Exploding in popularity because of its many health benefits and probiotics, Kombucha is a delicious sour, effervescent beverage that’s here to stay. Kombucha can be brewed with black, green, or white tea...so why is black tea most common? Let’s dive into some history to learn more!
History of Black Tea and Kombucha
Today, tea is the world’s second most popular beverage (after water), and consumers have thousands of ways to personalize their tea experience, from custom blends to enhanced brewing options. The history of tea is steeped in mystique and dates back 5,000 years to its origins in China.
Camellia sinensis, or traditional Chinese black tea, is a tree that grows up to 30 feet tall if left unpruned. Rumor has it that the Chinese emperor Shen Nung discovered tea when some tea leaves happened into his cup of hot water, and the rest is history. Since then, humans have found thousands of ways to cultivate and innovate the process from the leaf to the cup.
Tea was so crucial to the society in China that it was used as currency before the West was civilized. Tea was made into a paste with plum juice or animal dung (ew!) and molded into bricks and baked. The bricks were used as payment to farmers, herders, and tribespeople. To further control the system, Chinese officials imposed a tea tax and monopolized tea-growing until as recent as the 19th century. Needless to say, tea is a big deal.
Kombucha, also known as tea fungus, is a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts thought to be over 2000 years old, with origins in China. However, origin stories can also be tied to Japan, Russia, Germany, and even the Middle East. The word kombucha is thought to have originated from Japan, with the root “Kombu,” meaning seaweed, and “cha” being the work for tea.
Other names for Kombucha include:
- Red tea fungus
- Champignon de longue vie
- Chainii grib
- Ling zhi
- Kocha kinoko
- Chainii kvass
Due to the health benefits, however, Kombucha has since gained popularity in the West and is now commercially available worldwide.
Black Tea SCOBY
There are countless reactions naturally occurring when you brew Kombucha, and the chemical composition can vary based on the type of tea you use. Flavonoids and phenolic compounds present in the tea resulting in high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, no matter which tea you use in your brew. Traditionally, black tea performs well in Kombucha brewing, is readily available, and less expensive.
One of the best things about kombucha, and why it’s such a great ferment, is its antimicrobial properties. Along with a low pH, acetic acid and catechins aid in the kombucha inhibiting the growth of harmful organisms, such as E. coli, S. aureus, some Salmonella spp., and other pathogens. Because of this, as long as you’re treating your kombucha right and giving it the things it needs, it’s going to provide you with some safe and delicious liquid gold in the form of Kombucha. Also, it is an excellent ferment for beginners who are looking to dip their toes in the fermentation world because of its antimicrobial properties!
Benefits of Black Tea & Germenting Kombucha
There is a large variety of teas in the world today, which vary in beneficial health compounds. Even within the black tea category, every tea will have a unique composition of these compounds. However, there are numerous naturally occurring chemical compounds found in black tea, regardless of your black tea choices, which will carry over to your Kombucha brew.
Black tea has a high polyphenolic content attributed to flavonoids and flavanols. It also contains catechins (up to 30% dry weight), which are potent antioxidants. One recent study showed 27 exclusive phenolic compounds in black tea over green and white. Because of these compounds, tea plays a huge role in protecting cell membranes from oxidative damage and improving intestinal microflora.
Along with the benefits of high polyphenolic content in black tea, the fermentation process that occurs in Kombucha not only increases polyphenols and antioxidants but is also noted to have the following benefits:
- Anti-diabetic properties
- Boost immune system
- Arthritic relief
- Have laxative properties
- Combat stress
- Positive impact on cholesterol
Black Tea Kombucha vs. Green Tea Jun Tea
Making black tea kombucha and Jun are essentially the same, but the ingredients are different. Jun uses green tea and honey as the primary sweetener, and Kombucha uses black tea and granulated cane sugar. The two brews have a different taste reflective of those ingredients, with black tea being stronger with high acidic notes, while Jun is lighter and less astringent in flavor.
The alcohol content of Jun is generally higher than Kombucha black tea and can be as high as 2%, depending on brewing time. This may be due to the differences in the sugars used to culture the two beverages.
Whereas cane sugar contains 50% glucose and 50% fructose, honey only has 30% glucose, less than 40% fructose, and about 20% of a mix of other sugars. This difference, in combination with the yeasts at play, produces a higher alcohol content. If you’re curious about the amount of alcohol in your Kombucha, consider purchasing a hydrometer. They are inexpensive and use density to measure the percent alcohol of a solution.
The fermentation time of kombucha is much longer than that of Jun. Jun tea often takes only half of the time to ferment as kombucha. The other factor in this is that Jun prefers to the culture at a cool room temperature while kombucha prefers it 5-10 degrees warmer.
How to Brew Black Tea with a Live SCOBY
- 1 LIVE SCOBY, which is packaged with 4 ounces of starter tea
- ¼ cup cane sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoon black tea leaves (or two tea bags)
- 2-3 cups water, heated for brewing tea
- 1-quart jar
- 1 coffee filter or butter muslin
- 1 rubber band
Instructions for Brewing Black Tea Kombucha
- Combine hot water and sugar in a glass jar. Stir to dissolve.
- Add black tea. Steep at least 10 minutes.
- Remove tea bags or strain loose tea leaves from liquid.
- Cool tea to 68°- 85°F.
- Transfer SCOBY and all liquid from the package to the mixture. Do not discard liquid from the package, be sure to add it to your jar!
- Cover the jar with a coffee filter or butter muslin and secure it with a rubber band.
- Allow the mixture to sit undisturbed at 68°-85°F, out of direct sunlight for 7 to 30 days, or to taste.
- Pour Kombucha off the top of the jar for consumption, retain SCOBY, and enough Kombucha from the bottom of the jar to use as the starter for the next batch.
Instructions for Brewing Black Tea
The brewing technique is essential for extracting all of the naturally occurring chemical compounds in tea. Ideally, for black tea, water should be heated to 208°-210°F, just under boiling temperature (212°F). Steep tea for approximately 10 minutes. Steeping black tea for too long will increase the chances of extracting bitter compounds, which isn’t harmful but may influence flavor.
Fermentation Time for Black Tea
Brewing black tea Kombucha takes less time than Jun and takes about 7-14 days, depending on the flavor you prefer. The ideal temperature for black tea Kombucha is 68°-78°F, and Jun is brewed in slightly cooler environments preferring it to be 5-10 degrees cooler.
Black Tea Kombucha Second Ferment & Other Recipes
The great thing about the live SCOBY is that you can get started right away and have fresh, bubbly Kombucha in a week or so. After that, you can continue to brew Kombucha using the same original SCOBY. Be sure to reserve some tea as a starter before brewing your next batch. After enjoying your Kombucha, just add more sweet tea to your mixture. When it’s time for a break, check our blog posts for instructions and learn about making a SCOBY hotel.
As you continue fermenting, be sure to experiment with flavoring your Kombucha, too! Cultures for Health offers a wide range of flavoring kits where you can make it your own—tired of tea? We also include recipes for Kombucha salad dressings, marinades, and other ways to incorporate Kombucha in your daily menu!
Home-Brewed Kombucha vs. Commercial
Have you purchased Kombucha from your grocery store and been shocked by the price? With bottled commercial Kombucha selling for more than four dollars a serving, a Kombucha habit can quickly turn expensive! Brewing your Kombucha at home saves you money with the very first batch, and you can continue to brew batch after batch with our live SCOBY. Plus, you control the ingredients used in your beverage, and you can personalize your brew with additional flavorings to suit your taste.
It’s also important to note that some commercial Kombucha products are pasteurized. While this is intended for the user’s safety, the high heat pasteurization can also reduce the number of beneficial microbes in your beverage. And, at the end of the day, isn’t that why you’re drinking Kombucha?
A well-known commercial Kombucha producer was recently involved in a class-action lawsuit that resulted from making specific health claims on their pasteurized product (they specify on the label that it was pasteurized). The company maintains they did nothing wrong but agreed to refund consumers and dropped the lawsuit. At the end of the day, the best way to be sure you’re consuming probiotic Kombucha is to make it yourself.
Start Brewing Black Tea Kombucha at Home Now
1 - Bag of Organic Cane Sugar (1 cup bag)
1 - Bottle of Organic Distilled White Vinegar (8 fl. oz. bottle)
1 - Bag of Organic Black Tea Bags (8 tea bags)
1 - Stick-On Thermometer
1 - Butter Muslin Jar Cover (1 square yard)
1 - Vial of pH strips (vial of 25 strips)
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