood sugar. For this reason, it is often consumed as an alternative medical treatment by those who have type 2 diabetes.

Kombucha, along with other fermented foods are often recommended to counteract the effects of taking antibiotics which kill friendly bacteria by replenishing the gut with vital microbes.

If you are counting your carbohydrate and sugar intake as part of a keto diet, then we recommend checking the label on the bottle and calculating it as part of your daily intake. Generally though if you are following a sugar free diet, then kombucha may not be suitable for you.

Kombucha was unlikely to have been consumed by cavemen therefore technically is not classified as paleo. However…and despite the sugar content, kombucha has been adopted by the paleo community as part of their diet for its health boosting live properties.

Whilst the sugar content in kombucha would make it unsuitable during the fasting periods, it can be consumed during the eating periods as it is a low calorie healthy drink which may help enhance digestion so is often considered complimentary.

Even though kombucha contains very small levels of alcohol, it is suitable for halal. The reason for this is that the alcohol produced is a natural by product of the fermentation and below 0.5% and therefore classified as non-alcoholic.

Kombucha is generally an unpasteurised live drink and as such, some doctors advise against drinking it during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Commercial kombucha is produced in highly regulated sterilised brewing conditions which prevents possible contamination of any unfriendly bacteria.

If erring on the side of caution you might choose to only drink commercially produced kombucha during pregnancy and breastfeeding or avoiding it entirely due to the low levels of alcohol and caffeine. If in doubt, speak to a medical professional.