Many of us have recently fallen in love with what is often called chai tea. The word "chai" means "tea," so "chai tea" is actually redundant. What we are referring to when we speak of the mixed-spice tea which is often sweetened and served with milk is masala chai: literally “mixed-spice tea.”
The masala chai that we are familiar with usually contains a blend of black tea and a few spices like cloves, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, and so on. Each blend is different, so what you may get in your tea bag may be vastly different than the mix from another brand.
If you’re brewing kombucha with black tea then you are probably wondering whether you can combine two of your favorite things: kombucha tea and chai tea. Because masala is just a blend of the same black tea you would use for kombucha and a few spices, right?
Here are a couple of things to consider before brewing up your masala chai kombucha:
Many spices have oils. That deliciously warming and fragrant flavor that emanates from the spice mixture in the masala chai actually comes from the oils of the spices. The problem with this, in terms of kombucha brewing, is that oils go rancid. So if you were to brew up some chai tea, add your kombucha scoby, and let it ferment for several weeks, you might end up with rancid and maybe even moldy kombucha. You would also lose your scoby that way.
Masala chai spices are often antibacterial. This is actually a wonderful property in the masala chai tea. The spices that taste so lovely are also good for us and can help support the body's natural defenses.
However, the antimicrobial properties of these spices can also interfere with the normal yeasts, acids, and bacteria that are present in the scoby and the kombucha tea itself. This, in turn, changes the culture for when you make your next batch of kombucha.
With those two factors in mind you may still want to give masala chai kombucha a try. Here are some recommendations if you are doing so:
- Keep a backup scoby going in your normal sweet-tea brew. That way if you do find mold or rancidity in your brew you can toss it and start over with a good culture.
- Keep your brewing time to a minimum. The longer your kombucha brews, the more likely that the oils in the spices will go rancid. Try out your chai kombucha during a warmer part of the year when the brew goes much faster.
- Read the tea label. Many cheaper brands of chai contain weird ingredients like cheap sugars, “natural flavorings,” added oils, etc. These may make the chai kombucha brewing experience even more precarious. The only ingredients should be tea and various spices, organic if possible.
- Instead of brewing your kombucha with chai tea, try adding a chai tea bag to the second fermentation. That way you get the exotic spicy flavor of chai, without endangering the scoby.
- Remember, never consume any kombucha tea that looks, tastes, or smells unpleasant. When in doubt, toss the whole batch including the scoby. Always err on the side of caution!
It doesn’t hurt to be adventurous with your kombucha. It is in those adventures that we often find some of the most unexpectedly delightful outcomes. Just keep in mind that things can go wrong and having a backup is always a good idea.